MUCH has been written about the recent postponement (and possible demise) of Comdex. A few years ago, the same forces that built what became the biggest conference in any industry -- critical mass, celebrity glitz and momentum -- all shifted into reverse, with predictable, familiar and cumulative effects.
But to me, the story is much more interesting than the implosion of a once extravagant industry event. In many ways, Comdex is emblematic of some important changes in our industry, with significant implications for the way the IT business sees itself and speaks to the outside world.
Think about it: What was the focal point of Comdex? While a lot of business was done on and off the exhibit-hall floors, it was the keynote addresses that drew the most media attention, with people such as Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, Michael Dell, Scott McNealy and Carly Fiorina usually playing the industry leadership roles.
No offense to these enormously successful executives, but who is really listening to them anymore? There is no better example of this than Microsoft. There was a time when the introduction of a Windows 95 or 98 was front-page news, not just in the IT press, but also in the major business magazines and even in local newspapers.
But how many people just can't get enough information about Longhorn or Tablet PCs? Ditto for the latest products from Oracle, Dell, Sun and Hewlett-Packard. The reality is that very few products are especially newsworthy these days. This isn't the fault of the vendors; it's simply the case that the IT industry's centre of gravity has shifted. Only in the consumer market are gadgets still exciting, and the Consumer Electronics Show is the place to go for that stuff.
In the business market, it's what you do with IT that matters. This is a sign of industry maturity, and it's a good thing. We can look back and see our business's traditional focus on products as an early phase in which we primarily deployed enabling technology. We should be happy to have outgrown that phase, even though many of us will miss the glitz of the annual Comdex carnival -- at least a little bit.
Of course, once you start talking about what we're doing with IT, things become much more complicated, fragmented and diffuse. IT is used for a zillion things these days, and there are major differences by sector. That's why I don't think the IT industry will see another Comdex for the foreseeable future. Our needs are better served by more focused, less glamorous events.
But that doesn't mean the IT industry doesn't need a new generation of spokespeople. The product companies have carried their share of the burden and now need some energetic reinforcements. These new voices should come from the major IT services companies (IBM Corp., Accenture Ltd., Electronic Data Systems Corp., Computer Sciences Corp.), the dot-com giants (Google Inc., Amazon.com Inc., eBay Inc., Yahoo Inc.) and even from customers themselves (businesses, governments, schools). The result will be a much more diverse, compelling and representative IT industry.
David Moschella is global research director at CSC Research & Advisory Services, a Computer Sciences Corp. company. Contact him at email@example.com.