The aim of this phase of the study is to "Develop a statement that identifies the capacity of the region to host a range of IT industries from the perspective of the investor". This is the key area in the consultancy and is intended to provide:
Review previous literature and reports and successful capability statements from elsewhere.
The purpose of this section of the report was to provide a framework of questions that an investor would want answered. This was then to be used to assess the region and prepare material to attract investors. However, it is suggested that this approach not be adopted and an alternative strategy of marketing the region as a place where call centres and IT are done, be used. There is little point in providing a detailed argument for investment in the region, if potential investors do not know of the existence of the region. Essentially the only questions from investors worth answering are: "What is the Great Southern Region?" and "What activities like mine and people like me are already there?".
ACA Research has suggested (ACA Research 1999) that for call centres, investment is a cost-benefit decision, with the prime identified attractions being:
Accessibility by transport/car.
Read (2000) suggested selecting sites for call centres in rural communities with suitable real estate and telecom infrastructures. This was such locations were considered to have a loyal workforce, due to significant underemployment.
However, there is an inherent contradiction between attracting call centres with low pay, low status jobs and that of IT software, which is seen to be a high pay and high status industry. As an example the strategy paper from the ACT Government (1996) lists Canberra's advantages in attracting information technology, including proximity to the decision-makers, tertiary education establishments and research bodies. Promoting a region on the one hand as having a pool of underemployed people does not sit well with promoting a high technology dynamic IT image.
As discussed in Part 1 of the report (Developing the Concept), advances in technology and convergence may be creating new opportunities for small centres in regional areas. One potential area is for web call centres. This may be a way to get around the contradiction of low wage call centres V high wage IT industry.
The approach of providing a set of "frequently asked questions" is not appropriate for the Great Southern Region to attract investors. A large one-off investment, such as for a major call centre, would need individual presentations with the detailed issues of staff availability and suitable buildings and land. There is therefore no value in preparing stock answers in advance for these clients. Small call centre and IT investments will likely be at the personal discretion of the business principal (due to some knowledge or attachment to the region) or based on general marketing information, not on detailed analysis.
It is suggested that an alternative approach to marketing the region be used. This would be to highlight the existing call centre and IT facilities in the region, particularly using the Internet. This would then attract interest from potential new investors who could have their questions answered by making the resources of the region available online.
This section reports on results of consultation with regional stakeholders who have a keen interest and contribution to the project.
Policy issues that would need to be addressed: How should government support for development of the region best be harnessed? Are government subsidies and government jobs worth pursuing and of long term value?
A visit to the region was conducted in May-June 2000 and a detailed report prepared. Before the visit a search was made of IT related businesses in the region via a World Wide Web search engine and online Yellow Pages (Telstra). The web search revealed few IT related businesses and the existing Telstra Call Centre in the region was all but invisible. The Yellow Pages search revealed a few retail computer stores and network provision companies.
The online searches were of little value in finding stakeholders to visit. If this had been an effort to assess the region as the location for an IT investment, the conclusion from the online search would be that the Great Southern Region was not a suitable location for IT investment. While this may not appear a fair test, it should be realised that investment decisions will be increasingly made based on online research and those lacking a plausible web presence may be eliminated at an early stage, before detailed on-site analysis is carried out.
As the online research was unsuccessful, the experience of GSDC staff, particularly the project officer, was relied on instead. This revealed a wealth of IT talent in interesting and viable businesses in the region. However, the fact that these businesses (and no doubt many others) are not visibly online is a major problem for the region. Fixing this situation should be the second highest priority and offers a potentially high return for a modest investment.
Before the trip a request for information was issued to members of the IT profession, and others interested, via the Internet. This was intended to promote the region, as well as collect information:
Subject: Net Traveller to Australia's Great Southern Region 29 May to 2 June
I wrote Sat, 19 Mar 1994 09:22:37 GMT (was: "Hi-tech tourist in Europe in April"):
> Can you suggest any hi-tech related tourist activities for an Australian
> computer person in Europe in April? ... I get a bit bored on holiday
>looking at historic buildings and waterfalls...
