This report looks at how to attract call/contact centres, and other small to medium size IT enterprises to the Great Southern region of Western Australia. There are great opportunities to attract new businesses and people to regional areas of Australia based on the "location independence" of the new IT&T industries, in the increasingly global economy. There is a growing demand for on-line information and a rapid uptake of the Internet and other technologies in rural Australia. For a region that is predominantly based on agriculturally production, IT&T presents both threats and opportunities.
A qualitative analysis identified resources and successful enterprises in the region. As part of the project electronic mailing lists and newsgroups were used to collect information and act as a model for promotion of the region. Findings were made available on the World Wide Web when the study was commenced, with immediate benefits for promotion of the region. This hypertext document forms part of the web site and contains links to referenced materials (showed by underlining in the printed version) and is best read onscreen.
A Call Centre is an operation that uses telephone and computer technology to deliver services to customers, with four or more telephone agents. However, as with much of computer and telecommunications development, there is a convergence taking place of what were telephone call centres and other IT support facilities. This might extend as far as technology parks and similar facilities for technology start-up companies.
The Great Southern is outside Australia's major capital cities and outside the east cost corridor, which attracts most call centres and IT industry. The availability of low cost, high quality, bulk telecommunications might make regional areas more attractive, as may federal government projects concerned about a rural voting backlash. However, bandwidth and government incentives have not been the major determinants in location decisions and the region is unlikely to be able to attract major commercial call centres or IT operations through such incentives.
Web-integrated call centres and IT businesses are suggested as a market for GSR to explore. There is little "footloose" capability in the Australian call centre market and existing centres are unlikely to move from their current, mostly eastern-state metropolitan locations. Rather than try to attract existing established centres to move from where they are comfortable, it should be easier to convince new centres to set up.
Also targeting web call centres would overcome the inherent contradiction between attracting call centres with low pay, low status jobs and that of IT software development, 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.
A strategy of marketing the region as a place where call centres and IT are already done, is proposed. This would use the Internet to answer the questions from investors: "What is the Great Southern Region?" and "What activities like mine and people like me are already there?".
A search of IT related businesses in the region via a World Wide Web search engine and online Yellow Pages (Telstra) showed existing IT businesses in the region were all but invisible. Remedying this situation should be the highest priority and offers a potentially high return for a modest investment.
As part of a visit to the region in May-June 2000, 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 and collect information and provided web links to the project web site. The request and trip report are archived and indexed online, illustrating how the Internet can be used to promote the region.
A literature search was undertaken for the project and a bibliography prepared. 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).
The region has one significant IT operation, a Telstra Call Centre with a capacity of 40 seats, in the town of Katanning. There are small IT related businesses, such as Design Correlations, which specializes in making Numerically Controlled (NC) machinery and Geo Task (Australia) for computer-based mapping. With a conventional approach to development these businesses would be considered too small to be significant for industry development. However, with enough similar businesses this could provide significant employment and act as a catalyst for IT industry development.
As noted in Part 2,of this report, the Department of Commerce and Trade of Western Australia, suggested that call centre development based on supporting local primary industry would be an option. An example would be support for the timber and wine industries, possibly with some government assistance to attract expansion. An existing example of IT support for the timber industry is Western Australia Department of Conservation and Land Management's online TreeNote booklets. These provide details on growing commercial timber in the region. These booklets could be developed into an integrated timber information service, and a way to promote the region as a location for investment in timber production.
The study has identified micro and small businesses, and other resources in the region that could form the basis of an IT industry. Also, web based call centres' are an opportunity for small scale development of a high value call centre industry.
However, the main determinant of the location of larger call centres in regional areas is political, not economic. The current Telstra call centre in the region is being downsized, with the apparent intent to close the centre. This could only be reversed through political lobbying, not arguments as to the efficiency of the facility or the diligence of the work force. Indications as to economic and social circumstances to the region conducive to establishing operations in the region would not be effective in the political decision making process.
One regional success is the system of telecenters. These would be expanded to provide small web-based call centres, time shared offices for micro businesses and distance education centres. Another success is the UWA satellite campus at Albany, as discussed in the second phase report. This could be expanded and a similar facility for TAFE education incorporated in the telecenters.
The IT professionals and IT businesses of the region represent an untapped resource that could be exploited to encourage organic growth of businesses. If successful, this could then encourage others to move to the region. However, as discussed in the second phase report, individual IT professionals and microbusinesses may have motivations very different from those of large businesses, essentially being lifestyle choices. The business focus of initiatives such as those from regional development authorities may discourage, rather than encourage, these individuals to participate in projects. An example of the problems that can come is illustrated by the difficulties with community involvement in IT development projects in the South Coast region of New South Wales. An approach through their peers, with social functions and ones addressing their technical areas of interest may be effective in avoiding these problems.
