Australian businesses looking to evaluate and ready their ICT products and services for the international market may have a way of certifying success, thanks to a new consortium of public, community and private organisations launched last week.
The IT-Test consortium, made up of RMIT University, Vision Australia Foundation and the Performance Technologies Group (PTG), has been proclaimed as the first organisation in Australia, and possibly the world, to provide practical resources for businesses wanting to ensure their ICT products and services align with international technology standards and guidelines.
John Kumm, new project development manager from I-Cubed at RMIT University, said the new organisation is a "one-stop shop", with each partner providing specific existing testing skills for ICT products and services such as hardware and equipment, software, online services and interactive education and training tools. As a whole, the organisation will also be working with international testing and technology authorities to develop a new range of testing and accreditation protocols.
"The problem is a number of groups offer particular testing experience with hardware or equipment for example, but there's no integration of such services," he said.
"IT-Test is an extension of what we've offered as individual organisations."
Kumm says while each of the organisations involved in IT-Test has earnt the stamp of approval in its area of testing expertise, including accreditation for the US regulation 508 covering the usability criteria for IT product and services, the consortium goes beyond services currently available internationally.
"What we have found surprising is that we're leading the way with some of the accreditation - we're leading the rest of the world," he said. "There are some things we propose, for example, with the 508 protocol testing, which go beyond what [international groups] do at the moment.
Vision Australia manager of information services development, Brian Hardy, said the demand for this service comes on the back of changing legislative requirements by governments worldwide.
"Governments are legislating and introducing purchasing policies that require ICT products and services to meet accessibility guidelines," he said. "If your products do not comply, you're not in the running, particularly in the US."
Kumm says the organisation will initially concentrate on ensuring Australian ICT products and services conform to US protocols, and will then try to get a handle on testing and accreditation activities launched by the European Commission. IT-Test is also a member of the W3C consortium and the Accessibility Forum, an international ICT and technology manufacturers and users group that develops testing procedures for ICT products and services.
Hardy said the group is also working with the National Committee for Information Technology Standards' technical committee (V2) to develop the Alternative Interface Access Protocol (AIAP), which will allow devices to talk to each other using a standard language -similar to the way plug n' play devices communicate.
Supported by the Federal Government, and boasting of strong links to Australia's export and trade authority AusTrade and AusIndustry, the group has received a $235,000 grant through the Testing and Conformance Infrastructure program of the Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts.
The funding will be divided into developing protocols and in providing training to companies interested in getting their products and services tested, Kumm said. The group has already run a series of sharing information sessions throughout Australia.
Commenting on Australia's IT industry as a whole, Kumm said it was important for Australian IT exporters and businesses to look for the niche market in IT.
"We can't just jump into the big turnover areas with small margins - Australian businesses need to look at specialist fields," he said.
More information on the organisation's services is available at: www.it-test.com.au.