Sometimes what you hear at conferences makes you bored, sometimes it surprises you. On very rare occasions, it does both. The opening of the UK Technology Summit, run by the European Technology Forum last week, certainly did both for me.
The lineup was good: as well as Ben Verwaayen, the chief executive of BT, we had Richard Christou, the head of Fujitsu Services UK. Who? Well, it took me a while to remember, but Fujitsu Services used to be ICL. So we actually had the two great flagships of UK IT in front of us.
Both of them looked somewhat sadder than they might have done a few years ago -- though, as befitted chief executives giving a keynote, they talked up the opportunities they face. But what made my jaw drop, however, was that both of them said (more or less) the same thing and it was this: in facing up to their current ills, technology was not the answer.
Now, this is a departure. For the last few years, we have heard little else but how some new aspect technology (usually the Internet) will revolutionise the business, give company X "first mover advantage" and create buckets of dosh for us all.
Usually, the speech sets up a problem -- say, revenues are down due to the difficulty of handling transactions with multiple companies, or some-such -- followed by the explanation of how the new technology wipes that trouble away.
But both Verwaayen and Christou said growth was down, and there was no magic answer. Both of them said, more or less, that unless you make products that people want to buy, that help them succeed in what they are doing, then you will not make a profit. You have to make something that people want. You have to be "partners" with your customers. Verwaayen got particularly warm on this issue, but Christou was not far behind. "Customers have to be partners on a one-to-one basis," he said.
Now, normally, at an IT conference, you'd expect a problem statement like that to shift smoothly to a technology answer. Indeed, we've all heard the customer relationship management (CRM) pitch deployed in just this way. "At this time, you need business, you need customers, we can automate that process for you so you won't lose your customers!"