TASICT calls for transparent Tasmanian call centre policy

Summary:Tasmania’s self-labelled peak IT industry body, TASICT, has called on the state government to outline a consolidated call centre strategy in order to entice businesses to invest in the island state.

The Tasmanian government needs to consolidate a call centre strategy policy if it wants to see further investment in the sector, according to Dean Winter, chief executive of the state's self-labelled peak IT industry, TASICT.

"The state government should consolidate a strategy that provides a transparent and attractive offering for any business looking to move call centre activity to the state," said Winter. "This is a very competitive market, particularly with mainland states and New Zealand."

Tasmania's call centre landscape has seen quite a bit of activity lately, with Vodafone , OfficeMax Australia, Serco, and this week, Qantas move to relocate their call centres to the Apple Isle.

For Winter, while Tasmania offers businesses a number of reasons to relocate their operations — including lower wages and cost of living for workers — a consolidated call centre policy would secure its position as the go-to state for call centre operations.

One of the strategies the Tasmanian government should adopt, according to Winter, is a policy to reduce the impact of payroll tax on companies employing workers in the state.

"The icing on the cake is payroll tax support. Payroll tax is a tax on jobs and the best way to create jobs is to stop taxing them," said Winter. "By providing payroll tax incentives for business, the Tasmanian government is making the state more competitive."

Winter warned that although Tasmania had seen activity in the call centre sector, the state needed to make it clear to interstate investors that it is an attractive location for such operations.

"Vodafone, OfficeMax Australia, Serco, and now Qantas are all recent success stories for Tasmania," said Winter. "We have also seen job losses in the sector like the M2 Group and now Sitel."

"Tasmania needs a clear and transparent call centre policy that ensures we are attracting and maintaining these jobs in a very competitive market. We need to make sure these opportunities are understood by potential investors," he said.

Winter's call comes as the nation's airline, Qantas, moves to consolidate its three Australian call centres into one facility based in Hobart by 2016, as part of its AU$2 billion transformation program.

According to Qantas, the transformation is expected to result in the reduction of 5000 jobs — or one-seventh of its 35,000-strong workforce, 90 percent of which is based in Australia.

Qantas domestic chief executive officer, Lyell Strambi, said that operating the three call centres in separate states was not efficient, particularly as customers turn to online and social media channels to connect with the company.

"Since 2005, call volume has halved and we now see thirty times more visits from customers to Qantas.com than we receive in our call centres. This is a long-term change in customer behaviour that we expect to continue," said Strambi.

For Strambi, relocating the call centres to Tasmania was a no-brainer, with the company able to leverage the lower costs of operation offered by operating in the state.

"Hobart was the logical choice for us to base our Australia call centre operations because of the modern facilities, the space available within the existing site, and the ongoing costs of operating there.

"The Tasmanian government has been very supportive of our Hobart call centre and is passionate about the future of Qantas Group operations in the state," he said.

Tasmania has struggled in recent years to maintain healthy key economic indicators such as employment investment and economic growth, relative to the national trends.

According to the Structural Change in the Tasmanian Economy information paper (PDF), published by the Tasmanian Department of Treasury and Finance mid-last year, although the state's economy has grown and diversified over the past 20 years, cyclical pressures driven by the strong Australian dollar and mainland industry trends have impacted its overall economic health.

The state's manufacturing and forestry sectors have been contracting for decades — in part because of the strength of the Australian dollar — while the migration of young workers to mainland Australia has also hit revenue potential.

According to the state's Department of Finance, Tasmania's public sector faces major fiscal challenges as a result of the growing demand for government services set against weak growth in revenues.

Government players have been keen to encourage investment in existing and emerging technology industries in the state, with the Tasmanian Treasury naming high technology industries as one of the business areas with the "greatest prospects for long-term viability".

Meanwhile, industry stakeholders in the state are closely watching the progress of the state's national broadband network (NBN) rollout, much of which is being handled by VisionStream .

However, as recently as April, TASICT questioned whether Tasmanians would ever see the NBN rollout completed in the state, suggesting that it would not be completed until after 2028 if it was to contionue at its current run rate.

Topics: Tech Industry, Australia, Government : AU, NBN

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Leon covers enterprise technology and start-ups from ZDNet's Sydney newsroom.

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