My next visit will be to the Great Southern Region of West Australia, May 29 to 2 June 2000. As with previous net travels I would be interested in suggestions as to what high technology aspects of the region to look at (as well as tourist attractions) and who to visit.
This is the latest in what has turned into a six year odyssey, including visits to centres of learning and involvement with the Internet in military exercises. This is described in my book "Net Traveller - Exploring the Networked Nation": http://www.tomw.net.au/nt
This trip is part of a project to attract call/contact centres, and other small to medium size IT enterprises for the Great Southern Region Development Commission. See: http://www.tomw.net.au/gsr
The Great Southern region is an hour by plane from Perth. It includes the historic whaling town of Albany; the wines and wildflowers of Mt Barker; the gourmet foods, forests and art of Denmark; and the rural farm areas and national parks further north. See the web site for links to tourist information.
In terms of IT, the region already hosts a Telstra Call Centre with 40 staff, located in the town of Katanning. Design Correlations is an Australian owned company located in Albany, which specialises in making Numerically Controlled (NC) machinery and in particular a NC Plasma Cutter of which over thirty are in operation throughout Australia, New Zealand and Indonesia. Details are on the web site and other hi-tech businesses in the region might like to contact me for a visit and to be added.
On my way to the region (Perth Monday 29 May) I will be discussing the project with state government officials and talking about recent work on e-business for the Federal Government: http://about.business.gov.au/ipp/ipga.html
There is the opportunity to stop off in Perth on the way back (Friday 2 June), if corporate or government people would like to discuss this or other projects.
The request elicited few useful responses about what to look at in the region. However, it did elicit criticism of the idea of promoting Australia as a location for call centre development and suggesting that higher value IT development should be concentrated on (and resulting in the suggestion of web-based call centres).
Working lunch with staff from Major Projects, Department of Commerce and Trade, Government of Western Australia.
Meet project officer: Mark Pitts-Hill, Great Southern Development Commission, Pyrmont House, 110 Serpentine Road, Albany
Project Steering Committee, Great Southern Development Commission
Wednesday 31 May
Thursday 1 June
Manager, Kojonup Telecentre
Manager, Katanning Regional Telecentre, Old Library Building, Austral Terrace, Katanning WA.
Manager, Katanning Call Centre
Glenn Hakinson, Dow Digital
A meeting was arranged by Lyne Thomas, Project Leader, Major Projects, Department of Commerce and Trade of Western Australia, with relevant staff of the Department, including: Lesley Smith, Executive Director, Corporate Business, Operations, Garry Clarke, Team Leader, International Education and Training Services, Malcolm Murray, Team Leader, International Projects and Bruce Simps, Business Development, Office of Information and Communications.
The Department is responsible for promotion of WA as a location for call centres and IT, including a booklet on development of call centres in Western Australia (DCT, 1998). This booklet shows an understanding of the requirements of call Centre operators for staff and office facilities. One selling point used, is to emphasise Western Australia's ties to Asia: a similar time zone, stronger political, economic and social affiliation to Asia. Also, it emphasises lower living costs to the east cost of Australia.
Claims that are probably universal for this sort of promotion are also made:
Low staff turnover
The booklet promotes WA overall, then Perth (the capital city) and regional areas. The back of the book has a pocket with loose sheets for each region. As with other regions, the Great Southern Region emphasises available infrastructure, workforce, low costs and pleasant lifestyle.
One problem with the region brochures is that they use photographs of natural attractions, rather than commercial facilities. This gives the impression of undeveloped regions lacking infrastructure and commerce. Some photos of the city centres and inside local IT facilities would give a better impression.
However, the features of this material are largely irrelevant as most potential investors will never see the material, as it is only available on paper. While the Department will provide a copy on request, this assumes the potential investor to knows of the document's existence.
Material promoting WA as an IT centre needs to be on the web, so it can be found by potential investors who are not necessarily aware of the existence of WA. The lack of material online places WA regions at a disadvantage when competing for investment nationally or internationally. However, it creates an opportunity for the Great Southern Region to compete with other regions of WA, by putting its own material online locally.
Besides attracting call centres, staff at the meeting have concerns in internal IT and IT business development and attracting education industry. Issues covered included:
Other WA IT development, particularly for education.
