Turf war develops over umbrella group

Back in September ITANZ told us a handful of organisations were meeting to discuss the formation of an umbrella group.The story was hardly published before TUANZ and InternetNZ denied involvement.

The industry we’re in is generally pretty civilised when it comes to the way in which different interest groups deal with each other. And, with one or two exceptions, individuals within the various groups rarely cause a ruckus.

(The obvious exception would have to be InternetNZ, formerly ISOCNZ, whose members have enlivened an otherwise subdued IT scene during the past year or so, making unrestrained use of the medium in which many of them work to rip into each other. As a relatively new group in the youngest sector of the industry, they can be forgiven – and thanked -- for their adolescent outbursts. They kept us entertained for months.)

More recently, however, there’s been a bit of a turf war developing among some of the more established industry groups. Typically, though, good manners will prevail and all will blow over. If that happens, then let me at least fill you in on what might have been.

Back in September the head of ITANZ (Information Technology Association of New Zealand – represents about 70 IT vendors), Jim O’Neill, told us a handful of organisations were meeting to discuss the formation of an umbrella group. The idea had been floating around for six months already, he told us, and was being considered by bodies including TUANZ (representing telecommunications users – a large potential membership, you’d think); the NZCS (New Zealand Computer Society – which aims to “develop the practice of the profession of information processing and related disciplines in New Zealand” and whose members come from all sections of the industry); and the aforementioned InternetNZ.

The purpose, O’Neill told us, was to facilitate a group of groups that could be “more responsive” to the industry. IT minister Paul Swain thought it a “great idea”, O’Neill said.

Well, talk about being responsive. The story was hardly published and TUANZ head Ernie Newman was on the phone, hotly disputing any involvement in creation of such a group. He knew of the idea, certainly, but had let ITANZ know some time back that TUANZ wasn’t interested. Expect a retraction from O’Neill, Newman told us, after he’d sat him down at lunch and set the record straight with him.

There was no retraction; instead, Newman wrote us a letter denying TUANZ involvement in the scheme (Computerworld, October 1). InternetNZ head Sue Leader did likewise, saying any suggestion that InternetNZ had been talking to ITANZ about the idea was incorrect.

By this stage I was beginning to wonder whether O’Neill had actually said what we’d quoted him saying. But doubt was banished a couple of weeks later when he told us that the plans were proceeding and at “a delicate stage” – a fine piece of understatement, we discovered, when it drew forth further protestations from Newman.

What, then, is going on? One theory is that ITANZ is being put up to the idea by Telecom, one of its executive members. The suggestion is Telecom and other telcos – TelstraSaturn and Vodafone are also ITANZ members – are unhappy with what they perceive as the influence of TUANZ – the user group -- over government policy. A series of user-friendly amendments to the Telecommunications Bill, which is slowly working its way through Parliament, might lend support to the argument. One of those amendments would require existing cellphone network operators to enable a new market entrant to roam on their networks as the newcomer builds their own. O’Neill spoke out publicly against the amendment, which places him clearly in opposition to TUANZ on the issue.

That raises a couple of questions in my mind. On what issues could an umbrella group representing interests as diverse as those of suppliers and buyers of products and services speak with one voice? And who is going to listen?

O’Neill might claim the IT minister thinks such a group a fine idea, but Swain’s office indicates his support isn’t quite that unequivocal. And after a further meeting within the past fortnight to erect the umbrella, InternetNZ and the NZCS are sounding only politely interested, at best. As for TUANZ’s current view of the idea, nothing has changed. This is one umbrella that looks unlikely to keep the rain out.

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

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