Home Industry Development Victorian software company wants support for home-grown ICT firms

Victorian software company wants support for home-grown ICT firms

Export success could ironically result in a Victorian software company moving its global support operations offshore in the absence of appropriate industry development measures.

Sky Software produces software for educational institutions from its base in Geelong, Victoria's second city, located approximately 70km southwest of Melbourne.

Its customers include the University of Queensland, the Australian Film, Television and Radio School, South Australia's Department for Education and Child Development, and Otago University (New Zealand) - as well as others in the Czech Republic, Hong Kong, Kuwait, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, and the UK.

Sky Software CEO Nick Stanley told iTWire that the company wants to continue to invest in Geelong, but its success in overseas markets - including a major contract that will soon be announced in a European country - means there are "searching questions" to be answered.

That contract could see the company relocate a significant number of staff to the UK, he said. Running the relationship with the customer from Australia is more expensive due to the distances involved.

Mr Stanley would like to the state and federal governments respond to plans by major employers such as Ford and Shell to shed staff in Geelong by supporting smaller companies rather than trying to attract a large company to the area.

Spreading the risk over perhaps 50 companies - including startups that may develop into the next generation of medium businesses - could be a safer bet than providing a financial incentive to one company to bring 500 jobs to Geelong in one move.

This isn't pure self-interest. The Geelong ICT sector "is a bit of a well-kept secret," he said, with around 300 SME software companies in the region. "There really is a vibrant ICT industry in Geelong," said Mr Stanley.

Mr Stanley pointed to a study suggesting that one new hi-tech job creates five regular jobs in the surrounding area, though he feels that may be an exaggeration and that a ratio of three for one as reported by a big UK incubator may be closer to the truth.

"Whichever way you look at it, there are jobs created," he said.

Sky's headquarters are in central Geelong, within the area where construction of the NBN fibre network has commenced.

The greatly improved connectivity will make it technically possible to set up a global support centre in Geelong instead of moving support staff closer to overseas customers.

"We think it's a really compelling project for the government," said Mr Stanley.

But he said it is difficult to find a way through the maze: should Sky approach the Commonwealth or state government, and which departments or agencies? There's also a fear of 'treading on toes' by making approaches in the wrong order.

Support doesn't have to come in the form of direct financial assistance. He points to a UK government initiative that gives preference to SME tenderers in situations where they otherwise match larger competitors: "That's quite inspirational."


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Stephen Withers

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Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.