IMPLEMENTING a strategic focus and developing greater relevance to the local ICT industry are the major priorities for new Australian Information Industry Association chairman Geoff Harben.
Mr Harben, who is also the WA manager for Fujitsu, said while the AIIA had “lost its direction” in the past, there was renewed ambition within the industry body to work with government and others to raise the profile of ICT issues in the State.
Rebutting claims the AIIA was a “toothless tiger”, he said the association was holding talks with government departments and various other industry organisations in WA with a view to working together.
Mr Harben took over the position of chairman in February this year following the resignation of Phil Foxwell.
Mr Harben served out the remainder of Mr Foxwell’s term to June 30 before being formally elected to the chair from July 1.
However, the position has attracted its fair share of controversy in recent times, particularly given that a number of holders of the position have relinquished the post before their term was due to finish.
Mr Foxwell was elected chairman in June of 2002 after Sharon Brown had stepped into the position for a six-month ‘caretaker’ role.
Ms Brown had temporarily acted as the chair after the previous incumbent unexpectedly relinquished the position.
And, with the changing of the guard at the association, Mr Harben said his challenge was to represent the industry as a whole, as well as the interests of the AIIA’s members.
“What we are doing is refocusing,” he said.
“We’ve got to be innovative to ensure that there are opportunities in WA for IT companies.
“I think its fair to say that over the last couple of years the AIIA has lost its direction and we’ve been justifying, to members, our value.”
However, Mr Harben said the AIIA now boasted its best committee for many years, with representatives from a diverse cross-section of WA’s ICT community.
He said the association’s new approach was more strategic and directed.
“What we’ve done is organise strategic planning and we have identified what we want to achieve in the next couple of years,” Mr Harben said. “Our key focus is industry development.
“We’ve achieved a much closer working relationship with other industry associations, including ATUG [Australian Telecommunications Users Group], WAIA [WA Internet Association] and we are exploring ways that we can work with the ACS [Australian Computer Society].
“We are also looking at how we can work with government.”
But criticism persists that the key focus of the AIIA is the big end of town, at the expense of smaller local players.
Mr Harben rejected this proposition, and said the AIIA would represent the diverse interests of its members and of the local ICT industry as a whole.
“I don’t think that is a valid criticism. We represent both ends of town,” he said.
“Our focus has to be on SMEs – and there is good representation on our branch representation committee [of SMEs].
“Sixty five per cent of Australian member companies have annual revenues of under $3 million, so this should put the ‘big end of town’ comment in perspective.
“One of the difficulties of AIIA is that we are a diverse organisation. We have [as members] three people companies right up to multinationals and we must represent all our members. What’s good for small companies is not necessarily good for larger organisations.”
Mr Harben said the AIIA was more relevant now than ever and was working to represent not only the interests of member companies, but also the interests of the WA ICT industry as a whole.
The AIIA represents interests of IT firms and the local ICT industry to government, to the media and to other companies.
However, there are numerous other organisations that represent various sectors of the ICT industry or the entire industry as a whole.
The WA branch of the Australian Computer Society is the most prominent of these with 16,000 members Australia-wide and 1,300 members in WA. The ACS represents ICT professionals as individuals, rather than companies.
The WA Internet Association (WAIA) represents companies in the local Internet sector, while organisations such as ATUG and the Institute of Electrical & Electronic Engineers Inc (IEEE) are also thrown into the mix.
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