There's life after the bubble-burst

People keep asking when the IT and telecommunications business are going to get back to normal, Ben Verwaayen, chief executive officer (CEO) of London's BT Group PLC said Tuesday. "But this is the norm, so we'd all better accept it and develop the strategies we need to deal with it."

Verwaayen was talking at the European Technology Roundtable Exhibition (ETRE 2002) here, and echoed the sentiments of many speakers.

"We need discipline in management, we need good business models and we need to address the balance sheet," Tim Donahue, president and CEO of Nextel Communications Inc., said Monday about how his company has managed to thrive through hard times. "The new economy fantasy was just a field of dreams, 'build it and they will come.' The models just weren't realistic."

Tim Draper, CEO of venture capital firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson, was upbeat Tuesday about the new, calmer future. "We need to get rid of a few myths. One of those is that this is the worst possible time to be an entrepreneur. No it's not. Right now, everyone has a lot of time, if not a lot of money. The talent and the rent are cheap out there right now. There are wide-open spaces for new technology and little competition. Okay, money is harder to raise, and customers are slower to buy, but the opportunities are there."

In his opening keynote address Sunday, Intel CEO Craig Barrett said he had "never been more optimistic." The computer industry would start to see improvements by the beginning of next year, and the telecommunications industry would pick up later that year. "But the key is that we're moving away from selling the technology for its own sake, and toward solving the customers' problems."

And that's the key to where the industry stands now, getting back to the customer, according to Jocelyne Attal, vice president of WebSphere within IBM Corp.'s Software Group.

"We need to go back to the basics of marketing," she said. "In this industry, someone has a great idea and they think that marketing involves some nice charts in a presentation. Marketing is not about a nice display. Marketing is about the customer's requirements and finding a mixture of the right technology and the market needs."

Speaking in the closing session of the conference, Attal said companies have to stop releasing technology to the market before the market is ready. "We need to get back to 'the customer is king.' We need to get back to basics, back to Darwinism -- the company with the strongest business, with the cash, is king. Back to sales people going out there selling, showing CEOs the competitive advantage that products will bring. We need to get back to reality."

This year's conference had been better than last, "because people are not nostalgic any more," Attal said. "They've stopped complaining and accepted that now we just have to go on and do it."

But one area has yet to improve, she said. "Why am I still the only woman speaking in the main tent of this conference? Until this industry starts to use women's talents it is leveraging only 50 percent of the intelligence, the creativity, the skills of humankind."

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