Resellers welcome Coalition ICT policy

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Resellers have cautiously welcomed the Coalition's ICT policy ahead of the polls, citing relief of public indemnity requirements as a big boon for channel players reliant on government contracts.

Resellers have cautiously welcomed the Coalition's ICT policy ahead of the polls, citing relief of public indemnity requirements as a big boon for channel players reliant on government contracts.

The government's ICT minister, Senator Helen Coonan, has promised -- if voted back in on 9 October -- the Coalition would reduce the indemnity load by ensuring that unlimited liability was only needed for the "largest, riskiest and most complex" of government IT contracts.

Cornel Ung, chairman at local box-builder Optima Technology Solutions, said many government tenders had tough indemnity and insurance requirements.

Optima had 60 percent of its business through government deals so any move to ease such requirements would improve cash flow for other purposes by cutting costs and shrinking insurance premiums, Ung said.

"Some tenders may require millions of dollars," he said. "So, we wouldn't have to use our credit line. We could use our credit line for purchasing or recruitment."

Reducing indemnity would certainly allow firms like Optima to grow faster and meet their goals.

Insurance had grown in recent years as insurance companies became increasingly conservative. Insurance-related requirements were dragging down the performance of many IT businesses, Ung said.

Scott Petty, chief operating officer at system integrator Dimension Data, agreed with Ung.

"There were a couple of elements in there we're happy about," he said. Indemnity reduction would definitely help DiData because indemnity was effectively paying up front for risks he didn't believe were really there.

Petty also welcomed increased support for broadband adoption. Broadband was a critical element in the uptake of many types of IT yet Australia still lagged behind the rest of the OECD in high-speed internet, he said.

Other issues brought up by Coonan in last week's policy announcement included employment of more women in IT, funding for incubators, improved IP protection for developers, and support for teleworking, IT export and internet security initiatives.

Petty said greater protection of IT-related IP for developers would prove valuable. In government contracts, IP rights tended to be difficult to negotiate, he said.

On the subject of women in IT, Petty said his experience was that there were plenty of women outside the technical areas of the IT industry -- particularly in upper management.

"We try to have a balanced workforce. But there are a whole range of roles where we don't get female applicants," Petty said.

However, he questioned the assumption that it was more difficult for women to gain technical or engineering roles. As far as he knew, there were no greater structural barriers to entry for women than there were for men, Petty said.

"I think it's more a case of motivating people to do these roles," Petty said.

Meanwhile, the Australian Computer Society (ACS) has also welcomed the Coalition's ICT policy as announced.

Edward Mandla, president of the ACS, said the policy built on current initiatives and took up issues of concern for the ACS. Again, making professional indemnity insurance cheaper and easier to obtain was a highlight.

"Our industry can't mature until we formalise professional standards," he said.

Mandla also commended the plan to encourage more women into IT and to set up a teleworking task force.

"ACS has been working to develop a work/life policy in an attempt to shed our industry stigma of long hours in dark towers," he said. "This is one of the major reasons women don't return to our industry."

Teleworking was important but not key to solving industry issues. However, extra support for "angel investing" and other initiatives was laudable, Mandla said.

Accessibility to government contracts for SMBs also needed improvement as many smaller suppliers didn't feel able to bid on their own behalf. Also, more focus on funding for IP services was needed, he added.

IDC's recent quarterly survey of market sentiment suggests that Australian companies with more than 100 staff feel their business prospects are at a peak unseen since 2001, when the first such IDC survey was conducted here.

Companies were targeting improved customer service, better infrastructure, increased productivity, IDC said.

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