Brussels, Belgium -- The 20th annual Global Forum last week highlighted the growing power of Asian information industries, plus the formidable technology challenges facing IT professionals who grapple with increasingly urgent integration requirements as systems converge and people become more mobile.
Called "the Davos of IT," Global Forum often forecasts world trends in the information and communication industries. The invitation-only delegates came from 29 countries and multiple international organizations, such as the European Commission and the World Bank. This year's conference focused on "Mobilizing Organizations and People for Sustainable Growth."
Telecommunications as a whole and Asian information industries in particular have been spared the worst impacts of the financial downturn for the most part. Asian companies are on the move, notably the Chinese telecom power Huawei which had a commanding presence at Global Forum. The $28 billion company employs 110,000 people, with 51,000 of them outside of China. Taking a page from IBM's book, many of its international employees are from the local regions.
For example, Bosco Eduardo Fernandes, originally from Portugal, is head of the company's European Research Centre in Germany, one of 20 R&D facilities worldwide. Huawei invests 10% of its annual revenue in R&D and notes that 46% of its employees are engaged in R&D work.
As part of the Global Forum Open Innovation panel, Fernandes presented Huawei's strategy to establish its presence in IT solutions, lead in network development, and expand in devices. It intends to establish itself as a consumer brand, excel as a telecom carrier, and expand in the enterprise market.
Ao (Leo) Sun, Huawei's Brussels office and European Affairs president, shared the company's view that the cloud computing era has arrived, but that it's still too soon to fix strategies and vision. He called for more cooperation between players and for global cloud standards. Many speakers noted that United States companies are ahead of the rest of the world in the cloud computing arena and in research and development overall.
Another company looking to expand globally is the Japanese company KDDI, which has a reputation for innovation and an international reach already spanning 26 countries. The company's "3M Strategy" said Kan'ichiro Aritomi, KDDI Vice-Chairman, focuses on "multi-network, multi-device, multi-use." Wi-Fi is the approach they use to link networks in mobile phones, Fiber to the Home, Wi-Max, and CATV networks.
With revenue of more than $40 billion, KDDI intends to "utilize the expertise we have gained in Japan to aggressively develop consumer business overseas."
Mobility and convergence
Technology convergence and social mobility have arrived, and are now inseparable. Speakers called for USA-style abilities for citizens to move and settle beyond the boundaries of their home state or region. For example, a German could spend most of his work career in Great Britain and retire on a pension in Spain.
Thus social systems integration is a huge business, promising to make citizen access easier, restrict bureaucratic corruption, and diminish client fraud from duplicative claims in multiple jurisdictions across civil borders.
The impact of IBM's extensive European operations and its "smarter cities" strategic initiative was also evident. Such integrated systems and services are a major focus of IBM worldwide. Harry Van Dorenmalen, chairman of IBM Europe, outlined what he called three "game changers" for this era:
The first is "Team Play" among knowledge institutions in universities, governments, and industry. He added that the key to progress affecting people in their lives will be the participation of mayors and municipal leaders, he said.
Second, the use of global talent will be a driver, with increasing participation of young technologists.
The third is leadership. Against a backdrop of Greek government crisis and the resignation of Italy's Berlusconi, Van Dorenmalen challenged the delegates as he concluded: "it starts and ends with leadership. Are we ready to change and shift direction? That's the question for you to think about on your drive home tonight.''
Information technology drives growth
According to Constantijn van Oranje, a cabinet member for the European Commission's Digital Agenda, new growth is 50% driven by Information and Communication Technology (ICT). He called for deeper investment in R&D in Europe, which lags the United States, and also continued engagement with regulation. Even the threat of regulation, he said, motivates self-regulation and co-regulation.
U.S. Federal Communications Commissioner Robert McDowell cited studies showing global telecommunications spending will jump from $4.3 trillion now to $5.31 trillion in three years. The Internet does disrupt employment, he said, but builds it too. For every job lost, the Internet allows the growth of 2.6 more jobs. McDowell called for more and smarter spectrum allocation for mobile and "unlicensed cognitive networks" which he says represent the future of the Internet.
In a related presentation, Federal Trade Commissioner Thomas Rosch said the FTC emphatically should not take the Federal Communications Commission's path on net neutrality as some have suggested. He said in light of the FCC's tangled struggle with the 1996 Telecom Act's distinction between telecommunications and so-called "information services," FTC should steer clear, as its very jurisdiction could be called into question, he argued.
The 2011 Global Forum was held in the Palais d'Egmont of the Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Sylviane Toporkoff, President of Global Forum, and a Founding Partner of sponsor ITEMS International, announced that the next Global Forum will be in fall 2012 in Stockholm, Sweden, which was designated "Intelligent Community of the Year" two years ago.
Gillette is professor of information and communication sciences at Ball State University, director of its Human Factors Institute, and a senior research fellow at the Digital Policy Institute. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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