But the IT sector in Australia is travelling far better than its counterpart in the emerging economy of South Africa.

I’m sitting 10,972 metres above the Republic of Malta on my way from Johannesburg to Amsterdam on the first part of a world speaking tour.

I love watching the small screen which tracks our flight progress with figures and pictures – I’m sure it’s there just for geeks like myself.

The world looks so small on these screens and it was with this thought that I started contemplating what I had learned from my time in South Africa about the state of IT there.

The more I travel and talk to resellers from different parts of the world, the more I realise how small the world is, as most of us are faced with similar issues and we often have similar experiences.

Looking at the small map it dawns on me IT has no borders and knows no boundaries. The stories the resellers told me in South Africa are the same as the stories people tell me all over the world.

They are struggling with their superior service proposition in the face of decreased pricing strategies from huge whitegoods retailers.

They struggle with the value proposition to clients who, in these tough economic times, are convinced they need to cut back their spending.

They are struggling with the transition of their businesses from retail to a service-focused model. I could well have been speaking with resellers from any city in Australia.

There were a couple of regional differences though. The first was their poor communications infrastructure.

Despite spending all my time in Johannesburg and Cape Town, my BlackBerry would continually struggle to find 3G providers.

Cape Town is only 19 percent smaller than Sydney and Johannesburg is 2.4 times larger than Sydney, so I expected mobile reception to be much better than it was.

If I was disappointed by mobile services, I was more surprised than disappointed with their internet infrastructure.

South Africa has a population 2.2 times larger than Australia with a land mass that is only 16 percent of ours so I expected reasonably good internet speeds.

ADSL2+ is not available anywhere in SA and the fastest generally available speed in the major cities is approximately 4Mb/500Kb (on a good day) with poor reliability.

While Australia is talking about the NBN with 100Mb/s as a good speed (although I personally don’t think it goes far enough soon enough) SA’s resellers would just be over the moon with anything like ADSL2+ speeds and uptime above 95 percent.

They were jealous of our infrastructure – especially for a country with such low population density compared to their country.

When I started to boast too much about Australia though they suddenly talked about one day cricket or Super 14 Rugby and I came crashing back down to earth.

When I asked about their poor communication infrastructure in comparison to Australia, resellers pointed to our strong economy (with a GDP 54 percent higher than SA’s) but they mainly blamed the long-term government monopolisation of all telecommunication infrastructure.

The other regional difference in the SA IT landscape is employment. SA has very high unemployment in general, but it struggles to produce skilled employees.

The IT sector has a deficit of 70,000 people along with high staff turnover. These employees are leaving the country to chase the bigger payslips on offer in England and Australia.

Although the current exchange rate makes the outside earnings look very attractive, resellers pointed out the folly of this as the buying power internally of the RAND is very good.

I dug deeper. Job ads in Johannesburg for MCSE staff with 5-10 years’ experience were advertised at around R25,000/month.

With an exchange rate of 6.5:1 this equates to AU$46,000 a year. Initially this seems very low compared to Sydney. How do living expenses compare though?

The famous Big Mac index shows that living expenses are 31 per cent cheaper in SA than Australia. Average rents are 25 percent cheaper and even identical imported goods (like plasma TVs) were 5 per cent cheaper so there is definitely some truth in their argument.

We are punching well above our weight in the IT sector and, while there are some challenges ahead, resellers in Australia should briefly pause and give ourselves a pat on the back.

Tell me your thoughts on global IT at mathew.dickerson@smallbusinessrules.com.

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