Australian state businesses struggle to get an IT grip

Outsourcing, telecommuting and e-mail dependence is on the rise while security expenditure is falling. Businesses in the Australian state of New South Wales (NSW) are also struggling to retain IT staff, according to a report released this week.

The report supports claims that outsourcing is inhibiting the industry’s ability to retain skilled staff, noting that “the increasing trend to outsource IT work mirrors the struggle NSW businesses face to recruit IT workers.”

Titled “Getting a Grip on IT”, the study on business attitudes to IT in NSW was conducted by the Sydney Chamber of Commerce and IT services and consultancy firm Unisys.

It notes a third of NSW businesses struggle to recruit IT staff, while over half (53 percent) outsource their work, up 33 percent from last year. SMEs are increasingly outsourcing their IT needs, which has previously been a concern of large enterprise. The report found two-thirds of businesses use telecommuting, up 36 percent on last year and 60 percent on 2004.

Chamber CEO Margy Osmond said the increased use of e-mail, combined with telecommuting, has extended employee work hours.

“The continuing rise in [telecommuting] first identified last year [has] many employees becoming ‘slaves’ to their in-box,” Osmond said. “More than half of those surveyed indicated concern over e-mail volumes.”

She said that only 64 percent of respondents have a policy regarding e-mail and Internet use – which means just over a third do not.

“Some businesses are now trying to tackle e-mail overload and coming up with policies specifically designed to reduce message volume,” she said.

The research states that despite exponential increases in IT expenditure and wide (90 percent) concern over Internet security, a quarter of respondents have spent less than $1000 on increasing protection.

Unisys Australia-New Zealand managing director Steve Parker said limited security budgets are a poor reflection on IT business standards.

“Even in light of this overall increase in IT investment, businesses do not seem to be spending adequately on security,” he said. “It is incumbent on business and government to ensure secure solutions and services.”

There were 280 respondents to the statewide survey.

Regional areas hit hardest by skills shortage Tweed Shire Council acting CIO John Bruggy agreed with the survey results, saying the skills shortage in local government, and the shire in particular, is acute.

“We have a real problem in recruiting skilled staff and a greater problem retaining them,” Bruggy said, adding that much of the difficulty is money-related as neighboring councils can offer “considerably more”.

“So it’s very difficult for us,” he said. “In particular our business systems [Technology One’s Finance One and Proclaim One] – finding skilled people with knowledge of those systems is difficult. The skills base is not there.”

Bruggy said there seems to be a general skills shortage in the local government sector, which affects regional areas more because money-wise, they can’t compete.

“It’s a general thing but has a greater impact on regional areas,” he said. “In the past we offered a change of lifestyle but that doesn’t cut it anymore because it costs a lot to live here now.”

The problem has also extended to security, where the council is behind schedule in implementing its security policies. This comes back to being under-resourced. “That has a direct impact on our ability to be at the level we want to be,” Bruggy said.

Rodney Gedda of Computerworld Australia contributed to this report.