Intercomms - Development
INTERCOMMS : The International Communications Project



Harris Miller, WITSA President talks to Intercomms about the World Congress on Information Technology (WCIT) 2006

Q: What do you hope to achieve at the end of the WCIT 2006?
A: There are several success boxes to tick. One is content. We expect the programme to be very rich. The organisers, working with us, have already lined up some well-known leaders in the industry. We are also working to secure very well known political and media leaders. We are also producing a meaningful vision of some of the future opportunities. That is a lot of why people come to the event. We want to make sure they have an opportunity to experience the views of some of the leading minds out there in terms of what the future will hold.

Q: Who are on the confirmed list?
A: They already have Michael Dell, Texas' Governor Perry, Anne Mulcahy, the CEO of Xerox, Hector Ruiz, CEO of AMD, John Thompson CEO of Symantec, Michael Capellas, the CEO of MCI and Paul Otellini the CEO of Intel. We are hoping to get some senior political figures, but they can't be lined up eleven months in advance. We are hoping for something close to 2000 attendees, from probably 80-100 countries. Attendees tend to be very senior executives from around the world. Again it will be a mixture of industry folks as well as academics, governments and the user community.

Q: What are you doing in terms of drumming up support for the event?
A: It is very much a systematic marketing campaign. One aspect if this is that we travel around the world speaking at events promoting the WCIT. I was in Russia earlier this year, keynoting a conference in St Petersburg and I have been in London, Sri Lanka, the Philippines too. Later this year I will be in Tunisia, Kuala Lumpur and Hong Kong doing the same. I, and the senior staff at the World Congress are speaking at a range of other locations around the world. There is a lot of visibility. Secondly, we work directly through the WITSA membership in 67 countries and use them for outreach. Each has a membership in their own country to whom they reach out. We provide them the appropriate marketing information and materials to get that out. We also try and work with governments in trying to make sure they are aware and participate. Historically we have had good participation from senior officials at previous World Congresses and we expect that to occur again. Lastly we do some limited advertising - it's not a mass-market kind of event but we do use certain publications.

Q: What makes it unique?
A: There are obviously many IT conferences around the world. A few things make us different. First, we are not a trade show. It is different from CeBIT, where attendance is in the hundreds of thousands but a lot of those people are there for show and tell as part of the major exhibit halls. WCIT is not a place to collect mouse pads and golf balls. Secondly, it's the kind of event where you do have very senior executives. This is focussed on business leadership in the business world - the Davos of the IT industry. This is much more focused on business and government and society than it is on particular technical issues. Thirdly, it isn't an opportunity for companies to advertise or promote their own companies. It really is a chance to come together on common issues. You don't talk about specific things that your company is doing or could be doing at WCIT.

Q: As with any social event, you put people together but they won't necessarily talk. In the role of host what does WITSA intend to do 'matchmake' at WCIT?
A: First we enable people to do some pre-event matchmaking, allowing them to use the Internet and allowing people looking for specific business opportunities and partnerships to know in advance who will be there and pre-arrange on-on-one and small meeting while they are there. We really do emphasise these social events and activities and they always been one of the great events at the World Congress. During meals, we try and create an environment of large open spaces where people can be introduced more easily to each other. We enable people to communicate easily while at the event by providing them devices so that they can easily get in touch with other people and then we try and ensure we have plenty of fun social activities. Obviously the people of Texas are going to show off some their country music, something it is renowned for. We know this is all about people and getting people to meet is critical.

Q: What is your measure of success for the event?
A: It is necessarily impressionistic but there are several metrics I use. Number one is what my board call 'special moments'; where things happen, speeches are given and meetings occur from which you walk away from and you say, 'that was incredible'. In the past it has been an address for Mikhail Gorbachev about how he changed the Soviet Union, a presentation from Bill Clinton about how we can use IT to empower people in developing countries or the King of Spain coming out to say that IT is the future of Europe's economy. It is a little intangible but you know it when you see it. A second thing is community building. An example of this happened at our WITSA meeting in South Africa in September 2004. We are together for three days and subsequently visited Johannesburg together. The organisers arranged for us to visit Nelson Mandela's Home and the guide on the bus asked us where we were from. Everybody, without exception spontaneously said; 'We are from the world'. I think building that global relationship is one strong indicator of success.

Q: What do hope that WCIT will improve on over previous events?
A: There are two things. First we are bringing in more of the world each time. When I took over as WITSA President in 1995, we had 22 members of WITSA and the WCIT. Now we have 67 countries in WITSA, a more than three-fold increase. Many of these new members come from Africa and South Asia and parts of South America and Europe, who were not even part of the IT world several years ago. We have to make sure they are not only part of WITSA's organisation but make sure they participate in the World Congress, because it really is a great opportunity for them to be exposed to, and make business relationships. That is one area that we are always trying to improve, the breadth and depth of our representations, particularly from developing countries. The second thing is that we are coming out more with vision of the future of the next generation of the Internet information technology. The cycle of innovation seems to come in waves and we are in a bit of down time in the past few years coming out of the Internet bubble. It is now starting to pick up again. Whether you are talking about E-Health, VoIP, or Grid Computing or power to the Internet user at the edge, I think we want to come out of the 2006 World Congress, with more vision of what the next generation of the Internet and information technology will be.

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