While I was in Southern California a few weeks ago, the region was in the midst of the heaviest spell of rain in about 100 years. Last week, I attended CeBIT, and while in Amsterdam, Netherlands, on my way to Hannover, Germany, the city had a tough cold snap and its largest snowfall in about 25 years. I guess the lesson is: Dont invite me to your neck of the woods.
I went to CeBIT because it is the last large show still standing for the corporate IT space. Remember Comdex? Remember the National Computer Conference? I still think the corporate technology market needs one big show for product introductions, an opportunity to take the measure of vendors and executives, and a chance for the tribes to gather. Right now, Europe is the place to be for the application of corporate technology. The telecommunications infrastructure is well-integrated and operates at reliable high speed. The introduction of the euro has provided a common financial footing. The development of countries that were once part of the Soviet bloc ensures that there will be continued expansion in new markets. And a recent forecast by the European Information Technology Observatory predicted a 4.3 percent increase in sales, to $2.68 trillion, for the global IT and telecom sector this year.
Im writing this column before CeBIT starts, but here is what I expect to see: a sprawling show with more than 6,000 exhibitors, including a growing number of Asian companies as the shows organizer pushes to make the event more international in scope. Major technology themes include products and services based on UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications System), open-source software moving ever deeper into the corporation, and new applications built around always-on and always-available networks. The show is expected to draw about a half-million visitors, which is still down from the high-water mark of 2001, when 850,000 people attended. While German companies make up most of the exhibitors (about 3,000), Taiwan will have more than 700 exhibitors, China will have more than 300 and the United States will have slightly more than 200.
“This is the land of the ring tone,” said Tom Henderson, principal researcher for ExtremeLabs and a longtime CeBIT goer, when I asked him to compare the European technology market with that of the United States. Ubiquitous and shared communications networks provide Europe with an opportunity to build products and services ahead of the U.S. marketplace. That may change as U.S. telecom companies continue to consolidate, but for now the United States is behind the curve on this one. Standards are well-established in Europe but are still in flux in this country.
Before the show, I met with Cees J.H. de Kuijer, technology infrastructure manager for Capgemini in the Netherlands. While many of the technology managers and CIOs I speak with in the United States are still talking about the rise of standards-based computer systems and networks, de Kuijer is into his third or fourth generation of standards-built systems. Go to the server room at Capgemini, and youll see rows of standard APC system racks; in addition, 90 percent of laptop-based Capgemini employees are using the same ThinkPad configuration. And the companys move to VOIP was built around a Cisco implementation.
“Integration is a big factor in defining success or failure,” de Kuijer said. He was talking about the issues surrounding being in Europe. He touched on such factors as being on the leading edge of technology like VOIP and business process management; the need for secure, remote network access; and the introduction of products such as Skype calling systems, which were originally designed for consumers but are finding wide demand in corporations. My conclusion: In what would at first appear to be a contradiction, the more you adhere to existing standards, the easier it is to introduce products and services built around new or emerging standards.
The standards-based era of computing, which in this country is still in the emerging stage, is well-established in Europe. Shows such as CeBIT and executives such as de Kuijer have a lot to teach U.S. technology executives about how to use standards for business advantage.
Editor in Chief Eric Lundquist can be reached at [email protected].