E-commerce is relevant to attracting IT business to regional areas. This is a key technology that companies outside traditional commercial centres can use to compete. Distance is irrelevant, if products and services can be promoted, sold and serviced on-line.
Education is also key to attracting IT companies to an area. In addition to training for staff at the VET level, the existence of a tertiary institution acts as an indicator of development and availability of expert staff. The Great Southern Region has a significant underutilised resource, in comparison to regions, with the presence of the University of WA Albany Centre (discussed below).
Some points that came out of the discussion with Departmental staff were:
The Department is a large organisation with staff working on projects of relevance to the Great Southern Region. Not only will any initiatives of the region need to be promoted to potential investors, but staff of the state government itself to be informed.
The first meeting in the region was with the project officer, Mark Pitts-Hill at the offices of the Great Southern Development Commission in Pyrmont House, 110 Serpentine Road. This was the first face-to-face meeting with the project manager, previous arrangements being by telephone and e-mail. The GSDC's ability to use communications will be a major asset in attracting IT business and should be extended to the use of the World Wide Web.
The commission is housed in a historic stone building, refitted internally as a modern office. The arrival of the PC, LAN and the Internet has meant that the technology can be easily retrofitted into an existing building, where the comfort of the staff can take precedence over adapting to the equipment. The region could use such building to promote the region, in a similar way as is done in such historic towns as Cambridge, England.
The project officer provided a briefing on the local business community and made arrangements for meetings.
The next appointment was across the road from the offices of the Great Southern Development Commission, with Alan Dodds, IT Manager and Tutor in IT at the University of WA Albany Centre. This is in the Old Headmaster's House, 85 Serpentine Road. Mr. Dodds is responsible for a network of Apple Mac computers used for teaching. The centre is linked to the main campus of the University of Western Australia in Perth. The network is available to students in their homes and offices in the region (by a local dial-in service), as well as the tutorial rooms in the building. There is also a video conferencing system for two-way tuition.
The Albany Centre was established in 1999 for teaching selected units. It should be noted that the centre is intended to provide facilities for face-to-face interaction between students and staff, rather than "distance education". Students have the resources of a local campus. Traditional tutorials are conducted in the centre, with local tutors. Lecturers are transmitted via the Internet from the main UWA campus in Perth. There is also the capacity to prepare lectures in Albany and delivered via the link to Perth and other locations.
Mr Dodds suggested that there was untapped IT expertise in the region that was not being reached through current business development techniques. Many IT professionals are wary of government-sponsored business development schemes involving time-consuming meetings. These people might be encouraged to take part in informal activities with a technical and social focus.
One option for encouraging local interaction by IT professionals would be for the sponsorship an IT development meeting under the guise of drinks at the local pub. Such a forum has been operating in Canberra for several years, under the name "Internet Reality Check". In the Cambridge phenomenon (Segal 1985), Segal Quince & Partners discuss the role of the Cambridge Technology Association (previously Cambridge Computer Group) which grew out of a meeting in July 1979 to encourage cooperation and support among new computer companies. The group provided moral support for new small companies, financial and business service firms could identify opportunities from the start-up computer companies and local authorities could see a new industry to encourage.
The Albany centre has a basic rate ISDN service, with up to two 64kbps channels used, depending on demand (the video conferencing operates on a separate dial-up link). Innovative techniques are used to transmit lecture material efficiently over the link.
The first bandwidth saving technique is that lectures are recorded in Perth, sent overnight down the link and stored locally at the Albany campus. This frees the link for interactive use during the day and allows students to view lectures quickly from the local copy. If a local copy is not available, the students can download the material from Perth.
Rather than "talking heads", as much video-based education could be described, Albany's version is "talking hands". There is no attempt to video the lecturer as they speak. Instead a document camera, mounted on the desk is used to give the equivalent view to an overhead projector. The lecturer lays their material, as ordinary sheets of paper, on the desktop, under a camera. The instructor can point out items on the page and draw freehand on the page. The video is projected to a large screen in the Perth lecture theatre, in place of a conventional overhead projector display. This allows the students in Albany to see the same material onscreen as those in Perth.
