IT Forum looks cautiously to future

Visionaries were scarce at the IDC European IT Forum in Monaco this week, but all the speakers agreed that there is life after...

Visionaries were scarce at the IDC European IT Forum in Monaco this week, but all the speakers agreed that there is life after the Internet hype and the bursting of the dotcom bubble.

Robert Youngjohns, a vice-president at Sun Microsystems, said: "We really are at the beginning of a radical new phase of the Internet that will drive a level of growth we haven't seen before. What we have seen is the end of the beginning."

The evolution of the Internet now moves into what Youngjohns called "smart" Web services: applications that adapt to where the user happens to be and what access device is used. "Imagine that you are stuck in traffic in your car and the Web service tells you it has rescheduled your appointments," he said.

"If we get this right, I think we are really at the beginning of a massive expansion of the Internet," he continued. "The two companies that get it are Sun and Microsoft. I've read the .Net presentation and see that Microsoft gets it."

Youngjohns was the only speaker who dared to give a futuristic view. Others stuck to telling the audience that feet have now landed back on the ground.

"Electronic business is business," said Art Cooke, EMEA president at enterprise software vendor SAS Institute, summarising the view of many speakers.

"The dotcom bust taught us that the electronic marketplace is not about technology, it is about doing business," said Andy Mattes, a member of the board of Siemens' information and communication networks division.

There has been a "seismic change" in the way business is done, said Jack Garrahan, vice-president and managing director EMEA for storage vendor EMC, noting that he visited 272 European companies in the past year.

"The old ways of solving [IT] problems aren't going to work anymore. This year is all about scrutiny, why do I need to make that investment. The chief financial officer gets involved with every decision, no matter how small," he said.

Companies are still looking to invest in the Internet, but mainly as a way to save cost - procurement, for example - said Bernard de Valence, EMEA president and general manager for Hewlett-Packard.

"Last year there was a lot of euphoria and people thought that just being able to spell electronic business would save their company. Most of the companies I talk to today are relaying IT investment to the Internet to save costs," de Valence said.

The European Commission, which is promoting the Internet around Europe and still is in the process of getting more Europeans online, would not cancel what it calls the eEurope plan, said European information society commissioner Erkki Liikanen.

"Is the new economy history? Can we forget about the Internet? My reply is a firm 'no'. The hype may be over, but the convergence into a new economy is taking place," he said.

Daniel Caclin, chief operating officer of data communications provider Equant, said he saw new opportunity for his company now that many companies are tightening budgets. "Many companies won't allow travel, so that will increase demand for telecommunications and video conferencing," he said.

The conference proved that video conferencing and satellite connections work. Most of the speakers from the US - including HP chairman and chief executive officer Carly Fiorina and Compaq chairman and chief executive officer Michael Capellas - delivered their keynote addresses remotely.

They could not make the trip because of travel restrictions following the terrorist attacks on the US. But, according to IDC staff at the conference, setting up a satellite link is more expensive than paying for travel.

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