The Australian IT industry should stop bemoaning the loss of IT services jobs to countries like India, wake up to itself and prepare to seize the next wave of growth coming out of China over the next five years according to analyst firm Gartner.
Speaking at the Gartner Symposium 2003 last week, vice president of Gartner Research Rolf Jester said that Australia had failed to capitalise on the last wave of ICT growth in the Asia-Pacific region and is now in the unenviable position where jobs are leaving the country and not being replaced.
Jester laid at least part of the blame for Australia's inability to replenish largely commoditised IT services jobs squarely in the lap of the federal government, which he said had squandered Australia's competitive advantage of a multilingual skills hub at the very time it should have been extolling such advantages to foreign investors.
"The government is belatedly and grudgingly waking up to the fact that there is an advantage in being multilingual. Over the last few months I have seen official documentation [promoting Australia explicitly] referring to multiculturalism," Jester said.
He rejected the assertion that Australia had deteriorated into an IT backwater, saying there was a global trend to "offshore" commoditised IT services and process jobs in developing economies such as India.
Rather than protecting Australian IT jobs, Jester feels that Australia needs to position itself to leverage growing demand in our region from countries such as China where Australian skills are highly regarded.
"It's not about defending ourselves from these 'cheap and nasty' Indians. It's about creating opportunities. The typical Indian is far more intellectually interested than the average Australian," Jester said, noting that "in Australia there are very few people that will go after and seize an opportunity…it seems mainly to be a cultural thing".
Gartner's Mumbai-based research vice president for business process outsourcing, Sujay Chohan, said that the Indian services goldrush had largely come about as the result of many skilled Indians returning after gaining valuable experience during the Silicon Valley boomtime.
Chohan said that while many Indian-based companies are enjoying success, outsourcing clients are still extremely reticent about revealing any details about their contracts for fear of political intervention to stem domestic job losses.
"It's gone underground. Everybody is afraid the government will step in [to prevent offshoring] and their companies will cease to be competitive," Chohan said.