The camera records the page and the lecturer's hand movements, in slow scan video. This is displayed using Apple's Quicktime software, along with the lecturer's voice. Electronically generated slides, such as MS-Powerpoint can also be shown synchronised with the speaker, but mostly just the "talking hands" are used.
Because of the technology used, Albany can offer tertiary level courses in many fields and tutorial work for local people. The limitation is being able to find the staff as tutors and for topics that do not require special lab or other hands-on work. IT would appear a special case of subject where the hands on lab work can be done remotely over the system. The availability of IT training should be an attraction for investors. Local teaching work will also be an attraction for experienced senior IT professionals (the author of this report, for example, is a Visiting Fellow at the Australian National University).
As well as useful for education the Albany centre could be a useful resource for business. The facilities could be used for business meetings and for developing multimedia product presentations.
Gill Sellar is the Manager of the Albany Gateway, based at 70 Frederick House, Frederick Street. The Albany Gateway is a local initiative, launched a few days before the meeting. The project received an enthusiastic local reception and has been recognised with an award. However, the region is late in developing a web presence and has considerable work to do to fulfil the ambitious aims of the project.
One ambitious feature of the gateway is the way local people are being trained to maintain the material. Rather than have an editorial staff in one central location (some local governments even have their web sites maintained out of state), locals are recruited and trained to put up material in their local community.
Government funding was received to set up the site, but the intention is for it to be self-supporting through advertising. It will be interesting to see if this is sustainable. While using local editors might reduce the cost and create more of a local flavour, it does create a coordination problem. Will advertisers be willing to fund such an activity?
One avenue for commercialisation of the Gateway is to support local primary industry, such as timber and wine. Such initiatives need not be just for local industry, but could address the requirements of these industries nationally and internationally.
One application of the web would be to provide investors in local primary industry with information about their investment. A "live" link could provide a sense of being part of the activity. As an example those investing in tree plantations and vineyards could see photographs, weather reports and other technical reports on how their crops are doing. They could listen and see reports from the local staff. Also, they could be invited to visit for briefings in the region on their investment, combining tourism and industry in a tax effective way.
A meeting was held with the Steering Committee for the project, with representatives from local government and the business community. At this meeting a verbal progress report made use of a draft version of the project web site. The main conclusion presented was that on organic growth of existing and new Small to Medium Enterprises (SMEs) should be the focus, rather than the attraction of large operations by existing enterprises.
Kristina Fleming, Centre Manager for the South Coast Regional Information Centre, 444 Albany Highway, discussed the project to provide integrated geographic information services for the region. Geographic information systems are an example of an IT-based service supporting local primary production, but could also have a potential world market.
Brad Barber is the Multimedia Coordinator at ABC Radio's Multimedia Unit, collocated with ABC Radio South Coast at 2 St. Emilie Way.
The Multi Media Unit carries out experimental and production development of digital content for ABC Radio and ABC TV. The Unit has facilities for making video, either for use with conventional TV (and with some broadcast by ABC in WA) and for use in web-based multimedia.
The existence of the Unit in the region provides the opportunity to showcase the region online to potential investors. There is also the opportunity to combine the expertise in the Unit with the education in the region to produce education content and material for industry.
John Beaton is Project Manager for Geo Task (Australia), Suite Six, 57-59 Lockyer Ave. Geo Task makes extensive use of computer-based mapping facilities and remote imaging material via digital networks.
Western Australia has a very active telecentres program. This encourages local communities to open centres offering computer and Internet access. The centres are usually based in an old library or other community building. They offer cyber-cafe style facilities and training courses for use of computers. These can be very useful for micro businesses that cannot afford their own computer equipment or trained support staff.
Brief visits were made to two Telecentres. The Kojonup Telecentre is typical of smaller tele-centres, in the main street of the town of Kojonup.
The town of Katanning has a larger Katanning Regional Telecentre in the Old Library Building, Austral Terrace. This centre has an ISP service with dial-in access for people in the surrounding region and plans to install video conferencing facilities. The telecentres have the potential to provide a range of services to micro-business and SMEs, including higher speed Internet connections and video conferencing facilities. There is the potential to collocate small call centres and business incubators with the Telecentres. This arrangement would suit web-based call centres and small software development companies.
