The Australian Information Industry Association, the 40-year-old vendor-led peak body representing the tech sector, has quietly shuttered its Canberra office, losing two of its most senior executives in the process.
The organisation has been without a General Manager of Policy and Advocacy since April when Kishwar Rahman resigned after less than a year in the role, leaving it without a permanent policy voice in the national capital over the election period and the first 100 days of the re-elected Morrison government.
The AIIA also lost its Canberra-based General Manager of Events Nicole Campbell in April, within days of Ms Rahman’s resignation. Ms Campbell had been with the organisation for eight years.
AIIA chief executive Ron Gauci said the organisation was in final stages of hiring a Canberra-based policy and advocacy executive, while events general manager role had been advertised as a Melbourne-based position.
Mr Gauci, a transformation specialist who was announced as AIIA chief last December but started the role five months ago, said the decision to close the Canberra physical office was purely “economic” and that the organisation would soon hire a policy executive based in the capital.
“We have a very large foot print on Canberra Avenue and we simply don’t have the size of team that justifies the lease on that footprint,” Mr Gauci said.
The AIIA’s centre of gravity has shifted significantly since it signed an agreement with the Victorian Government last December to move its National headquarters to Melbourne, and to host the annual iAwards event in Melbourne for a further four years.
The agreement with the Victoria came with headcount requirements, and a number of positions have now been consolidated in Melbourne. The AIIA had put the hosting of the iAwards event to market, calling for expressions of interest from other states to take the event.
Under its previous agreement, the Victorian government is understood to have paid the AIIA $250,000-a-year to host the event in Melbourne. It is not clear how much the new contract is worth.
Mr Gauci says the changes at the organisation are non-controversial, and that the address of its headquarters, or where its events program is organised is besides the point.
He says the AIIA has a strong presence all across Australia through its State Councils, and that this was especially the case in Canberra, which boasts an active and vocal ACT council under Canberra Data Centres’ CEO Greg Boorer.
“What you have to remember is that as a national organisation we have state councils with state chairs in each capital city,” Mr Gauci said. “So we have a significant footprint nationally across those councils.”
“We also have special interest groups which we are in the process of redeveloping to be more engaging with our user base through the use of technology,” he said.
“The reality is that I have spent a fair bit of time being visible in every state to make sure that we understand the local issues and to ensure that we are engaging locally and that we’re developing relationships locally.”
For 40 years, the AIIA has been a vendor-led organisation, dominated by the large overseas suppliers of technology. And while the board and revenue continues to be dominated by multinationals, there is an appetite now to re-organise around industry users of technology, covering areas like FinTech, AgriTech, BioTech to name a few.
Mr Gauci says the restructure of the AIIA is a work in progress and far from complete. The repurposing of the special interest groups is one program, but he has also opened the door greater collaboration and alliances with other tech-based industry associations.
“We are very aware that our industry is extremely large and that it has many other associations that represent different portions of the sector,” he said. “We know that many of them are manned with smaller offices that don’t have the financial resources and don’t have the reach that we have, and don’t have the access and the influence that we have.”
“But we understand their purpose and we understand their ‘why’. What we are saying is that where we can reach agreement about the message and the approach, I believe there is an opportunity for us to collaborate more with other associations to create an even stronger voice to government by working together as one.”
Mr Gauci said that given how fast the industry was growing and how quickly the technology is changing, there is both a need and an opportunity to bring the different voices of the industry together.
“Now is a great time to leave agendas and egos at the door and to collaborate and communicate with each other far better than we have in the past,” he said.
“If by working in collaboration with these [other industry] associations there derived a need to bring together a new, larger independent body, I am saying that the AIIA would be interested in having that conversation.”