The Industry Standard
October 11, 2000  
The Australian Vanguard

There are still some local technology companies doing their bit to retrieve the woeful dollar.

By Louise Weihart

Australian mobile service provider Retriever Communications' expansion into the emerging European mobile data market should boost local IT companies' current fragile self-esteem.

One of a number of Australian companies blazing a trail abroad, the startup's decision to partner with a French-based services giant, Groupe Bull, speaks volumes not only about France's role in the new economy, but also about what Australian companies are capable of doing.

According to Retriever Communications founder and CEO Mary Brittain-White, the Retriever service addresses the commercial need for field automation with a service solution that is technology-flexible and risk-free. "Since founding the company in late 1996, our sole mission has been the development of a mobile application service to be delivered on handheld and laptop computers over public mobile telecommunications," she explains.

"A venture capital funded company, we went live with C&W Optus as an Optus-branded service in February this year. The service combines handheld computer technology with the public mobile telecommunications network, and enabes field workers to dynamically access, retrieve and send data to and from an office."

Brittain-White claims the service increases the efficiency of an organisation's field force through reduced back-to-base visits and saves time and money in the area of office field support by eliminating paperwork and double data entry. Companies using the service can reduce their field support administration costs by 40 per cent a year, she says.

The decision to partner with a European company above any potential partners in either the US or Asia, may seem surprising, but, according to Charles O'Hanlon, Austrade Europe's executive general manager, Europe is a market with major IT capacity.

Australians, he believes, often overlook what is a sophisticated and increasingly deregulated IT market, because of incorrect or outdated perceptions.

"But Europe is a highly internationalised, highly developed trading region, and a global financial centre, with a huge appetite for IT – and the ability to pay. It is the home of key technologies and of global platforms for rollout wireless applications. Both businesses and consumers are rapidly wiring up."

When it comes to mobile phones, O'Hanlon believes the European market can already be considered mature. It's estimated that by 2004 there will be more than 240 million business digital mobile users, with Western Europe expected to represent 40 per cent of the worldwide business data market. As many as 30 per cent of these are field workers in the transport, maintenance, health and sales automation markets, Retriever Communications' target market.

Australian voice and data networking company Jtec (a subsidiary of ASX-listed Techniche) is already proving highly successful in the European market, according to Brian Davis, who was recently appointed executive chairman and CEO to spearhead the company's additional international expansion.

"Jtec is in an ideal position to succeed internationally," says Davis, who will be expanding its mainly European export markets, with particular emphasis on the US and Asia, where the company has distributors.

According to Peter Hatcher, VP, marketing and alliances, of Australian IT company Sienna Technologies, contrary to some perceptions in the marketplace, the local IT industry is in fact burgeoning. "It appears that some of the local media are making a connection between Australia's flagging dollar and comments that our 'old' economy structures are allowing us to fall behind other IT/technology leaders, like the US," says Hatcher. "But there are some extremely innovative local software developers that are winning business as a result of leading-edge technology."

Hatcher says Sienna representatives, for one, are "frantically travelling throughout Asia, addressing e-business solutions markets" with the company's Gateware platform. These are "market opportunities that are not being addressed by other major software developers or vendors", he says.

Queensland software and services company Technology One is another local company that's pouring cold water on negative sentiment towards the local IT sector. It's replicating its Australian success abroad and has recently been awarded prestigious Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC) status by the Malaysian government.

"The MSC status, one of the first to be won by an Australian IT company, comes just one month after we launched our global expansion program with the opening of our first overseas office in Kuala Lumpur," says Technology One managing director Adrian Di Marco. "Gaining MSC status – Malaysia's vision to create the Silicon Valley of Asia – is a major achievement as it catapults us into an elite class of foreign companies, providing instant credibility and opening doors within the government and corporate sectors."

Australia's representative for the Multimedia Super Corridor, Paul Phillips, says that of the 380 foreign IT companies awarded this status, six are Australian. "Technology One is part of the vanguard and is demonstrating to other Australian IT companies how to go about doing business in Malaysia and the Asian region."