The centres are the first initiative of "e-Enabled", a nonprofit alliance of four organisations: the University's School of Information Technology, Telstra, BHP-Information Technology and human resources specialist the DMW Group.
Its purpose, according to DMW spokesperson David Williams, is to allow people from small-to-medium enterprises who are interested in online trading to see business-to-business e-commerce in action.
"If they wish to go further," added Williams, "the four groups in the alliance can provide assistance enabling SMEs to get started in e-commerce."
BHP's assistance will be in the form of IT technology and applications, Telstra's in telecommunications, the University's in research, and DMW's in helping SMEs adapt to the changing nature of careers in the new economy. e-Enabled will also offer one-day workshops, called "Decide", to help organisations decide whether or not they are ready and able to take the leap into B2B e-commerce. These may be staged in conjunction with a mobile drop-in centre, allowing the message to go out to regional and country towns.
To the suggestion that the project could be seen as a sales ploy by the alliance members, Williams replied that ongoing assistance to SMEs would not necessarily come from the project's hosts, and the advice would be objective and tailored to the needs of aspiring e-businesses.
The University of Wollongong, he added, was named 1999-2000 University of the Year precisely because of its partnerships with industry.