Australia unveils ambitious 10-year ICT plan

A 10-year strategic vision for the ICT industry was launched this week by a consortium of 20 industry associations aiming to develop an internationally competitive ICT sector in Australia.

Operating under the umbrella of the National ICT Industry Alliance (NICTIA), the consortium has put forward a Vision Statement containing 12 parameters said to be vital to Australia’s economic prosperity, because of the role of ICT as an enabling technology that supports all sectors of the economy.

NICTIA president Tony Hill highlighted the support of innovation and development of opportunities for small to medium enterprises (SMEs) as a key focus of the 10-year vision.

Rather than what he said to be a traditional “rollercoaster” way of innovation, which could lead to phenomena like the transient dot-com boom at the turn of the century, the new Vision Statement has long-term results in mind.

Also on the agenda was the marketing and branding of Australian ICT products in the global market; the development of skills; ICT literacy and standards; and the improvement of national broadband infrastructure.

“The pace of change with ICT has been enormous,” said Hill. “We’re concerned that Australia may be falling behind in developing our sector.

“In this strategy, we’re taking an industry-led approach, and asking the government to join,” he said. “The key [focus] is these 12 points that need to be coordinated, and this is the first time we are taking a coordinated approach that has been organized by the industry,”

The 10-year Vision Statement has been endorsed by the Australian Computer Society (ACS), whose president Philip Argy expects NICTIA to present the government with a credible, practical framework through a single, united voice for the industry.

“No government can ignore the weight of support for this document,” he said.

“By comparison to other OECD countries, Australia has been a poor promoter and exporter of its own innovation,” Argy said, adding that the country’s greatest comparative advantage has ironically been its capability for the development and integration of technology.

“Australia really needs to take a step forward and compete on the world stage as a world-recognized brand…this vision is about an environment in which innovation can thrive,” he said.

Argy suggested the long-term licensing of export technologies to bring on-going revenue from royalties into the country.

Broadband and the early adoption of IPv6 were also identified as issues that should be a government priority. Already, members of NICTIA have been working towards the new Internet protocol through initiatives such as the Australian IPv6 Summit and the ITOL IPv6 for e-Business project.

“We want to see an Australia in 10 years time, where bandwidth is not a limiting factor on anything anyone wants to do,” Argy declared. “If we are at the leading edge, then the rest of the world will – by definition – look to buy those technologies from us.”

To combat the commonly touted ICT skills shortage, NICTIA is also recommending that the industry projects its skill requirements three to five years into the future, and actively communicate its needs to tertiary institutions.

“In the past, that dove-tailing hasn’t really been there, and there’s been a great push to import them [skilled staff] as a first resort,” Argy said. “We say if you can invest more in the skills that you need, then you’ve got a greater probability of cross-training and up-skilling your staff.”

However, according to NICTIA’s Hill, having the industry make recommendations to the educational sector will first require more detailed planning, part of which can only be achieved via government discussions.

Currently, members of the alliance are in discussions with the government and opposition at a federal level, Hill said, and meetings with Senator Helen Coonan, Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, as well as state governments, are also in the works.

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