ICT is an acronym that I stopped using a few years ago. ICT, to me, is associated with those big gorilla companies, ascendant in the 1970s and 1980s, that set us on the road to the digital revolution (that, in those days, was called Information and Communications Technology).
Companies that are forever associated with ICT had their own three letter acronyms (TLAs): DEC, IBM and ICL. So, for me, there’s something quaintly anachronistic about ICT. It just doesn’t seem to fit in an age of social media and cloud. The companies that now define digital don’t really do TLAs. They have happy, friendly names like Twitter, Facebook and Google.
But, not to be outdone, the European Union has re-defined ICT. The theme of this year’s EU-run biennial is “Innovate, Connect, Transform.”
Indeed the exhibition and conference streams are color-coded to help the delegates get around. Not that it helps. The jamboree is a confused melee – panel discussions try to cover so many bases with so many perspectives that it’s impossible to keep track. Eurocrats congratulate Europe on its digital performance when it’s clear that the USA still dominates. The conference conveniently ignores Europe’s failure to define 4G/LTE, Nokia’s fall from grace, and US domination of cloud technology from Amazon to Facebook to Twitter to WordPress.
Ironically, where the event does best is when representatives from nation-states get to tell their stories. The EU stories are endlessly confusing: initiatives, directives, technology transfer. Meanwhile Aet Rahe of tiny little Estonia told, this morning, how a nation just went ahead and built one of the most impressive digital government infrastructures in the world simply by doing it from scratch and ditching most of the legacy. Rahe is Head of ICT Policy for Estonia. (Larry Larkin also tells the Estonia story here).
So there are interesting stories being told here at ICT2015 but they’re not really being told by the EU. When Günther Oettinger (EU Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society) told the conference yesterday how inspired he was about the opportunities for digital for Europe he sounded like he had arrived at a party about 10 years too late.
The most interesting stories are probably being told at other conferences far away from ICT2015. In fact they are probably not being told at conferences at all – the best tech tends to just emerge from businesses that are focused and driven and know what people will buy in droves. I’d suggest not too much will emerge from Horizon2020 to compete with Silicon Valley.
ICT 2015 feels like it’s from another era. While Dublin’s Web Summit ignores international borders and encourages partying over networking, ICT2015 feels just a little too like a huge wedding reception. No-one seems quite sure why they are there (apart, I suppose, from the NGOs and the EU itself). Lisbon will have a different experience entirely when Web Summit arrives in 2016.
On the plus side we were served Mateus Rosé last night at the social reception (a remarkable event that managed to feed about 4,000 people in one of the biggest open plan venues I’ve ever seen). Mateus, I think, was the first wine I ever tasted about 35 years ago. It’s a brand I thought had gone away. It’s a little sweet, but nice all the same.
Europe did and does create fabulous technology. However, I’m not really convinced that the EU knows how or why it does. It’s well-meaning but I suspect technology may have left the EU behind. Mateus Rosé will hopefully survive longer than the EU.