Trends are old, cool, borrowed, Big Blue

At the Economist's Technology Industry Summit in Hanover on Wednesday, attendees were having deja vu. VOIP (voice over Internet Protocol), Linux in the enterprise, outsourcing and utility computing were themes of the day, and frankly, attendees said, these are nothing new.

Those asking why they were talking about the same issues discussed six months ago and a year ago, were answered by IBM Vice President of Strategy Matthias Hartmann in his presentation "Why IT never did matter -- now more than ever."

The profit margin has moved to the business layer and companies will make choices like outsourcing or adopting VOIP to cut costs or improve processes, but these are strategic and not driven by tech trends, Hartmann explained.

"At the end of the day, it's not IT that matters. It's an enabler and important one but it's how it helps business that counts," he said.

Summit chairman Kenneth Cukier also spoke of the transience of technology, saying that 50 percent of the IT goods people buy today will not exist in 7 years, and the ones that remain eventually become commoditised.

"We should be scared for this optimism we have," Cukier said, because half of the current technology will disappear.

But some attendees wanted to be optimistic.

"The Skype stuff was really cool," U.K. attendee Jon Morgan said of the presentation by Niklas Zennstrom, chief executive officer of Internet telephony company Skype Technologies.

He admitted, however, that Internet telephony is not a breaking trend. "It's almost a mature market now," he said.

Perhaps the summit-closing presentation on post-PC enterprises and future applications would help boost optimism?

"The next phase is the age of mobility," said Todd Abbott, senior vice-president of worldwide operations at mobile technology company Symbol Technologies.

Abbott forecast steep growth in the mobile enterprise market, with the edge moving from wired to wireless. Summit attendees, at least half of them fiddling with their mobile phones and BlackBerrys, showed little surprise.

"There's nothing new here," said one attendee who preferred not to be named. But she was left wondering if it really mattered.

The Economist Technology Industry Summit ends Wednesday.

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