IBM reveals ammo for lobby cannon

IBM has today announced the findings of a report on the economic benefits of implementing smart technologies in the hope of backing up its pleas for the government to invest more money in the sector.
Written by Suzanne Tindal, Contributor

IBM has today announced the findings of a report on the economic benefits of implementing smart technologies in the hope of backing up its pleas for the government to invest more money in the sector.

Glen Boreham

IBM Australia chief Glen Boreham (Credit: IBM)

"I think the stimulus package has addressed the ills of past: roads, rail, school maintenance [...] it's addressed the present in terms of the $900 or so immediate cash injection," IBM managing director Australia and New Zealand Glen Boreham said today at the company's offices in St Leonards, Sydney. "There is a chapter that I think is being written, and that is the future."

Boreham praised the government's commitment to the National Broadband Network and its investment of $100 million in smart grids, saying it would provide a tangible proof point for Australians which they would understand. "This isn't intellectual or it's not Denmark, this is Australia and it's real," he said.

He believed that investment was a great starting point, but he wanted to see more of it focusing on economic benefits of smart technologies in transport, electricity, health, irrigation and broadband. Boreham also hoped that the report, which IBM commissioned Access Economics to write, would provide factual backing.

The report maintained that going smart in those areas could cause a 1.5 per cent increase in GDP over 10 years as well as create 70,000 extra jobs to the economy in 2014 alone.

The report looked at scenarios where $3.2 billion was spent on smart grid technology, $200 million spent on water irrigation technology in the Murray-Darling Basin, $6.3 billion on integrated electronic health records, an undefined investment in transport technology, and $12.6 billion on a fibre-to-the-node network.

"I think these are well-grounded estimates that are large enough for us to take forward and demonstrate that smart systems warrant active policy attention from the government," Boreham said.

IBM, along with other industry bastions, had been lobbying for more of the government's infrastructure spend to become technical. Boreham believed the industry had obtained some success with, for instance, making new school buildings and hospitals wireless and with trying to make sure that tenders go out with technology requirements.

According to IBM's director for government relations Kaaren Koomen, the government "gets it" but is struggling with its time frames with delivery. Innovative infrastructure had to be delivered as fast as the dumb infrastructure.

Boreham said he agreed with Communications Minister Stephen Conroy's idea of mandating smarts such as telemetry and sensors be built into infrastructure.

"A smart infrastructure clause being mandatory in all physical infrastructure projects is very sensible," he said. "Without naming names, we've had discussions with Infrastructure Australia and they've openly acknowledged that their focus is on the physical. Their focus is roads and rail and then there's a brick wall and then there's the digital infrastructure debate about broadband and datacentres and devices and the two aren't coming together."

According to Boreham, Conroy is on side, but there is further work to get the message out to agencies and the general economic debate.

Boreham admitted that the industry probably hasn't been as ruthless as it needed to be on the political side of things, pointing to successful lobby groups such as the automotive manufacturing industry.

"Has the IT industry done enough? I don't think we have, if I compare our industry to others ... we've been a lot more subtle traditionally. We need to be more direct. That's one of the reasons we decided to build some data."

When asked about IBM's personal stake if it successfully gained the government's ear on smart technology, Boreham said there was no data as to how much the company stood to gain, but said it was certainly a source of revenue.

He said IBM was already involved in a number of government projects and that it would be tendering for the smart grid work. "There are business opportunities for us and we're not going to tell you there's not," he said.

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