Australian software engineering groups face tough future

Australia's software engineering associations are battling for survival after the federal government withdrew its funding this year.

Australia's software engineering associations are battling for survival after the federal government withdrew its funding this year.

In 1998 the Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts (DCITA) established the five-year Software Engineering Quality Centres program. The program created state-based associations to provide software process improvement products and services.

The following year the government reshaped the program and created a national body, Software Engineering Australia (SEA). SEA then received government funding and replaced state associations, but not those in Queensland and Western Australia (WA) which chose to continue on their own.

Around June 30 this year the government's funding for SEA expired.

Consequently, the board of SEA WA decided in August that the association would close by the end of the year, which means the loss of three full-time jobs.

"We haven't been getting enough people along to our training courses," said SEA WA CEO Stuart Hope.

As a result, the state's developers will lose access to SEA WA's startup incubator program, networking events and training courses.

"We've offered technical training courses that are not vendor-specific, things like object oriented programming," Hope said.

"No one else in WA does this," he said.

Part of SEA WA's downfall was the refusal of the national body to pass on project funding, Hope said.

"We must've put up 20 projects for funding, and none of them were taken up. There were no reasons given.

"(For example) we wanted to build a software handbook, we were going to get all the academics to contribute, and we could've sold it to the universities. That would've provided $2000 to $3000 a year. (The-then Minister for IT, Richard) Alston said it was a no-brainer."

Hope said that instead the national body had done "very little" with the funding.

"It's a sad case of state parochialism," SEA CEO Nathan Brumby said of SEA WA's demise.

"(It) had the opportunity to align with us but decided to go (its) own way.

"If it was running under the same strategy as us, it would've been a loss (to the organization). However, the market is not big enough for that sort of structure," he said.

SEA Queensland's chairman of its board of directors, Adrian Mortimer, also said his organization's long-term survival would be a "challenge."

"The challenge is raising revenue. Training in IT (services) has generally fared badly over the last few years," he said.

SEA Queensland's staff of five run about 30 seminars a year and each attracts about 30 attendees, Mortimer said.

"We wouldn't be the only people offering vendor-neutral courses (in Queensland), but we have software testing courses. We're the only organisation in Queensland to offer those," he said.

Mortimer said SEA WA's demise is sad for the industry in that state.

"Our associations (WA and Queensland) are closer to the local industry (than the national body). Each state is somewhat different in terms of the type of players, the needs of local entities etc," Mortimer said.

Brumby said there had been discussions with SEA Queensland about bringing the state association into the national body's operations, but this was still subject to how SEA Queensland wished to operate.

SEA did not expect continued government funding after this year, and has reorganized to operate as a business, Brumby said. He believes the association's SoftwareMark program, a form of certification being piloted by Tasmanian developers, will help ensure its long-term survival.

With 13 full-time staff, SEA offers 70 training courses throughout Australia.

"Ours are also non-vendor specific, but the unique ones are the certified software test professional and the certified cost estimation," Brumby said.

Despite the problems faced by the state associations, SEA would continue to offer training courses in WA and Queensland to maintain the national association's presence, he said.

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