IT Industry Attraction Project

Information Technology Enterprise in the Great Southern Region of Western Australia

An IT Industry Consultancy for the Great Southern Region Development Commission

Visit May-June 2000


This is an informal travelogue style report, as part of phase one of the study to optimise IT industry attraction potential through initial market assessments.

As explained in the Background to the Study, is not intended to be an academic, or pure research, study. The project aims to attract call/contact centres, and other small to medium size IT enterprises to the Great Southern region of Western Australia. Therefore each phase of the project will report lessons learnt on attraction of IT projects in other areas. It will highlight aspects of the region that would be attractive to those intending to set up a call/contact centre or other small to medium size IT enterprises.

This document is a work-in-progress and as such will change as it is developed. Comments, corrections and contributions are welcome.

A visit was made to the Great Southern Region of West Australia, May 29 to 2 June 2000. Before the trip a request for information was issued to members of the IT profession and others interested in information industry matters via the Internet:

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":

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:

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:

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.


Sunday 28 May




Monday 29 May


Research call centres and IT in WA at the State Library


Working lunch with staff from Major Projects, Department of Commerce and Trade, Government of Western Australia.

To Albany


Albany Town Hall and Main StreetCollect rental car and check into a motel in Albany

Tuesday 30 May



Great Southern Development Commission, Pyrmont HouseMeet project officer: Mark Pitts-Hill, Great Southern Development Commission, Pyrmont House, 110 Serpentine Road, Albany


Alan Dodds, IT Manager and Tutor in IT, University of WA Albany centre, Old Headmatser's House, 85 Serpitine Road, Albany WA 6330 University of WA Albany CenterAlan Dodds


Gill SellarGill Sellar, Manager, Albany Gateway, 70 Frederick House, Frederick Street, Albany WA 6330


Project Steering Committee, Great Southern Development Commission


Kristina Fleming, centre Manager, South Coast Regional Information Centre, 444 Albany Highway, WA 6330

Wednesday 31 May



Brad BarberABC Multimedia UnitBrad Barber, Multimedia Coordinator & John Cecil, Regional Program manager, ABC Radio South Coast, 2 St. Emilie Way, Albany WA, 6330


John BeatonJohn Beaton, Project Manager, Geo Task (Australia), Suite Six, 57-59 Lockyer Ave, Albany WA 6330

Thursday 1 June



Manager, Kojonup Telecentre



Manager, Katanning Regional Telecentre, Old Library Building, Austral Terrace, Katanning WA.


Manager, Katanning Call Centre

Queensland (virtually)


Virtual Cultures Tutorial, School of Media and Journalism, Queensland University of Technology

Friday 2 June



Meet with Australian Computer Society WA Branch executive, 342 Albany Highway, Victoria Park


Interview with Verity James, ABC Radio Perth


Web streaming interview recorded by John Bowskill, Streamtime


Glenn Hakinson, Dow Digital

Saturday 3 June

Depart Perth



Research call centres and IT in WA at the State Library

Having arrived late Sunday night in Perth from Canberra, I had a leisurely breakfast in the city centre and then walked to the State Library of Western Australia. There I spent the morning researching local work on call centre attraction in Western Australia. The most useful item found was a booklet produced by the Department of Commerce and Trade:

"Western Australia calling - a guide to the development of call centres in Western Australia", Commerce and Trade, Government of Western Australia. Perth, W.A. (DCT, 1998).

This is a useful indicator of what the Government sees as attractive for call centres operators. It has glossy photographs of culturally diverse happy call centre workers, cityscapes and modern office facilities. One pitch is to differentiate Western Australia from the eastern states, by pointing out it is in a similar time zone as much of Asia, unlike the east cost of Australia. Lower living costs and claiming a stronger political, economic and social affiliation to Asia is also emphasised.

Claims that are probably universal for this sort of promotion are also made:

The booklet first promotes WA overall, then Perth and then regional areas. There is a pocket in the back of the book with loose sheets for each region. As with other regions, the Great Southern Region emphasises available infrastructure, workforce, low costs and pleasant lifestyle.

One failing in these brochures is that they use photographs of natural attractions, not 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 people looking to set up business will never get to see the material. The brochures are only available on paper and the distribution is limited. Having found the document in the WA Library, I then had to submit a stack request and wait for it to be retrieved. The document is not open for casual browsing.

The Department of Commerce and Trade will provide a copy of the document on request, but becoming aware of the document's existence would be difficult for a potential investor.

Obviously this booklet and any other material promoting WA as an IT centre needs to be on the web. The full text should be on-line, the name of the document and where to request a paper copy. In this way the document can be found by people doing web searches, who had not been aware of it, or of WA.

Department of Commerce and Trade

After some research, I felt better equipped for a working lunch with staff from the Major Projects area of the Department of Commerce and Trade of Western Australia.

