Computer services imports rose almost 50 percent between 2012 and 2014 as Australian companies embraced offshoring and cloud in large numbers, according to new research.
The report, Australia's Digital Pulse, is a joint creation of the ACS and Deloitte Access Economics.
One area of ICT the report deals with is what it calls 'trade in ICT services' - in other words, looking at what ICT services Australian companies export to the world, and what they buy back from international firms.
"Trade in computer services such as data processing, IT help desk and hardware and software consultancy represents more than 70 percent of total trade flows [in ICT services] both in and out of Australia," the report said.
"Exports and imports of computer services have generally tended to be quite balanced since 2000, with both flows gradually rising in the 2000s before levelling out towards the end of the decade.
"However, the past couple of years have seen a rise in computer services imports".
The almost-50 percent increase in imports observed between 2012 and 2014 "could be associated with more companies choosing to locate their IT functions overseas," the report said. Examples include offshoring deals or transferring services to the cloud, such as with infrastructure-as-a-service players like Amazon and Microsoft.
However, it is unlikely that this rate of growth will be sustained as it is no longer necessary to import a lot of these services.
For example, many cloud operators have now set up local nodes, meaning customers no longer have to "import" such services hosted from Asia Pacific or US-based data centres.
"We're consuming services owned by foreign entities but the vast majority are going to be located here in Australia," Gartner research director Michael Warrilow told Information Age.
"The ownership [of these services] is going to be rarely Australian. There's none that are able to compete at the scale [of those owned by foreign entities]."
Dr. Wissam Raffoul, an advisor at analyst firm IBRS, agreed that it is more likely companies will consume more computer services that are based onshore.
"I think the shift from privately owned hardware and software to services will continue to increase onshore and offshore over the next three years," Raffoul told Information Age.
"While during 2000-2010 there was an increased shift towards offshore outsourcing to gain access to cheaper labour, offshore won't be the driver in today's environment.
"Cloud will be the main attraction which could be onshore or offshore without necessarily favouring offshore arrangements."
The ACS-Deloitte report notes that one-third of IT services imports come from the United States and one-third from Asia - which are both major hubs for global public cloud.
"One of the fastest growing sources of ICT services imports is India, whose import share almost doubled over five years to reach close to 10 percent of Australia's total imports of ICT services in 2013," the report added.