One of the highlights of last week's IDC Directions 2001 industry briefing session - for which ARN was the official publication - was a discussion panel involving the Australian MDs of four very prominent US-based vendors.
Featuring Ian Fewtrell (Enterasys), Paul Houghton (Microsoft), Brian Mitchell (Oracle) and Allan Smith (Ariba), the panel was titled "How e' became a dirty word . . .", but the discussion shot off on many tangents as panelists fielded questions from the chair and the floor.
In answering a question about how IT vendors had managed to over-hype the benefits of technology and fall well-short of delivering on their promises, Microsoft's Houghton conceded that might be the case. He said that many IT vendors have a tendency to "over-commit" to what can be achieved in a three-year window after implementation, but "over-deliver" in a longer view of seven or eight years.
In other words, many customers have not received the benefits they paid for in the short term, but in the long term the efficiencies and opportunities delivered by technology enablement have been far more than what even the vendors imagined.
Ariba's Smith agreed there is rising scepticism to all that is touted by US vendors. A lot of his customers will now call in independent consultants to verify what they are being told by Ariba and other technology vendors.
The four panelists unanimously concurred that the buying motives of end users has shifted to short-term return on investment. A delegate asked the panel what feedback they were receiving from their customers. All agreed that while users still want technology to be clever, it is more important for it to be a genuine tool allowing them to generate income, reduce costs or introduce efficiencies. The general consensus was that sales today are dependent on being able to demonstrate this.
The trend of big vendors announcing alliances, partnerships or "collaborations" with traditional competitors was also queried. It seems that sustained growth, world domination and maximum market exploitation depends on such mutual back scratching.
Forgive my leftist political leanings, but I was ready to join forces with a bunch of M1 protestors who might have liked to kick in the conference doors after Oracle managing director Mitchell espoused the virtues and efficiencies of globalisation and the opportunities it offered IT companies.
Perhaps the best question of the day - from a channel identity (Nick Fish from Solution 6) I might add - asked the panelists what sort of attention do Australian subsidiaries receive from their head offices, and how seriously is the Australian market viewed by their boards.
Interestingly, Houghton said that Gates and his billionaires' club tend to believe Australia is in a positive position, but the country is being held back by the cost of broadband, the lack of government incentives for R&D and the lack of centres of excellence.
Mitchell went further and said that Larry Ellison's boardroom boys believe we have "missed a window of opportunity" in Australia. He said there is obviously significant talent being produced by good university faculties, but this is countered by a restrictive tax system, poor availability of capital, and insufficient focus on growing small business.
But it was Ariba's Smith that probably hit the nail on the head with what the Australian market means to American corporations. Australia contributes somewhere between 2.5 and 5 per cent of the company's global revenues, he said, therefore he gets somewhere between 2.5 and 5 per cent of their attention.
The good news emerging from the debate was that all the panelists forecast a positive future and believed it is time to get back to the fundamental principles behind good business.
Of course, that applies to the IT distribution channel just as much as it does to any other industry.