Hard work ahead for NZSA

When a company as established as Christchurch's Jade Software is having to cut costs by a quarter and lay off scores of staff you have confirmation - if needed - that the software business is tough.

When a company as established as Christchurch's Jade Software is having to cut costs by a quarter and lay off scores of staff you have confirmation – if needed – that the software business is tough.

Yet the government has dreams of generating 10% of GDP from a domestic ICT sector by 2012, more than double today’s level. A good thing, then, given a climate of ambitious growth and perilous economic conditions, that the New Zealand Software Association has elected a new head who understands the challenges.

The NZSA’s incoming president is an Auckland lawyer, Wayne Hudson, of Bell Gully. Hudson has been associated with the software body for a decade or more, and steps into the shoes of Rollo Gillespie to lead it for the next two years.

As a lawyer, he’s not planning to lead the sector into sophisticated new levels of litigiousness. But he does believe he has wisdom accumulated over 20 years that can help software businesses exploit their IP to best advantage. Hudson says he can show the way on a practical level: assisting companies to do capital raising, and providing guidance on internationalisation, licensing and distribution.

Jade’s misfortunes demonstrate that even when you’re doing those things to the best of your ability, flourishing in a software world dominated by multinational vendors is a struggle. It’s not as if the company doesn’t have experts in charge. Former finance minister Ruth Richardson is chair and former Reserve Bank deputy governor Rod Carr has just taken up the job of chief executive. Gil Simpson, the company’s founder, who calls himself president these days, isn’t stuck for ideas either.

But events appear to have got the better of them all. When Simpson announced Carr’s appointment in a press release in March, he said he had joined “at a very exciting time in our history”. It’s a safe bet that he wasn’t talking about budget cuts.

Carr’s appointment signalled a sharper focus by Simpson on overseas markets, but it’s those markets that have yielded disappointing results. In his usual say-it-like-it-is fashion, he told Computerworld last week that the cuts follow the failure of the company to make any significant sales in the past eight months.

For Simpson, hailed by the New Zealand Computer Society as the country’s most significant contributor to IT last century, that’s a second disappointment. The first is the fact that New Zealand customers for his Jade development environment are so hard to come by. “New Zealand is a tough market to crack,” he told this publication in late 2001.

There was a reluctance to buy anything non-mainstream, he said. So he turned his eyes to Australia, the UK and US, which last year provided about 60% of revenue. Now he has to hope the present sales drought is only temporary.

And the rest of the software industry has Wayne Hudson and the NZSA to look to for helping bring about the growth the government has its sights set on. His prescription: a lot of hard work.

Doesburg is Computerworld’s editor. Send letters for publication to Computerworld Letters.

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