SMBiT Professionals Ltd – The History
In April 2003, Microsoft released its first version of a server product aimed at small-to-medium businesses (SMBs) – Windows Small Business Server (SBS). As part of its efforts to popularise this product, Microsoft employed subject matter experts to engage the IT Service Provider (ITSP) community with this new offering.
In July 2003, Microsoft Australia brought in Harry Brelsford of SMB Nation to spearhead this outreach. The tour of major capital cities generated significant interest and enthusiasm. Microsoft sought to engage further with this community by providing some limited resources in the form of meeting logistics for ongoing community meetings in each state capital. These groups became known as SBS User Groups, and over time became incorporated associations in Queensland and New South Wales. Other state groups continued as unincorporated associations.
Over time, Microsoft withdrew its support for these groups. The groups themselves also diversified their interests, seeking to meet a wider set of SMB ITSP needs than SBS best practices. At the same time, the groups became more established in their identity, purpose and structure.
All the while, there were strong interpersonal relationships between key members of the groups, such that there was an informal cooperation across states. For example, in mid 2008, the Sydney user group adopted a logo, which is still in use today (2021). This was originally designed by then NSW vice president George Nade’s daughter. They made this available to other state groups out of goodwill.
On 18 September 2008, the idea of a more formal national organisation was first floated in email, from Victorian president, John Cromie to NSW president, Wayne Small. It bounced around in email and phone calls for some months, and was generally well received as the idea spread across the state groups.
In March 2009, the domain SMBiTpro.org was first registered by the Victorian group. Subdomains for each state group were created, and a mailing list of all state leaders was formed to assist in the further coordination and discussion. While SMBiTpro.org is the primary domain in use today, several other domains had also been registered – SMBiTpro.org.au by the Queensland group, SMBiTpro.com.au by NSW, and SMBiTpro.net.au by Victorian member Ben Ball.
On 27 July 2009, the first meeting of state Presidents and Vice Presidents was held in Sydney, with the express purpose of discussing the pros and cons of a national organisation. This meeting was attended by Stuart Applegate and Ben Love from Queensland, Wayne Small and George Nade from NSW, and John Cromie and Mark Gravell from Victoria. Dean Calvert (Adelaide) and Jason Jordan (Perth) were unable to attend, following the meeting by email.
The meeting agreed in principle to form a national organisation, but the exact form was subject to receiving advice from experts, followed by further discussion. It was thought most likely at that stage that a federated model would be best, with the national body holding the IP assets of all states, while the states remained as independent incorporated associations. The group adopted the mission statement, goals, target audiences, key messages and member benefits that had been documented in the Victorian group management manual. As well, the chapter management structure was also adopted, and this was quickly followed by the necessary mailing lists to support these national working groups.
Importantly, it was agreed that the national leadership structure pro tem would continue to be the presidents and vice presidents of each state group. This became known as the ‘exec’.
All the agreements reached at this first meeting were taken back to the state committees for approval before being finally adopted. In the following weeks, all states signified their consent, and further meetings of the exec were scheduled to iron out further details and implement the plan.
Over the following months, there were changes of personnel at state level, and hence changes to the exec. These often resulted in a loss of traction and a need to bring everyone back to the same place once more. A frustrating period…
In Sydney, Wayne Small was replaced by Robert Crane as president. The VP role was vacant for some months before Ryan Spillane joined the national exec as NSW VP. In QLD, Hilton Travis replaced Ben Love as VP in QLD. Boon Tee joined the exec as VP for SA.
New Zealand expressed a desire to make the association regional, rather than just Australian, and Ben Walton and Jeremy Hunt joined the exec as representatives. From that time on, the exec considered both itself and the organisation as ANZ, not just Australian.
While all participated in the email exchanges, it was more challenging (and expensive) for everyone to attend teleconferences and face-to-face meetings. The exec often found itself chasing concurrence from members long after meetings had decided on a course of action.
At its meeting on 22 October of 2009, the national exec committed to taking legal advice and drafting a constitution for a national organisation. Funds for this were provided by Queensland and NSW, while Victoria provided the legwork. A first draft of the constitution was sent to the national exec on 3 December. Needless to say, crystalising a proposed constitution also created a great deal of debate, lasting some months.
One of the points of debate was whether to stick with a loose federation of state associations, or move to a truly national body. Structuring SMBiT Professionals as a national (rather than federated) organisation was first formally proposed in email on 17 February 2010 and, after much thought and discussion, formally adopted by the national exec on 19 April that year.
A Necessary Prequel
In parallel with the above activity, a similar but separate organisation had been operating – Small Business IT Professionals Association (SBITPA). This comprised roughly ten companies who felt the need for more business-oriented and in-depth help than the (more technically focused) SBS user groups had provided in the past. However, with SMBiT Professionals moving directly into the ‘industry association’ mould, and focusing more specifically on members’ business needs, there would clearly be competition between the two.
Thus, in parallel with the above activity, the Victorian user group approached SBITPA with the offer to join in with the formation of the new national entity. This was discussed by the national exec as early as their first meeting on 27 July 2009, and progressed slowly at first. However, on 18 May 2010, agreement was reached with SBITPA to merge into the Victorian group in time to then add the combined entity into the national organisation.
SBITPA merged with SMBiT Professionals Victoria on 1 July 2010.
The Path Home
That step completed, the national exec agreed the proposed national constitution and gave the go-ahead to finalise the documentation at its meeting on 19 August 2010.
SMBiT Professionals Limited was registered as a national company limited by guarantee on 8 September 2010. What remained was for each incorporated state organisation (i.e. QLD, NSW and VIC) to hold the necessary special general meetings to pass the special resolutions necessary to transfer all their assets into the new national entity and, having done so, to dissolve their state associations.
SMBiT Professionals Victoria, having recently incorporated SBITPA, was the first to complete these steps, passing the necessary resolutions at its special general meeting on 27 October 2010. SMBiT Professionals Queensland followed suit later that year, while SMBiT Professionals took longer, finally passing the necessary resolutions on 8th February 2011.
Members in states where associations had not been incorporated were able to sign up directly to the ANZ peak body, and did so quite quickly following incorporation.