The Australian Computer Society (ACS) recently commissioned a study on the impact and extent of the Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) sector in Australia. The results reveal that around 680,000 Australians depend on ICT for their livelihood. Included in that figure are traditional hardware and software companies, telecom suppliers, television and radio, advertising, IT departments, the print media and management consultants, to name but a few.
The study illustrates that a healthy ICT sector is critical for the well-being of the Australian economy.
Unfortunately, the ACS report emphasises that Australia is not doing enough to harness this commitment to ICT.
While in 1999 the country was ranked fourth in the ratio of ICT expenditure to gross domestic product (GDP), it was twenty-first in terms of the share of employment produced directly by information industries compared with total business employment. In Australia, the ICT-producing industries accounted for just 2.6 per cent of total business sector jobs compared with an OECD average of 3.6 per cent and Sweden's whopping 6.3 per cent. In other words, Australia has a very small indigenous IT sector and is missing out on much of the contribution this sector could make in terms of output, employment and productivity.
Yet you do get the feeling that for many on both sides of politics in Canberra this penny has not quite dropped. Most recently, this was evident in the discussion about contractors. The federal government saw that genuine contractors were people who, after finishing a job, could return and fix problems. I bet a lot of software programmers and Web designers were less than thrilled at the prospect of working for free for years to come. It seems there is no understanding of what IT contractors do and why business depends on them.
Following on from the federal government outsourcing debacle and two telecom providers competing to lay identical cable infrastructures, these views on IT are symptomatic of the ignorance on high of not only the potential of IT, but of any grand vision for utilising it. The only way this will change is when people at the top are as excited about ICT as they are about other sectors of the economy, and that means they must have some first-hand experience of the industry.
The farm sector has its supporters in parliament, as does the trade union movement. Many of these supporters are politicians who served time in those interest groups as an apprenticeship prior to becoming a member of parliament.
We must provide an avenue for people from the Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA) or the ACS to step into politics. These are the people who live and breathe ICT on a daily basis. They know Silicon Valley does not have all the answers. They recognise the difficulties the indigenous ICT industry faces and the help it needs. They can acknowledge achievement and know when to nurture potential. Perhaps then a knowledge nation might be achievable.
Join the CIO Australia group on LinkedIn. The group is open to CIOs, IT Directors, COOs, CTOs and senior IT managers.