The search for importance of industry bodies and global technology conferences accelerated at the World Computer Congress 2010 in Brisbane this week as attendees and speakers alike questioned the relevance such gatherings had for the end-user companies.
An industry leaders forum on building Australian companies at the conference became heated when one speaker and attendee, Mark Toomey of corporate governance consultancy firm Infonomics, asked whether industry bodies such as the Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA) and its business equivalents were doing enough to see technology be championed among businesses.
“We still have a massive education job to do in this country to shift from where a few business leaders in a few business organisations get it and know it’s a competitive advantage,” he said.
One member of the forum, Senator Kate Lundy — a fierce advocate of Gov 2.0 and regular champion of the IT industry — praised the AIIA and other representative organisations such as the Australian Local Government Association for their initiatives, but conceded more had to be done.
While Australian companies and governments were proactively using ICT, she said, leaders were yet to capture the essence of technology to drive their business.
AIIA chairman, John Grant, who was also present at the forum, defended his own organisation’s relevance, pointing to continued communication with non-IT industry organisations in an attempt to bridge the gap between ICT and business leaders. However, he too pointed to room for improvement.
“The World Computer Congress has a place, but if you imagine the perfect conference, it would be three days of WCC and a day of business and technology, and it would have business leaders talking about how they’re doing things with business and technology,” he told Computerworld Australia.
Grant is also CEO of IT services firm, Data#3. His comments echo much of the sentiment at the bi-annual conference, particularly from those keen to utilise the 1100-strong gathering for networking, branding and lead generation.
Several vendors exhibiting at the event said that while it provided a broad form of brand awareness, the youth of attendees and lack of C-level executives provided little opportunity for furthering ICT within the business place. Attendees also pointed to the huge breadth of the program, which covers eight major streams and 17 individual presentations at any one time, as a point of confusion which, while deeply technical, often held little relevance to their daily work.
Conference organiser, the International Federation for Information Processing (IFIP), and local partner the Australian Computer Society (ACS) point to this year’s conference as the largest yet, and a strong improvement over previous events, the Brazilian equivalent of which was reported to have been deeply in debt.
South Australian branch chair of the ACS, Reg Coutts, said the struggle for relevance would continue from all organisations pertaining to industry.
“The industry looks at ACS and thinks it’s close to academia, and academia look at ACS and thinks it’s close to industry,” he said. “And it’s not either. It’s trying to build that bridge.”
For the WCC in particular, as with IFIP, Coutts said the focus was clearly on academia but at a point where research institutions often couldn’t afford to justify participation.
The push for a convergence of technologist and business skills, Grant said, was ultimately required to see true relevance from industry representative bodies as well as conferences like WCC.
“My concern is that the things that they’re talking about and the things that we need to have happen won’t be decided in these forums. They’ll be decided in the business forums and in the boardrooms,” he said.