ACS: Services and skills key to export growth

The Australian Computer Society (ACS) is calling on the IT community and government to help tackle the massive gap between ICT export and imports.

According to the ACS-commissioned Australian ICT Trade Update 2006 report, local ICT exports were worth $5.3 billion during 2005. This was dwarfed by imports of $25 billion and represented a trade deficit of $19.7 billion, up 3.7 per cent on 2004.

Computer-related equipment accounted for $7.8 billion of imports and $1 billion of exports. ICT goods and services account for about 3 per cent of total export earnings.

Although the trade deficit has remained steady in recent times, the ACS pointed out that latest export figures were a far cry from the $7.7 billion recorded in 2000.

In a statement, the ACS blamed skills shortages and the reduction in local production as key factors in declining exports. CEO, Dennis Furini, called on the industry to ramp up efforts to build a better global market for local products and services.

"What we are lacking is an Australian Nokia - we have to find a niche," he said.

According to its research, the one area where Australia has gained an advantage internationally is the services market.

"It seems that we're working towards the services area rather than manufacturing bits and pieces," Furini said. "The percentage in services is growing and the number of people in the services space is exceeding those in manufacturing.

"We have to protect the skills we have in the services industry and export these." Another growth area highlighted was the high-quality software industry. Furini claimed there were six companies in Queensland alone that developed games for the worldwide stage. Some of these were international organisations that had set up shop here to utilise local talent and expertise.

Other pockets of opportunity included solutions for the finance industry, mining software, medical devices, security and instrumentation.

Furini said the ACS would look to develop a 10-year ICT plan to promote Australia as an offshoring destination.

He said the industry also needed to look at securing global partnerships to improve exports.