Where else but Queensland?

Australia's IT industry needs to follow the example laid down in Queensland this week and band together to lobby for more government support instead of individual firms fruitlessly pushing their own campaigns.

commentary Something remarkable and inspirational happened during the lead-up to Queensland's state election last weekend.

ZDNet.com.au news editor Renai LeMay (Credit: ZDNet.com.au)

The state's IT industry, spurred by a stirring call to arms issued late last year by Longhaus research director Sam Higgins, formed a cohesive lobbying block and forced both sides of politics to deal directly with them as a force to be reckoned with.

The state's IT industry ... formed a cohesive lobbying block and forced both sides of politics to deal directly with them as a force to be reckoned with.

I'm sure I don't need to remind you how seldom this sort of broad cooperation occurs across our fragmented sector, whose leaders tend more to be characterised by naked self-interest rather than by their ability to form alliances leading to higher-level outcomes.

The most visible display of the Queensland IT industry's power to come together on certain issues came on 13 March, when a large number of the industry's luminaries donned striking red and yellow T-shirts to dominate the floor at a Brisbane election debate held between Premier Anna Bligh and then-challenger Lawrence Springborg.

The initiative was organised by a new organisation, the ICT Industry Workgroup, which claims as its members a number of other industry groupings such as the Australian Computer Society, the AIIA, ATUG, the ITCRA, Queensland Dot Net, Software Queensland and Women in Technology.

A list of personalities involved reads like a who's who list of Queensland ICT industry power-brokers, including Data#3 managing director John Grant, Technology One operating officer Roger Phare, UQ IT director Nick Tate, former Queensland government CIO and Microsoft Queensland chief Peter Grant, and GBST Holdings chair John Puttick.

As Springborg and Bligh looked out across the floor, they could scarcely have remained unaware for long that they were the target of a concerted political push by a sector which was suddenly refusing to play second fiddle to the likes of the mining and tourism industries, even if they had ignored the full-page advertisements placed earlier that week by the ICT Industry Workgroup to push its case for 30,000 new Queensland ICT jobs.

The net outcome of the push was that both sides of politics issued substantial ICT policies to the workgroup to match the industry's demands and opened the door with the new Bligh Government for further discussion.

These are outcomes that Australia's ICT industry has clearly been unable to achieve in other states, let alone in Canberra.

IBM Australia and New Zealand chief Glen Boreham has breathlessly talked up the [Smarter Planet] initiative locally

Perhaps the best example of this ineptitude was the embarrassing situation following Kevin Rudd's landslide victory in 2007, in which confusion reined about whether Communications Minister Stephen Conroy or Industry Minister Kim Carr were responsible for flagship ICT research body National ICT Australia.

Most of Australia's largest IT companies, instead of running joint lobbying campaigns, tend to push their own individual issues and quickly run out of steam. A good recent example of this is the "Smarter Planet" campaign that IBM has been pushing globally over the past few months.

IBM Australia and New Zealand chief Glen Boreham has breathlessly talked up the initiative locally, and associated advertising is currently bathing Australian television viewers in a benevolent prime time glow.

One wonders how much more effective would this initiative have been if IBM collaborated on it with other major players like Cisco? It was only September 2008, after all, that Cisco's Australian chief Les Williamson was pushing the exact same line.

Let me throw this challenge down to Australia's IT industry: follow Queensland and get your act together as a single block in other states and in the federal arena. There are always more elections on the way.

The alternative is for Australia's IT industry — which is critical to our post-global financial crisis economy — to continue to remain a marginalised and ineffectual force in its efforts to influence government.

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