UK's hottest tech prospect revealed

At the European Technology Forum awards, tech companies were told that the dot-com promises might yet come true, and discovered the connection between MBAs and eels

The UK's hottest tech prospect was announced on Monday night at the European Technology Forum, as companies were given some salutary advice on how to survive the next decade.

Diners at the awards dinner were told that the consensus opinion that telcos paid too much for 3G licences was not necessarily correct, before hearing that there were some valuable lessons to be learned from being mistaken for a valet in California.

Delivering the pre-dinner speech Mike Lynch, founder and chief executive of knowledge management firm Autonomy, said many of the things predicted during the dot-com boom will come to pass, but perhaps just not as soon as everyone thought. "To say the dot-com boom didn't have an effect is wrong," said Lynch. "We are changing everything."

Lynch, whose company's success made him the UK's first software billionaire when its valuation soared in the late 1990s noted that some types of business never really stood a chance.

"There was one dot-com laundry company in San Francisco, which took your smalls away, laundered them for free and returned them," Lynch told his audience. "Their business model was to analyse your smalls, from which they could get an analysis of your lifestyle, which could then be sold." The main flaw (of many) with this plan, said Lynch, was that "everybody knows that civil servants like to wear women's underwear underneath their suits, so not only would this company have to cleanse underwear, but it would also have to cleanse the database afterwards. The data would simply be wrong."

Conversely, said Lynch, is a formidable dot-com business model. But the rise (or survival) of dot-coms with sustainable business models has not been as easy one: Lynch noted the rise, during the boom, of MBAs, "which popped up with no particular expertise."

A good analogy for MBAs, said Lynch, was eels, "not because they are slippery and slimy, but because no one knew where they came from. Now the MBAs have all disappeared again. I even looked under the investment banking rock and there is nothing there."

The imperative now, said Lynch, is for companies to deliver the chief information officer what is needed. "The CIO has had a hard time of it lately," said Lynch. "They bought customer relationship management software, but needed 300 people to type the data in. They have to have return on investment in the medium term."

Taking a different tack, former Wang European general manager Ken Olisa, who is now chairman and chief executive of the IT investment and advisory company Interregnum, which he founded, had some insight to impart based on his experiences with Americans in a parking lot.

Most in the audience were too steeped either in wine or in Olisa's anecdotes to receive the wisdom, but they did get his most important message, which was that in ten years there will be only two camps in the tech world: the Microsoft camp and the non-Microsoft camp, led by IBM. "If you're not with Microsoft and you don't work for IBM, you'd better find out what it means for you," said Olisa. "You need to make the decision now."

And the UK's hottest technology prospect? That award went to Searchspace, a company that develops enterprise decision automation software for monitoring business activity.

Executive Search Firm of the Year Award went to Renoir Partners, and Deal of the Year Award went to nanotechnology pioneer Oxonica, which last year won £4m in first-round funding.

Alliance Partner of the Year Award went to Quester. Individuals who came away with awards included Simon Mills, head of knowledge management at BT, who won CIO Innovator of the Year Award, David Andrews of Xchanging, who won Technology CEO of the Year Award (private firm) and Stephen Purdham of SurfControl, who won Technology CEO of the Year Award (public firm).

For a round-up of the latest tech business coverage, see the Business News Section.

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