Although visionaries were scarce, all speakers here at International Data Corp.'s (IDC's) European IT Forum said that there is life after the Internet hype and the dot-com bubble bursting.
Presenters on Monday and Tuesday looked to history for guidance on where we stand today in the world of electronic commerce. The end of the hype was compared with King Louis the XVI of France, who was beheaded in 1793 the year after his troops won important battles against Austria. On a more positive note, Robert Youngjohns, a vice president at Sun Microsystems Corp., remembered the U.S. railway crisis in 1873, when after a period of turmoil the railway system flourished and spawned a lot of other business.
"We really are at the beginning of a radical new phase of the Internet that will drive a level of growth that we haven't seen before. What we have seen is the end of the beginning," said Youngjohns, speaking Tuesday afternoon.
The evolution of the Internet now moves into what Youngjohns calls "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, noting that there are only two companies that understand what the future Internet will be about; Sun, of course, and Microsoft Corp., a company that typically isn't a favorite among Sun followers.
"If we get this right, I think we are really at the beginning of a massive expansion of the Internet. The two companies that get it are Sun and Microsoft. I've read the .NET presentation and see that Microsoft gets it," Youngjohns said.
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, president for Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) at enterprise software vendor SAS Institute Inc., summarizing the view of many speakers.
"The dot-com 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 AG's 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 Corp., 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, president and general manager for Hewlett-Packard Co. EMEA.
"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 cost," he said.
The European Commission, which is promoting the Internet around Europe and still is in the process of getting more Europeans online, won't cancel what's called the eEurope plan, said European information society Commissioner Erkki Liikanen.
"Is the new economy history 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.
"We're running out of dots," said Daniel Caclin, chief operating officer of data communications provider Equant NV, when discussing the health of dot-coms. He sees 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 U.S., including HP Chairman and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Carly Fiorina and Compaq Computer Corp. Chairman and CEO Michael Capellas delivered their keynote addresses remotely. They couldn't make the trip because of travel restrictions after the terrorist attacks on the U.S. However, setting up a satellite link is more expensive than paying for travel, according to talk among IDC staff at the conference.