The region might benefit by a wider study, such as one under the Department of Transport and Regional Services' Regional Solutions Programme. This Federal Government initiative aims to help regional and rural communities to build their capacity to identify and implement development opportunities.
The highest priority for IT marketing of the region should be to improve the visibility of the resources of the region, online. The Great Southern Development Corporation's recently launched web site provides a platform for detailed information about the region, its existing businesses and development opportunities. An example of a modest web design that could be emulated is that of the ACT Government's Information Industries Development Board.
The GSDC web site is linked from Albany Gateway portal, which provides the opportunity to cross promote the lifestyle features of the region and IT business opportunities. Detailed information will see the region considered for investment by web and Internet-based organisations, who will see a good quality web site as an indication of IT competence in the region.
An on-line directory of businesses in the region would encourage businesses to have a web presence and Internet access. One model is the Directory of the IT Industry in Western Sydney. This could be done directly, or in collaboration with local business associations. The database should be directly available via the web without the need for registration or a password. Also, the information in the database should be displayed as ordinary web pages. This free access will allow the database contents to be indexed by web search engines and easily found by potential clients. Many organizations make the mistake of stopping web search engines from having access to their databases, preventing potential clients from finding the information.
Meta-data, such as keywords, added to the web site will result in Great Southern web pages appearing nearer the top of a searche by a web search engine.
Links to the site should be solicited from organizations with reputable web sites (such as government agencies and industry associations) and, if possible, from high volume sites (such as on-line magazines and newspapers). As well as providing increased direct access to the site from the links, some search engines rate web sites by the number and quality of links.
The web site should be modified to pass the Bobby accessibility test and preferably also conform with the W3C Recommendation Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. In addition to providing access for the disabled, these guidelines encourage web designs that are easily indexed by web search engines and load quickly
The Corporation will need to train its staff in the proactive use of e-mail to promote the region, in particular how to write mail messages that meet the acceptable use policy of online forums. In addition to electronic versions of conventional newspapers and magazines, there are many free electronic mailing lists, newsgroups and web sites run by associations and companies.
The existing local IT industry and professionals are the most valuable marketing tools available to promote the region. The most compelling reason to set up an IT business is to see a successful business by one's peers.
The Australian Computer Society, and similar bodies, encourage and support regionally based chapters. In addition to providing a local forum for IT professionals to exchange ideas, a chapter provides a link to the national body and to sister societies internationally. Announcements of events by the chapter will appear online and in printed publications distributed by the state and national organisation, providing free promotion for the region.
The Electronic Commerce Association of Central Victoria is a nonprofit, community-based organisation formed two years ago in recognition of the need to raise awareness about, and to foster the rapid uptake of, emerging technologies by both business and the wider communities. A body with similar aims would benefit the Great Southern Region.
Industry awards can be used to showcase excellence and innovation. An example is the Western Sydney Industry Awards, officially launched 4 August 2000.Such awards need not have large cash prizes and may attract funding from companies and government.
The existence of the UWA satellite campus at Albany provides the opportunity for academic awards, to raise the profile of the region. Projects could be used to promote the region by having them cross linked between the UWA and GSDC web sites.
While conventional call centres are not suggested as a priority for IT development in the region, the existence of a Telstra Call Centre at Katanning is a valuable resource. In addition to providing employment, the centre is the most effective tool available to convince investors that the region would be suitable for further call centres. With the nearby telecenter, it provides the nucleus for more IT development in the town.
However, the location of Telstra call centres is currently a highly political issue. Without action, the centre will most likely be closed. Key business, community and political leaders in the region need to be briefed, so they can lobby Telstra and the Federal Government to retain and expand the facility, or replace it with a new centre in the region.
Regional Telecenters, such as that at Katanning, have the potential to provide a range of services to microbusiness and SMEs. There is the potential to collocate small web-based call centres, business centres and business incubators. The infrastructure for a Telecentre, internet cafe, call centre, computer-based instruction or a business centre is essentially the same. Larger Telecentres could be flexibly equipped to provide all these functions as demand requires.
The University of WA Albany Centre provides a major marketing opportunity for the region. As well as its use for education, the Albany centre could provide the focus for activities by IT professionals and a useful resource for business.
One use of the centre would be to host endorsed events. An example is the Get Smart Conference in December 2000 at Central Queensland University, Rockhampton. This coincides with the launch of Central Queensland University's Smart City Projects and the City of Rockhampton Telecentre. Advertisements for university-sponsored events are distributed on-line and through free promotion in the media to the IT community. These promotion channels are not available to commercial paying advertisers.