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ACS: Tech disasters scare government buyers

IT disasters have frightened government purchasers into only dealing with big guns such as EDS and IBM when it comes to awarding contracts, said the nation's peak ICT body as it proposed a raft of initiatives to boost local innovation.

IT disasters have frightened government purchasers into only dealing with big guns such as EDS and IBM when it comes to awarding contracts, said the nation's peak ICT body as it proposed a raft of initiatives to boost local innovation.

"For God's sake at least give the small Aussie innovator a chance to show what he can do," pleaded the Australian Computer Society's (ACS) vice-president Phillip Argy last week, outlining the situation that had prompted his body to make a submission to a federal inquiry into innovation within the local technology sector.

Argy said the ACS' submission made the case that the government should at all levels change purchasing policies to give local small to medium enterprises (SMEs) more "air time" in making their case when contracts are awarded.

Such a proposal could see government budgets allocate a small amount of their ICT spend to trial local technology, he told ZDNet Australia, adding that one side effect would be that the SMEs could then use that implementation as a case study to further market their wares outside the government.

Argy said 0.5 percent of a budget would be a good example, although he admitted he "just plucked that figure out of the air".

However he rejected the idea that the ACS' proposal could lead to favouritism for lesser Aussie technology.

"We're absolutely not suggesting anything that would result in any government getting less than the best for the taxpayers' dollar," he said.

"Our view is if on an objective evaluation IBM still offers the taxpayer the best deal and the best performance on offer, then yes they actually should go with IBM," he said.

Another aspect of the ACS submission would see closer links built between ICT researchers and SMEs, perhaps through a dating-style Web site which would link interested parties.

"We've spoken to a lot of people doing postgraduate research in various institutions, and they always say to us: 'God it's hard to get anyone to fund our research'," said Argy. "Then you go and talk to business, who say God it's hard to get anyone to do the sort of research we're looking for."

"It's plain that there needs to be some kind of facilitating intermediary. It's a bit like the computer dating sites. You kind of need a list of people who are looking for someone to do some research, and a list of people who can say, oh yeah, I'd love to do that, it's not what I intended, but if you've got money on offer, it's certainly up my alley and I'll do research for you."

"Hey presto you've got a research collaboration!" said Argy. "It's hard to imagine that it couldn't be done by a bit of software on a free Web site."

A third initiative being proposed by the ACS would see a mentoring program established to put successful business leaders onto the boards of local technology startups.

"Come on guys," Argy exhorted Australia's top companies. "Part of your community responsibility is not just giving money, but what about having some of your senior executives adopt and mentor some small Aussie innovators, who are brilliant technically, but if truth be known almost haven't a clue about how to run a business."

Ultimately the government is unlikely to move quickly on the ACS' proposal.

"They notionally are having another hearing before the end of the year, but I frankly can't see it happening," said Argy of the House of Representatives committee responsible for the inquiry into innovation in the local tech sector.