Vendors meet to thrash out new organisation

Vendor body will take seat at broader industry table

The first meeting of companies interested in forming a new industry body representing ICT vendors has been held (see below).

The body plans to be self-sustaining and distinct from the government-subsidised “supergroup”, which aims at involving a broader section of the ICT community, including users.

There will, however, be a link between the two bodies.

One of the commercial body’s representatives has been “talking to the people from the government side”, says Microsoft New Zealand’s CEO Kevin Ackhurst, “and it looks as though there will be a very close relationship; they’d welcome one of us onto their board.”

However, if the present government loses the coming election, thinking on that side may change completely, he notes.

It would probably be difficult to conceive a single body that would handle all the needs and priorities of the “broad church” that is the ICT community, says Vodafone strategic development manager David Stone; and that is possibly where previous ICT industry bodies failed. So perhaps, he suggests, two linked bodies is a better idea.

“We are part of the exploration exercise to see whether the idea is viable.”

Ackhurst, Stone and others Computerworld spoke with were unanimous on the highest priorities for action — staff training and retention. This would involve some attempt to influence the education sector to assist it in producing skills and generating enthusiasm about the industry.

Ackhurst also mentions government procurement as a headline item.

The question of how the industry relates positively to the broader ICT-using community could also be on the agenda, says John Biggs of Complete Solutions, who sees his company adding a voice for those serving small and medium enterprises.

Firming up priorities will be a task for the early meetings, he adds. At present “we don’t know what we don’t know”.

Asked about the reasons for failure of previous industry organisations, Itanz and the stillborn ICT-NZ, some sources pointed to a tendency for such bodies to be dominated by the big players of the industry.

This could be a concern for the new body, Ackhurst says. One way of avoiding it could be for a neutral organisation such as Business NZ to facilitate some of the meetings.

“At the same time,” he says, “we must take account of the fact that the large organisations do employ most of the people in the industry.”

The initial meeting, held on Tuesday, attracted 25 attendees. “That’s the first time in my experience we have had such a gathering of [representatives of] companies, small and large, national and international to discuss the challenges the industry faces,” says Microsoft NZ CEO Kevin Ackhurst, who organised the meeting.

A volunteer subcommittee of six was appointed to work further on the structure and strategies of the organisation. After official business was finished those present launched into a free-flowing discussion which led to them “leaving an hour later than we’d planned,” Ackhurst says.

Dominant topics were skills, education and productivity, he says. There was “not 100% consensus” on the way forward, but a reasonable degree of agreement.

Some would-be attendees earlier expressed concern about the risk of dominance of an industry organisation by large companies and floated the idea of a neutral facilitator. They suggested Business NZ and Computerworld understands industry analyst IDC was also mooted for this role.

“A couple of ideas on that front” were discussed at the meeting, Ackhurst says, but no conclusion was reached.

Discussions have been held between the unnamed industry body and the planned government-backed broader ICT sector forum, which Ackhurst says will be called the Digital Forum. It will have a council of 15, to be called the Digital Council, he says “and we will have a seat on that council”.

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Tags MicrosoftVodafonekevin ackhurstdavid stone

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