A $2.7 million cash injection into the community project GrowZone in the southwest and Darling Downs areas of Queensland not only means online opportunities for the region but has opened up country Australia to IT supplier ASI Solutions.
A Federal Government initiative, GrowZone was initially created to help revitalise the social and economic environments of 44 towns in the region. "It brought financiers and business ideas to the towns and promoted GrowZone products," said a passionate Stephen Harris, branch manager for Anabelle Bits, ASI's parent company.
The latest round of Networking the Nation funding, acquired through the sale of Telstra, is dedicated to the establishment of GrowZone Online and enabled the project committee to contract several partners, including ASI, IBM and Telstra (a long-time supporter of GrowZone) to establish an extranet and then connect it to the Internet.
ASI will build 44 POPs, one in each town in the region, through the provision of what Harris calls "site packs".
"We did a lot of research and development into what each town would need and came up with a standard operating environment that can be centrally managed. The equipment can be set up straight out of the box," said Harris.
The site packs will include a number of ASI PCs, printers, scanners, audio and telemeeting equipment, various software such as Microsoft Office small business edition, and the server hardware.
IBM will provide the backbone of the project such as the routers and will train regional residents in how to maintain and manage the technology.
Telstra will lease GrowZone the ISDN and Frame Relay technology, allowing it to operate as an ISP.
"Users will be able to connect for a local phone call instead of paying long-distance charges. The world can now find GrowZone as a group and GrowZone can promote itself internationally," outlined Harris.
One of the major reasons ASI won the GrowZone contract was its commitment to supply all the products and services through existing regional dealers and promote IT in the region. "We set up the ASI Partner program and unveiled the ASI Partner logo in the GrowZone. We have already signed up some partners but are still looking for more," explained Harris.
"In each of these towns at least one IT-based job was created by the GrowZone Online project and eventually they'll need Web developers as well so the industry will expand even further."
With the extension of its presence and dealer base in the GrowZone, Harris anticipates ASI will increase the penetration of ASI-branded products and services in the region.
And he is not expecting ASI's opportunities to stop there, with a number of Australian and international organisations expressing interest in the initiative.
"The project is being looked at by Canberra. I believe that the GrowZone organisation has been told that if this works it will be replicated throughout the country."