Katanning is the location for a Telstra Call Centre. This centre services directory assistance calls across Australia. It uses the difference in time zones to service eastern state after hours enquires, during Western Australian office hours. The centre has the potential to be expanded to employ more staff and cover a larger range of customer activities.
It is tempting to look for one large company that will transfer its operation to the region, thus providing secure and long term employment and economic prosperity. However, as the collapse of dot com companies shows, there is no long term assurance in the IT industry.
The most stable and long term employment and economic benefits will come from people, such as those mentioned above, who have chosen to live in the region for its attractive lifestyle. Hidden in heritage listed buildings are small companies and individuals doing innovative IT in areas of education, publishing, support for primary industry and telecommunications.
Some small and micro businesses of the region will grow to be larger businesses. However, they may better serve as an example to other businesses looking to set up. They also provide a support infrastructure for larger businesses that need expert services to operate.
One area that there may be potential in the region is in on-line multimedia for education. The ABC's multimedia unit is only a few minutes walk from the University of WA Centre. This provides the opportunity to combine the facilities to produce local multimedia material for education.
The region's timber and wine growing industries, combined with geographic information systems initiatives and the Albany Gateway provides another potential industry. Many thousands of people in other parts of Australia and around the world now have an interest in what happens in the region, though their investment in local primary production. Rather than just receiving an occasional printed report on how their investment is going, those people could be provided with live online reports from the region via the web. This could use online mapping to show where their investment is, environmental information to show the current local conditions and even web cameras to show what work is being done.
The Albany Gateway could provide details of local events, accommodation and other facilities. The investors could be encouraged to make a tax deductible visit to see how their investment is faring (while doing some whale watching).
Regional Telecentres, such as that at Katanning, have the potential to provide a range of services to micro-business and SMEs. There is the potential to collocate small call centres and business incubators with the Telecentres.
A literature search was undertaken for the project by S.J. Jackson, from the Library of the Australian National University. A bibliography is available as a separate document. Excerpts from the literature and reports found, are reviewed below. Overall the findings agree with the Australian Call Centre Location Report (ACA Research 1999) examined in detail in Part 1 of this report (Developing the Concept).
Read 2000 outlines (in the American context) the following strategies are suggested for selecting sites for call centres:
Look at rural communities and smaller cities with populations under 200,000, but make sure they have suitable real estate and the telecom infrastructure to support your call centres.
Consultants recommend this approach because such locations often have higher than average unemployment rates, significant underemployment and a loyal workforce with a strong work ethic. Many of these places will be able to make even stronger cases for themselves as call centre locations when high-speed telecom and data services become available to them.
The Netherlands has been pursuing companies with call centres through The Netherlands Foreign Investment Agency. In a question and answer session in 1999, Onno Ponfoort, Area Director of NFIA gave the following response when asked "What criteria would you use to select a site? How would you weigh this criterion?":
The most important areas to look for when selecting a site are:
- Quantity and quality to staff your call centre for now and in the future;
- Are there supportive and flexible labor laws, allowing '7*24' operations and part time labor?
- Are the operating costs of the centre competitive?
- Are the local authorities geared toward attracting centralized service operations?
- Do the local rules and regulations allow flexible inbound and outbound call handling?
- Is there a telecom and data communications infrastructure available capable of handling your communications requirements?
As part of a broader report (Florio1999) on call centres in the Asia-Pacific region, the following provided specific reference to the Australian market and the potential for regional areas of Australia to provide call centre services.
While the majority of developing Asia-Pacific countries continue a policy of actively encouraging economic development, including attracting call centres, the study finds that the majority of call centre investment in the region is focused on Australia, especially along the country's eastern seaboard.
"Over 80% of call centres in Australia are located in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane," explains Mr. Conboy. "Australian unemployment appears to be trending downwards and the types of people who traditionally populate call centres are being sought after by many different sectors of the economy. Thus we see increasing concern about access to a trained and available workforce in an increasingly crowded arena. Consequently we are now seeing about one quarter of Australian call centres actively looking at non-urban relocation strategies. Access to an experienced and available workforce is a universal problem facing the call centre industry in all mature call centre environments."
