Victoria's success creates model for Unitec and IBM partnership

Unitec will open an IBM service delivery centre next year based on a successful project in Australia

Auckland-based polytechnic Unitec announced in August that it was partnering with IBM to build a service delivery centre at its Mt Albert Campus.

The delivery centre, which will open in February next year, will support IBM deployments in Australia and New Zealand. IBM says it expects the centre to create around 400 jobs, 200 of which will be part-time roles for Unitec students.

Students enrolled in Unitec IT courses will have the added benefit of gaining paid career-related work experience, while earning credits towards their courses in an Earn As You Learn scheme.

Computerworld visited the University of Ballarat (UB) in Victoria, Australia - which set up an IBM service delivery centre 18 years ago and is the model for the new centre at Unitec.

Ballarat is about an hour and a half’s drive from the Melbourne CBD, towards inland Victoria. The rural town has a population of 90,000 and was established during a 19th century gold rush. Its economy now centres around manufacturing and servicing the university.

IBM established its delivery centre at UB in 1994, becoming the anchor tenant in the university’s 25,000 square metre Technology Park. The centre was an expansion from the IBM datacentre already hosted at UB.

Around 1500 IBM employees service accounts in Australia and New Zealand from the centre. Clients include the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), Qantas, and Jetstar. Ballarat is the largest regional technology park in Australia, and adds A$300 million per annum to the local economy.

In 2001 UB and IBM partnered to provide UB students with practical work experience through the Earn As You Learn (EAYL) programme, which in return provided IBM with relatively cheap IT labour and a source of future talent.

Mal Vallance, director of the technology park, says around 80 percent of the university’s Bachelor of IT Professional Practice graduates who take part in the EAYL programme are then employed by IBM once they graduate.

It is estimated that for every job at the technology park, another job is created in the region according to a report by the Western Research Institute of New South Wales in 2010.

The majority of the jobs available at the Ballarat delivery centre are service desk and entry customer service roles, and are filled by part time students from UB. Rosters for these roles are built around class timetables and exam schedules.

Those studying IT or technology courses can graduate into more technical roles, including research and development and servicing IBM clients.

Jetstar’s airport self-service kiosks were developed by IBM Canada, but support and maintenance is handled from Ballarat.

Vallance says around half of IBM’s workforce at Ballarat are either UB students or graduates.

“The school wouldn’t have been the same without the critical mass of such a large IT employer,” says Vallance.

Vallance says the technology centre is performing well financially, making over A$6 million in profit in the last year, but a national decline in IT enrolments is worrisome for UB and the technology park.

“The lifeline of the delivery centre is the supply of talented IT graduates,” he says.

Vallance says one of the initiatives being undertaken to increase enrolment is the expansion of the technology park, and the addition of new facilities in the Ballarat CBD. These sites will accommodate smaller IT and technology businesses, and Vallance says there will be a particular focus on biotechnology and health sciences.

Jeff Pulford, director of destination and economy for the City of Ballarat, says perhaps the park’s most important role is in attracting students and young families to the Ballarat region, which in the past has seen an exodus of workers to Melbourne.

“The [technology] park is important for keeping a young cohort in Ballarat,” says Pulford.

“People might still leave to go to Melbourne or elsewhere, but they are more often coming back to raise families here because of jobs stemming from the park and delivery centre.”

Sim Ahmed travelled to Ballarat as a guest of IBM.

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