Like much of the WA State Government's head offices, it is on St George's Terrace, near the Swan River. The meeting room, high in the building, had a distracting attractive panoramic view of the Swan River.

The half a dozen staff in attendance were from the areas looking at attracting call centres (who produced the booklet discussed above), as well as internal IT and business and areas attracting education industry. I did a lot of talking and not much eating. ;-)

Issues were:

On the face of it, only the second point appears directly related to the project. The discussion of e-commerce was largely about a separate project, which I was undertaking for the Federal Government's Business Entry Point, on Internet Payments (BEP, 2000). Developments in education concerned my activities as a Visiting Fellow at the Department of Computer Science at The Australian National University.

However, e-commerce is directly relevant to attracting IT business to regional areas. This is a key technology for companies outside traditional commercial centres can compete. Distance is irrelevant, if products and services can be promoted, sold and serviced on-line. While reading the business and IT sections of a newspaper would suggest that all the problems in e-commerce have been solved and it is just a matter of implementation, this is far from the reality.

Education is also very relevant to attracting IT companies to an area. While the IT industry needs few natural resources, it does need trained staff. One of the attractors is therefore available training facilities. Supporting the level of training facilities is difficult for a regional area, particularly at the tertiary level, required. However, I found that the Great Southern Region is one of the leaders in solving this problem (see University of WA Albany centre below).

Some points that came out of the discussion with Departmental staff were:


Albany Town Hall and Main StreetMy first introduction to different atmosphere of the region was on the flight (approximately one hour) from Perth to Albany (the main town, with a population of just over 20,000). This is a shuttle flight with some regular business commuters. Even before boarding the aircraft I had introduced myself to a local business person, who then pointed out the head of the Great Southern Region Development Corporation (my client) a few seats in front. This is a useful aspect of doing business in a regional area that is not pointed out in the brochures.

At the airport I collected a car and made the short drive to the town and my motel. IT may seem trivial to point this out, but the fact a hire car can be booked at the airport can be an important point for business travellers.

To keep the locals happy when visiting Albany, pronouncing the name of the town is important. I kept calling it "all-bann-eee", which annoyed the locals, who call it "al-bun-nee".

Great Southern Development Commission

Great Southern Development Commission, Pyrmont HouseThe 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. While I had talked by telephone and exchanged much e-mail with Mark, this was the first time I had met him. This is one of the strange aspects that telecommunications introduces into business.

The commission is housed in a historic stone building, but inside is very modern and businesslike. One common misconception is that modern on-line businesses need to be in large, new, intelligent buildings. However, the coming 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 fitting the equipment. During my visit I found many offices re-equipped with IT facilities.

Mark briefed me on the business-politics of the local area and the sensitivities of the local business community. This was important, as I was a consultant from out of town and could be seen as lacking in local knowledge and as a threat to local business.

University of WA Albany centre

University of WA Albany CenterMy next appointment was just across the road, with Alan Dodds, IT Manager and Tutor in IT at the University of WA Albany centre in the Old Headmatser's House, 85 Serpitine Road. Alan looks after the Apple Mac based network used for teaching in this satellite campus of Perth's oldest University. As well as servicing the tutorial rooms in the building, the services are available to students in their homes and offices by a local dial-in service. There is also video conferenceing and this was being used for poetry reading while I was there.

Alan DoddsAlan was at pains to point out that the Albany centre is not for distance education. That is the students do not have to sit at home by themselves working from books. Traditional tutorials are conducted in the centre, with local tutors. The difference is that the lecturers are transmitted via the Internet from the main UWA campus in Perth. In theory preparing the lectures in Albany would be possible and deliver them down the link to Perth.

The 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). This may not seem a lot for transmitting lectures to a student body, but some clever technology is used to make it work.

The first bandwidth saving technique is that lectures are recorded in Perth, sent overnight down the link and cached locally in Albany. This allows students to view lectures quickly from the local copy, with the link free for interactive use. If there is not a local copy, the students can obtain 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 camera faces down onto the desktop. The lecturer lays their material as ordinary sheets of paper. They can point out items 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.

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.

This technique is remarkably effective. After a few minutes the novelty of seeing a disembodied hand drawing on screen is forgotten and the student concentrates on the material. This technique requires little extra work from the lecturer. There is no need for technical staff to set up and point a camera on the presenter; the lecturer just as to turn on the microphone to start recording. Less prepared material is needed, than with an overhead projector (sheets of paper versus overhead transparencies).

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 "talking hands" technique may also be useful for business meetings. While video conferencing is talked about, in practice it can be very cumbersome to use. An audio conference with documents displayed by video, may be an alternative. However, at least a still onscreen photo of the participants might add to the sense of talking to someone.

Albany Gateway

Gill SellarGill Sellar is the Manager of the Albany Gateway, based at 70 Frederick House, Frederick Street. The gateway is a portal set up for the region.