Moll 1999 lists of some "desirables" businesses looked at when relocating to the Greater Seattle area.
In addition to the strength of diverse industry sectors in the greater Seattle regional economy, other factors such as the high quality of life, educational institutions, and a highly skilled workforce have contributed to the regions success. A majority of company representatives interviewed mentioned the high quality of life as a primary reason why they, and their company, chose to locate there. The greater Seattle region has been consistently ranked as one of the best US cities in which to live and work, and to locate a business. Quality of life factors such as the regions highly skilled workforce, education and research, quality transportation and infrastructure, access to domestic and international markets, and cultural diversity have attracted "high quality" people and businesses to the region.
Bonnor 2000 provides a case-study of a town in regional NSW, which attracted information technology jobs (in this case, data entry) away from the cities using a "telecottage" model.
One nearby example of how regional Australia can embrace the information economy is the Telecottage in Walcha, 70kms to the south of Tamworth[...]The Telecottage is run by a local cooperative whose primary objectives are to improve opportunities for employment, economic and social growth for the local rural community. One way in which it sought to do so was by attracting data entry work away from the major cities.
While progress was initially slow, the Telecottage has now been successful in obtaining substantial income from the provision of data entry, secretarial, survey and other services, with data entry work coming from Sydney, Melbourne and even New Zealand. The Telecottage also provides secretarial, desktop publishing and image processing to regional clients. The Telecottage uses the Internet extensively for communications, research, training and data transfer. Throughout, the Telecottage has also provided low cost Internet access, secretarial services and training to the local community. The realisation that rural teleworkers can offer a competitive alternative to city based workers, by virtue of significantly lower overhead costs and the trade off of income against lifestyle, has now led to the formation of TeleTask, a non profit company to recruit rural teleworkers, assess and certify their capabilities and find regular work. TeleTasks establishment is being supported through the Federal Governments Networking the Nation program.
A paper by McGregor et al 1997 specifically about rural WA and information technology outlines the business/employment potential in information technology industries for the state, as well as giving an indication of the types of businesses which should be targeted for location/relocation in the state.
One of the major opportunities that telecommunications
infrastructure provision and use gives to rural communities is
the ability to diversify their income earning capacity but also the
ability to attract back and retain their youth and attract
teleworkers into their communities (Schoeffel et al, 1993). The
direct employment opportunity that is created by
telecommunication infrastructure is very important to rural areas.
Opportunities exist for the development (or location) of service and
value-added components of enterprises which are not location
specific. Examples include design and marketing of products,
provision of service facilities for multinational corporation through
call centres and the possibility of virtual
corporations ie businesses have no bricks and mortar in much
the same way AMWAY works (QIB pers com., 1997).
A strategy paper from the ACT Government 1996 listed Canberra's advantages and disadvantages in attracting information technology and "advanced technology" companies. This acknowledges that many of the companies need not be located in the area to achieve their business aims, meaning the ACT needs to play up its "good points" to attract and keep advanced technology businesses.
Advanced technology industries
Canberra has a number of advantages to offer advanced technology (AT) industries:
comparatively cheap land, with the potential for direct sales to prospective industries.
However, many AT industries are "footloose", being able to operate from any location. This could be as much to Canberra's disadvantage as to its advantage. For example, a recent survey showed that over half of all IT and AT businesses do not consider it essential for them to be located in Canberra/Queanbeyan (BASAT 1996b).
[...]One factor militating decisions by AT firms to locate in Canberra appears to be its perceived isolation, despite frequent air services and a road journey time of only three hours to Sydney. The construction of a high-speed rail link, internationalisation of Canberra Airport and the completion of the duplication of the Federal Highway would all help to offset this perception.
Other factors which have been shown to influence decisions by AT and IT firms to locate in Canberra include the negative image of the ACT as a business location, the low awareness of assistance programs and lifestyle advantages offered by the ACT (BASAT 1996b)
Segal (1985) The Cambridge phenomenon : the growth of high technology industry in a university town, Segal Quince & Partners, Hall Keeper's House, 42 Castle Street, Cambridge CB3 0AJ, England, 1985, ISBN 095102020X (summary at: http://www.tomw.net.au/nt/cp.html)