There’s nothing clever about a best-kept secret

(This is an updated version of the article that first appeared in The Rust Report on 25th November 2011, and is reprinted here with permission.)

It’s time for Australia’s IT industry to shout its collective successes to the world.

Here’s what the Australian IT sector delivers: real innovation, world-beating, brilliant products that compete successfully with overseas behemoths, companies that become valuable enough to catch the acquisitive eyes of IT industry leaders, returns to shareholders, and skills developed as a consequence of employing clever people to do clever things.

Yet there’s one area of business that seems to pass the industry by: communicating this success to the world.

Before those of you who do claim to do this shout “foul”, consider how often you read about your company in the media, see your company on mainstream television, read about your organisation on specialist blogs, see your company’s results listed in the financial pages of the national press, see your company’s and your competitors’ names become familiar to friends standing around the barbecue. Not as often as you should.

Why is this?

I’m not sure. The answer partly sits I think in the notion often held by technologists, engineers and coders, that the product sells itself, that its innate benefits and the coolness of its features speak for themselves.

To engineers, the beauty of the engineering is sort of obvious, and other engineers can appreciate this.

It’s partly because engineers and technologists, in the main, regard communications as waffle (so a former colleague, who’s now seen the light, tells me).

It’s partly because technologists and engineers believe they can tell their own stories. Some can, and I’ve worked with those people. Many cannot, and I’ve worked with those people as well.

Either way, public relations is not waffle, and it’s not spin. It’s doing your audiences – your employees, your customers, your partners, your shareholders – the courtesy of explaining to them how all the bits that make up your company fit together.

Why is it important to do this?

Because, as a former board colleague often said with feeling and some frustration, the gravel will run out one day. Australia cannot rely on primary industries forever, and in fact, shouldn’t rely on primary industries at all.

Because Australians can compete worldwide with home-grown IT products, software and services.

Because there’s no excuse for the world at large not knowing about what you’re doing, what it means for the world, and what it means for organisations that can benefit from your work.

Because our economic future depends on industries that are nimble enough to react to changes in markets, relevant enough to markets around the world, adaptable enough to create new markets, and robust enough to survive economic vagaries.

And all of these require that world markets understand who you are, what you do, why that’s important, and what you mean to them.

Steve Jobs’ legacy to business was as much his diligent, relentless, remorseless advocacy for what he believed about his product and his company. The story of how Xerox missed its chance with the desktop GUI and the mouse needs no retelling to readers of this blog. Two clever, brilliant innovations kept secret, until Jobs brought them to the world.

Time for Australia’s home-grown IT sector to do more of the same.

About alansmithoz

Head of Strategic Business Communications at Australian social analytics technology company Digivizer, with a background in corporate public relations and marketing. I do what I do because I believe communications can make a difference.
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