The Albany Gateway is a local initiative, launched a few days before my arrival. Even on the flight to Albany several people told me how it had won an award. However, having been involved in creating many web sites, I had difficulty in working up such a level of enthusiasm.

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 suggestion I passed on to Gill was that from the state department for organic development based on supporting local industry, such as timber and wine. However, this need not be just local. Web pages could be provided to support industries that are strong in the region, but also service them nationally and internationally.

A more frivolous application for the web might be to give investors information about their investment and a sense of being part of the community. 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 on their investment. That these would also be tax deductible holidays, would not hurt the local economy. ;-)

Project Steering Committee, Great Southern Development Commission

The IT Industry Attraction Project this report is part of is overseen by a Project Steering Committee, with representatives from local and state government and the business community. These are the people who have to be convinced the project is succesful. Apart from a telephone interview, this was the first meeting with the committee.

While the approach of using the Internet for research and reporting had been accepted by the committee, reassuring them it was really workable was still necessary. The draft web pages were presented. It was also necessary to reassure local business that this was not going top be a take-over by consultants from "over east" (as people from the eastern states of Australia are described in Western Australia).

With reassurances as to the approach we discussed approaches to attracting business to the region. The main point being that I considered it unlikely that very large organisations could be attracted and on which SMEs and organic growth should be focussed.

South Coast Regional Information Centre

Kristina Flemingis the centre Manager for the South Coast Regional Information Centre, 444 Albany Highway. This is a project to provide integrated geographic information services for the region.

ABC Multimedia Unit

Brad BarberABC Multimedia UnitBrad Barber is the Multimedia Coordinator at ABC Radio's Multimedia Unit. More precisely Brad is the entire staff of the unit. This consists of a de-mountable building, of the sort used on building sites, the size of a shipping container, out the back of ABC Radio South Coast at 2 St. Emilie Way.

The Multi Media Unit is crammed with video and computer equipment. Brad has facilities for making video, either for use with conventional TV (and with some broadcast by ABC in WA) and for use in web -ased multimedia.

While the technology is ready, the organisational arrangements to use it are lagging. This unit is part of ABC Radio, an organisational description that seems irrelevant in the age of the multimedia Internet.

Geo Task (Australia)

John BeatonJohn Beaton is Project Manager for Geo Task (Australia), Suite Six, 57-59 Lockyer Ave. Geo Task produce maps for the expanding local primary industries.

Maps are no longer prepared using pencils and paper, but with computer screens and plotters.

Kojonup Telecentre

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 and IT. These can be very useful for micro-businesses that cannot afford their own computer equipment or trained support staff.

The Kojonup Telecentre is typical of smaller tele-centres, in the main street of the town of Kojonup.

Katanning Regional Telecentre

The town of Katanning has a larger Katanning Regional Telecentre in the Old Library Building, Austral Terrace. This centre gives an ISP service with dial-in access for people in the surrounding region and is looking at producing video conferencing facilities as well.

Katanning Call Centre

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.

School of Media and Journalism, Queensland University of Technology

The potential regional areas using the Internet was illustrated by my participation in a tutorial at the Virtual Cultures Tutorial, School of Media and Journalism, Queensland University of Technology, while in Albany. The tutorial was held on-line using the QUT's web site. Students lodged in from home and asked IT professionals, about issues with using the Internet.

Interview on ABC Radio Perth

I was interviewed by Verity James, on ABC Radio Perth. ABC Radio have a web camera set up in their studio, allowing listeners to see the person being interviewed on the ABC web site, while listening via conventional radio.

Web streaming interview at Streamtime

John Bowskill from Streamtime recorded a web streaming interview. This uses a digital video camera to record the interview, that is then compresses and up-loaded to the web. A version of the interview includes linked web pages which are automatically opened in time with the video playback.

Potential IT Industries for the Region

The above may have sounded like a series of unconnected visits to enterprises and individuals. How does this relate to attracting IT industry to the region?

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 crash of dot com companies shows, there is no assurance in the IT industry. What seemed a certain long term industry may turn out to be a passing fad.

The most stable and long term employment and economic benefits will come from people 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 may grow to be larger businesses. However, they may better serve as an example to other businesses that are looking for a place to set up. They also provide a support infrastructure for larger businesses that need expert services to operate.

One area that may have potential 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 provide 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 deductable visit to see how their investment is faring (and do some whale watching).


  1. DCT (1998) Western Australia calling - a guide to the development of call centres in Western Australia, Commerce and Trade, Government of Western Australia. Perth, W.A. (copy in WA State Library)
  2. BEP (2000) Internet Payments for Government Agencies, Business Entry Point, Department of Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business, Australia, 2000. URL:

Further Information

Web page by Tomw Communications Pty Ltd A.C.N. 088 714 309 for the Great Southern Development Commission - Comments to: