Deloitte Consulting’s managing partner in Australia Robert Hillard is urging his tech sector peers to become active in the nation’s peak industry associations on the basis that policy decisions are made by those who show up.
Mr Hillard, who has recently finished a four-year stint on the board of the Australian Information Industry Association, has also urged the tech industries many different lobby groups to collaborate more closely on policy development.
Deeper cooperation between groups would be a necessary first step in creating an umbrella organisation as a single, more powerful voice to speak for the interests of the tech sector.
Mr Hillard has been frustrated at InnovationAus.com coverage in recent weeks of the AIIA’s internal machinations. We have reported difficulties in the group in attracting active new members and written about the small loss the association reported for its last financial year.
Deloitte Consulting joined the AIIA in 2010. The decision to join the association “was not based on whether the AIIA was perfect” but rather because it had “the largest – albeit inadequate – number of members” and was somewhere the company could be a positive voice from within.
He has urged his peers to get involved.
“I think it is the responsibility of every provider in the tech sector to be active in the industry through an industry association,” he said. If not the AIIA, then the industry should get behind another group, but ultimately the different voices had to come together to be effective in contributing to policy development.
“If we allow those industry associations to fragment too much, it only makes that voice of the industry more difficult [to convey].
“I’m certainly not precious about the AIIA. What I am saying is that in Australia it is very hard – if you are in government or some other large stakeholder – to understand what the voice of the technology sector is.”
“And that’s not serving our country very well.”
The creation of a single industry voice has eluded the industry for decades. Certainly it has seemed unlikely since the sector began fragmenting into niche bodies in the 1990s, a process that has exacerbated in more recent years. But Mr Hillard in confident nonetheless.
“The issues and opportunities presented by technology right now are so compelling that we are [already] seeing greater alignment between industry associations than we have in the past,” he said.
One of the things that the AIIA has done particularly well in the past five years has been on the policy front with the creation of a policy submission unit within the association.
The policy work has led to greater collaborations with other industry groups. This cooperation should be leveraged to hopefully drive the creation of an umbrella organisation in the longer term to better represent the disparate interests of the broader technology sector.
“It’s through these collaborations that [different industry associations] have started to talk more closely. It is from that closer collaboration that some sort of umbrella and governance integration will naturally take place.”
“And frankly if that’s nothing more than reciprocal rights and seeding to each other’s particular policy topics, then that would be a perfectly OK first step.”
The AIIA in recent times has cooperated more closely with the Business Council of Australia and with the Australian Computer Society than it has in the past, as well as with regional industry groups around the country.
“I believe firmly that the tech industry has got to be able to speak with consistency to key stakeholders, which includes government but also includes large investors, corporate users and buyers of technology,” Mr Hillard said. “It has to be in a way that is consistent.”
“When I look down the list of issues that I talk to my peers about – things like skills, innovation, government procurement, partnering with the education sector, integrating [public research] with industry – the sector is actually remarkably consistent [about its priorities].”
“But people are frustrated that it is so hard to speak about these things in a way that is understood or heard by those stakeholders.”
He says as important a role that industry groups play in feeding into government policy formulations, it should not be up to the government to provide funding for these groups.
“The pragmatic side of me says that the dollars that we invest in good policy will get paid back in good outcomes many times over. It’s kind of a no-brainer.”
“It really is small bickies for a big dividend.”
The fragmentation of the industry into many smaller niche representative bodies is understandable, if frustrating. Mr Hillard says there is something in the DNA of entrepreneurs and technology that compelling them to see the status quo as broken and then setting out to start something new.
Mr Hillard says he’s done this himself as the first president of the Information Management Forum out of the Data Warehousing Institute during the 1990s.
“So I shouldn’t be casting stones. But the point I would make about StartupAus and TechSydney and others is that absolutely they will kick some goals initially.”
“The problem is that they are only speaking for a part of the technology industry and these pieces all need to fit together.”
There are three parts to the tech sector and they each have a very different role, he says. And these parts are mirrored across other sectors.
“The engine room of job creation is Australia small business. No matter which metric you look at, small business generates the largest quantity of jobs.
“However big business has the balance sheet that provides the funding that enables small business to be successful – that’s in terms of creating supply chains and ecosystems that enables small business.
“So big business carries the balance sheet weight that helps enable that job creation. And big business themselves are also obviously job creators.”
Startups, he says, cannot be defined merely as small businesses starting out. “Startups do not generate large quantities of jobs on their own. It’s not their role in life.”
“Their role is to create innovations – and inventions – that are the life-blood of the technology industry. But the jobs come in numbers through small business, and the ability to invest in that innovation comes through big business.
“So these three groups absolutely have to play together. If we have too many narrow industry groups [separately] representing each of these areas, then we are going to get into trouble.”