The Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA) has been around for almost thirty years and seeks to represent the entire ICT (information and communication technology) industry, including hardware and software companies, and the broader spectrum of interest for those organisations across all issues and industry.
Birks, who came to the role of CEO through his experience in ICT, has found his industry, rather than association, background both an advantage and disadvantage.
“While my industry background made it easy to relate to the needs and requirements of members, there was a bit to learn about representation and lobbying activities. But sometimes the fact that you haven’t done a lot of that work in the past can make you a little fresher and a bit more crisp.”
Much of the work of the AIIA is about lobbying for the interests of the industry. Birks says that at times it is challenging to represent the diversity of interests amongst the association’s 450 members, which span from large ICT provider organisations to small and medium enterprises.
“Occasionally there are issues amongst those communities about how their interests can be best represented. But essentially we’re about growing the industry for everybody, and we try to allow a competitive and open situation to occur within the growth of the industry.”
Green ICT has received a lot of recent attention, particularly with discussions of a carbon pollution reduction scheme and an emissions trading scheme underway.
“The AIIA has been involved in creating solutions for this area for a number of years,” Birks says.
The association recently undertook a survey about the capacity of the ICT industry to enhance eco-sustainability.
“The ICT industry is responsible for approximately two per cent of global emissions,” Birks says.
“There is obviously a requirement to drive that down, but the industry also has a major role to play to help reduce the other 98 per cent of broader carbon emissions.”
Birks says that ICT companies are becoming increasingly aware of those dynamics.
“There are some fascinating and interesting new technologies that are coupled with approaches to try and reduce carbon emissions in other industries. Our recent survey indicated that approximately 40 per cent of ICT companies have some kind of style of solution in that area.
“Such initiatives include smart energy, grids and energy networks, smart buildings that control the air conditioning and lighting, and smart transportation logistics that monitor and respond to traffic flows more effectively.”
Birks says that there’s a significant possibility to reduce emissions by
15 per cent by 2020 with the aid of technology.
He outlines two of the strategies that the AIIA has to achieve this target.
“We have led the conversation on behalf of the industry for a national scheme to be put in place to combat electronic waste.
“We ran a major pilot study with the Victorian government which resulted in 2,500 tonnes of electronic waste such as old computers, printers and so on being collected, and we achieved 95 per cent success with recycling those products.”
Another activity area is around energy management of products in the ICT area.
“We are working closely with governments to put in place energy management targets and objectives for IT equipment to make sure it’s as low carbon as possible.
“We’ve created a cluster of organisations that have green IT solutions in Victoria to come together to work on common issues, and we are compiling reports and surveys to provide more information.”
Lobbying for a digital economy
The AIIA is particularly vocal in promoting what Birks refers to as a “genuine digital economy”.
Describing it as “the economy of the future”, Birks explains that a digital economy is “the delivery of the economy over high-speed infrastructure into a broad section of areas”.
“A digital economy is about sustaining a wealthy and prosperous country, nation, economy and society. If we are wealthy and prosperous then we are able to drive better health outcomes, environmental outcomes, community outcomes and so on.”
The health sector is one of the more obvious areas where a high speed broadband network would result in social and economic benefits for the community.
“There is a big focus on the cost and effectiveness of health services at the moment, and electronic health is really a key component of health system reform,” says Birks.
Issues facing the health sector include an aging population, a lack of information about patients and their treatments, and the proportion of patients in relation to service providers.
For Birks, e-health has the potential to address these issues and provides benefits for society. “Once you get that high-speed broadband network in place, and you start to deliver on that, then the value comes in the form of electronic health.
“E-health can ensure that there’s broader provision of certain types of health care services,” he continues.
“It offers huge benefits in terms of reductions in travel and diagnostics provided online, particularly for regional and remote areas. It will deliver a more streamlined and productive health system and will hopefully be less of a financial burden on the nation.”
According to Birks, a digital economy is also important for Australia to be able to compete on a global stage.
“A lot cascades from making sure that we have a competitive nation and economy. You can take each individual part and break it out into a lot of likely benefits, but ultimately it comes back to being globally competitive.
“It is important that Australia takes a leadership position in that digital economy development, particularly as we’re in a relatively positive situation in regards to our economic circumstances driven to some extent by our natural wealth.
“It’s important that we use that as a springboard to maintain future prosperity, and as I said, increasingly if you look to the future, the digital economy becomes the economy of the future.”