Plenty of ideas, but not enough answers

Attendees at the government's e-commerce summit went looking for ideas and answers. Most appear to have come away with plenty of the latter, but perhaps not enough of the former.

Attendees at the e-commerce summit went looking for answers and ideas. Many told Computerworld that they were coming away from the two-day conference with sponsored satchels-full of the latter, but perhaps not enough of the former.

There was also some feeling that the e-commerce needs of the thousands of small and medium-sized enterprises - SMEs - around the country were not well catered for.

“It was really positive and I met some valuable contacts and widened my networks," says Rosanne Hawarden, director of Syspro New Zealand, a Christchurch reseller of accounting packages.

"I like the idea of the government’s actions committee. I think there is a call for this on a regional basis, or at the very least, a South Island committee. In the rural communities there are a lot of other specific issues such as internet access to deal with."

“There’s quite a bit in here for Maori businesses to take away," says Richard Jones of Poutama Trust, a Maori business development and advisory group in the Waitomo Caves area.

"But I feel the government strategy part was too much a reading of a prepared speech and was too rushed. It was not explained well. One of the best parts was the two Americans, John Sifonis and Don Tapscott, particularly their ideas on leadership and education."

    Bryan Mortimer, financial controller for Auckland-based freight company Phoenix Freight, and Darren Clarke, IT manager for Service Direct, went to the summit to learn about B2B exchanges and ways of integrating with customers and suppliers. They wanted to hear more about R&D incentives from the Ministry of Economic Development.

    William Kaipo of Te Hau Ora o Te Tai Tokerau in Whangarei, which provides business training, mentoring and networking to small businesses in Northland, says he is trying to develop an e-commerce site. He says he found the international branding workshop useful, particularly for the organisation's musician and artist clients. Going around vendor stands he also found many ways of cutting costs.

    Gavin Adlam, a sole practice lawyer from Wellington, considers the government may have a role in promoting and assisting the development of infrastructure for e-commerce, likening it to the state building the roads and railways so livestock could get from farms to ports for export.

    Auckland-based KPMG tax partner Ian Kowalski wanted to learn particularly how other countries are taxing e-commerce transactions. He was told by Victoria University e-commerce professor Brian Corbitt that nobody has a solution although the OECD website contained some suggestions.

    But SMEs were not getting what they needed, said some. “SME’s are the heart and soul of the country and they are not getting any attention from today," said Sid Huff of Victoria University.

    "SMEs clearly need help. It just wasn’t marketed right, and I don’t think there are that many SME’s here. Maybe they need to hold another one.”

    SupplyNet chief executive Carlos Martinez also didn't believe many SMEs had attended.

    "It’s the same old ABC or business rule – who organised it shows who will come, and how does this appeal to SMEs?”

    Business people in the feedback forum on government strategy, led by Corbitt, heard that several factors constrained businesses, particularly SMEs, from getting involved e-commerce. These included information, management and technical skills, a lack of appreciation that it is a business and not a technical issue, funding, and a lack of a support or network infrastructure.

    One attendee said Waikato University's e-literacy programme for teachers and students, which it is hoping to pilot across other schools nationwide, was the kind of initiative the government should get in behind.

    Another commented that the government should be supporting and building industry portals. An Auckland school principal said the average age of teachers is 49 and they generally don’t know about e-commerce. Telecommunications and e-commerce has to be introduced to the curriculum.

    A small business adviser said SMEs have no way to find out about of the capabilities or potential of e-commerce at the moment.

    A company director said the country was inhibited by things like the Resource Management Act that stop construction and the laying down of fibre-optic networks in Auckland, and that the government plan needs to be implemented in 90 days, “like any other business cycle”.

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