Biting the hand that feeds you

Biting the hand that feeds you

Taking a broad swipe at the government and the local IT industry doesn't seem like a wise move from the head of Australia's largest technology trade show.

But that's exactly what Hanover Fairs Australia [organisers of CeBIT] managing director, Jackie Taranto, chose to do last week. While describing Australia as an innovative country, she suggested its ICT industry lacked the necessary leadership to make things happen and questioned how much weight the government gives to technology matters.

Her comments, made to the Australian Financial Review, came after NSW Premier, Morris Iemma, informed CeBIT Australia organisers he would not be available to open this year's CeBIT show at Darling Harbour. It is the first time the state's premier has not opened the trade show since it opened its doors in 2002. The official reason for the snub was that Iemma needs to meet with his cabinet that morning before the reopening of state parliament a week later. Given the short amount of time it would have taken to pop in and say a few words, the excuse sounds about as credible as "I'm washing my hair" or "The dog ate my homework".

It suggests relations between the NSW Government and CeBIT are a little frosty and it must have been extremely embarrassing for Taranto to pass the message back to the Premier of German state, Lower Saxony, Christian Wulff. He was expecting to open the show with Iemma. Lower Saxony owns almost 50 per cent of Deutsche Messe, the company that runs CeBIT.

But despite this embarrassment, Taranto's response smacks of over-reaction given that the NSW Department of State and Regional Development is still a major sponsor of CeBIT Australia. At best, it is more than a little ungracious to accept financial support with one hand while delivering a backhanded slap across the face of local industry and government with the other. At worst, it is biting the hand that feeds you. Her suggestion that the local IT sector lacks strong leadership capable of creating government pressure was a thinly veiled attack on the Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA).

Two years ago, the AIIA Software Showcase was a significant contributor to CeBIT Australia. Created to showcase the talents of local software start-ups, it featured 84 companies. But despite its success in highlighting developer talent, the Showcase was conspicuous by its absence 12 months ago and will not make a return this year. Globally, the concept of broad industry trade shows is experiencing credibility issues due to a perceived lack of focus. Comdex bit the dust in 2004 and the major CeBIT show in Germany saw its numbers slip slightly this year, with exhibitors down to 6000 from 6200 a year earlier and floor space sold dropping to 280,000sqm from 300,000sqm in 2006.

The mix of consumer and business products and attendees can make life difficult for exhibitors and it can be more valuable to see less people at a more targeted event. The public will vote with their feet when doors open on May 1.

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