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UMD Netcentricity Conference was useful

I attended the Robert H. Smith School of Busines Fourth Annual Netcentricity Conference yesterday at the University of Maryland. I expected it to be a stuffy academic conference without much applicability to my life as a CEO of a software development firm or as a software architect. However, I was pleasantly surprised that I actually learned things from both a business and technology perspective. The Smith School’s dean is defnitely technology-aware and the faculty are quite technology saavy as well. I was glad to see that technology and its use are fully integrated into the business school curriculum. However, I was a little disappointed that all we received was paper materials instead of a CD with the presentations and notes. The conference started out with a great morning keynote “The Future of Electronic Markets” by Harvey Seegers, who was CEO of GE Global eXchange Services, the world’s largest providers of B2B e-commerce services. He was hired by Jack Welch to “get GE on the Internet” in 1996 and the rest is history. GE conducts billions of dollars of transactions through their exchange and Harvey was one of the guys that made it happen.

Harvey took the audience through a tour of electronic business exchanges (like GSX), their past, their present, and their future. It was great multimedia presentation but I would have liked more audience exchange during the talk. However, we did get plenty of time to talk with him during the day in between sessions (one one one). His main point was that the past failures of dot-com companies with flawed business models should in no way make us assume that the Internet has somehow failed for business. Quite the opposite. He said we need to learn the lessons, but begin preparing for the world of today where not only billions are being transacted over Internet but trillions. The only drawback to his presentation was that he focused on the Internet’s cost-saving potential (since of course GSX, the company he led, was charged with improving the supply chain) as opposed to the (I think) much bigger potential for revenue enhancement and generation. I think if he had a bit more time it would have been nice to hear his views on how better to use the Internet for increasing revenue instead of just cutting costs. However, if you get a chance to hear Harvey speak (even if you’re an engineer and have no interest in the business side like I do), take the opportunity — he was very technically astute.

For technology guys like me helping businesses intergrate back end functionality with web services and service oriented architectures, hearing Harvey talk about the next few years reminds me of my days as a dot com CEO of the late ’90s. Aah, the good old days! 🙂

The afternoon sessions were not as glitzy as the morning one Harvey led; however, the “Where is e-Government Going” session led by Alisoun Moore, the CIO of Montgomery County, Maryland was quite interesting as well. Alisoun spoke about all the various services Montgomery County offers online and talked about the challenges of making “citizen-centric” portals. I liked her “4 stages of E-Gov” description where described phase 1 being very simple online sites where just paper brochures and phone books are placed online, phase 2 as being two-communication via e-mail and other basic mechanisms, phase 3 being substitution of some web-based services instead of manual work by government staff, and phase 4 being development of integrated portals that unify the back-end of government systems with full web-based services that eliminate many government staff because citizens are able to do most things online. She described that Montgomery County is one of only a handful of government organizations in the USA that is close to phase 4. She compared and contrasted the USA, Canada, and Singapore (three leading countries that have implemented e-Government). In her mind, Singapore was already at phase 4. I was surprised to say I have a little more faith in the county I live in now (Montgomery County) seeing that Alisoun is in charge of the IT — she doesn’t seem like a person who just says “good enough for government work” and in fact seems to be very customer-focused and quality concious. Very good stuff.

Also in the afternoon was a talk on “The Choice Between Physicial and Digital Goods.” It was an review of a commercial research project conducted between a Smith school professor and Barbara Kline Pope, who is in charge of publishing all the books and materials for the National Academies. The research was conducted to see if the National Academies publications were moved from print to PDF or other electronic means would the sales increase or deacrease? How about costs? The project was fascinating and the results were not exactly what I would have expected. If you’re interested to see the effects of digital technology on price elasticity, demand, and product cannibalization (especially when the same product is offered in different formats and distributions) you’ll find the study useful.

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