Govt help needed, says software community

Australia’s software industry is looking for more access to grants, tax concessions and Government procurement, according to a recent study conducted on behalf of ARN.

Software tools vendor, Compuware, asked 350 developers, solutions architects and software business managers at Microsoft’s recent TechEd technical conference about how various levels of government could better support the Australian software industry.

Of the unprompted responses, more than 40 per cent asked for more government assistance to promote research and development. Two-thirds of these felt that a larger amount of investment in research and development grants was required, the remaining third asked that the Government introduce further tax concessions for developers or the subsidisation of development tools.

The second most cited method of industry assistance was a request for government departments to buy Australian-developed software or at least purchase from Australian solution providers.

About 20 per cent of respondents called on the Government to make every effort to buy locally-developed product, and of these a small proportion requested that government departments be legally obligated to consider Australian software over foreign vendors.

Several respondents also asked that Australian companies be included in more project work and outsourcing deals and several others asked that the small business community be considered in more government tenders.

Upon viewing the study, Australian Computer Society president, Edward Mandla, said that the issue of Government procurement was far more important to furthering the development of the industry than grants or tax breaks.

“Most Australian SME organisations have no idea how to get a grant,” he said. “Very few are able to take the focus away from their own business to go through the process.”

“Tax concessions rarely work as young entrepreneurs do not have a revenue base to make any use of it," Mandla said.

He did, however, feel that it was necessary to lobby the Government into considering Australian-developed ICT solutions more often.

“When multinational ICT companies start in Australia with two of three employees, they tend to come here from a strong foundation of having their governments and large corporates at home as customers,” Mandla said. “In Australia, ICT companies are forced overseas as our Government and large corporates will not buy [locally-produced] products and services even if they are as good as or better. These companies cannot effectively compete overseas if they do not have a strong local foundation.”

He did not see risk management as a reasonable excuse for government departments and large Australian corporations not to support the local industry.

“What large organisation buys ICT products and services on spec? Long evaluations and pilot programs are an integral part of the purchasing process, mitigating any risk,” Mandla said.

ACS members insist that the problem lies in the attitudes of those that buy ICT products and services.

“If the Government were to go out to all the multinationals for Commonwealth cars, it is unlikely that Ford and Holden would win - yet the Government still buys them in the national interest,” he said. “The trade deficit could be reversed tomorrow if we supported our own.” Education was also a key priority among the developers surveyed.

Improving the IT education system in schools, universities and TAFE’s was cited by 14 per cent of respondents as being the most important assistance the Government could provide. Suggestions ranged from funding or subsidising IT training courses to ensuring that computing is emphasised in high schools.

For more on this story, see this week's issue of ARN.