AIIA and AEEMA in merger talks

Australia's two largest IT industry lobby groups, the Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA) and the Australian Electronic and Electrical Manufacturing Association (AEEMA) appear set to merge by year end, if not within weeks.

The boards of both organizations are understood to have given in-principle approval to the merger at a meeting this week, with the new combined body aiming to give a single, unified voice to Australia's technology industry.

Rob Durie, chief executive officer of the AIIA has all but confirmed the plan, telling Computerworld the association was working hard at "ensuring that the ICT industry in Australia has an even stronger and more coherent voice with the capacity to influence government and other stakeholders for the benefit of the industry and the economy as a whole".

"Our approach includes organic growth as well as alignment with other relevant organizations," Durie said.

He added that he intended "sticking around" as the AIIA's CEO, but refused to comment on whether he would seek to lead the new entity.

Numerous members of both organizations have also acknowledged the merger plans, saying discussions have been active for some months and expressed support for the proposal.

While none were prepared to speak on the record, members of both groups said it had become increasingly difficult for the technology sector to influence government policy at the state and federal levels.

Both organizations were recently overlooked for seats on federal IT Minister Helen Coonan's Board of IT, along with the Australian Computer Society.

Proposed during the 2004 election campaign, the Board of IT is intended to assist the government in identifying social and economic IT issues and to provide policy input to government.

One AIIA member said unless the merger went through, both groups would be "banished to the periphery for the term of this government", adding that the IT industry had already forsaken much of its former influence.

Another member described the merger as an "inevitability", but hastened to add he had been hearing about a proposed merger for at least 12 months and had "given up holding my breath".

The same member said the merger would also allow vendors to better dedicate resources to "a single and robust organized body" rather than several "halflings".

What form the new united vendor front will take remains a moot point. While the AIIA membership consists of larger enterprise software and hardware players such as Microsoft, IBM, HP, SAP and Sun, AEEMA generally represents members actively engaged in the telco, consumer electronics and electrical goods manufacturing sector.

Some members of both organizations who spoke to Computerworld noted that AEEMA had previously had more success in lobbying than the AIIA, not least because of their at times formidable ability to persuade politicians about the economic and electoral impacts - positive or negative - of their decisions.

Just who will lead the merged entity, and how it intends to revive its performance in the eyes of its members remains to be seen.

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