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Exchanging Innovative Ideas - WCIT2006

Posted by johnreynolds on May 3, 2006 at 11:59 AM PDT

My memories of Tuesday's WCIT2006 Innovation Exchange are a bit of a blur, but it sure was fun. I volunteered to help out, and was assigned to help usher speakers to and from the podium... We started at 8:00 am, and ran non-stop until 6:00 pm... 17 speakers from Texas, Malaysia, Australia, Korea, Taiwan, Cambodia, Australia, Canada, and Mexico... and that was in only one of three meeting halls.

The Innovation Exchange was coordinated by Rebecca Judis... who volunteered for WCIT2006 last year but ended up as a Vice President for the convention ( you should always be careful what you volunteer for... it can end up taking over your life).

The pattern for the Innovation Exchange was the "Venture Capital Pitch"... 25 minutes to sell yourself and your idea to potential investors or partners. My meeting hall was filled with a mix of governments and companies... come and do business in our country, and come do business with my company.

I learned a great deal... Malaysia is like Silicon Valley but with Hawaii's climate; Koreans work too many hours a week, but that's changing; Cambodia is slowly but surely recovering from the Khmer Rouge; Mexico graduates 34,000 programmers a year. I took notes, but the sessions have still blended in my little gray cells, so I appologize in advance for any mistakes.

Some of the business pitches really roped me in... these were marketing pitches, not technical pitches... so they really focused in on relevence: Why is this technology useful? What problem will this software/hardware solve?

Joel Trammell did a great job of explaining NetQOS by using an analogy of "The mayor and city traffic": When a reporter asks the mayor "How's traffic today?" the mayor needs to be able to say "Pretty good" or "Really awful", and have a short justification... Outlining all the road closures and construction delays is overkill... the mayor needs something simple like transit time: "Traffic is pretty good, the average commute today is only 20 minutes".
NetQOS does something like this for networks... it can tell you the average transit times for messages in the network, and it can tell you where the time is being spent in your infrastructure.

Mark Spiloto pitched his company iKnowWare (pronounced "I know where")... a device agnostic view of what you need to know based on business rules, privledges and personalized views. Mark had a side-splitting video for their product... hopefully he will post it on iKnowWare's web site.

José Luque of Merkatum blew me away with their facial recognition system. His small startup created a database for the state of Florida that contains all driver license photos (and other biometric information)... it is currently the largest facial recognition database in the world, and they can match faces to photos in 4 seconds. What intrigued me by the pitch was Merkatum's intent to offer biometric recognition as a web service. If they get the funding to pull this off, they will be able to offer a very low cost solution to any company or agency that has been mandated to provide biometric verification of identity.

I had helped José get his laptop ready for the presentation the day before. He is a very charming person, and we chatted a bit about identify theft... we have both been victims. Although there are privacy concerns, the ability to more reliably prove that "I am me" before executing a transaction is very appealing (I hope these guys get rich).

Wayne Karpov of YottaYotta tailored his pitch to the convention's topic of IT and Health Care. Wayne made a very compelling argument that Health Care costs can be reduced by managing many hospitals as one... and that is an IT problem. If the databases of many hospitals could appear to be one giant database, then it would be fairly easy to write applications to manage across the multiple entities. That is essentially what YottaYotta's product does: High Performance, Resilient Global Data Sharing.

Wayne also clued us in on what a Yotta is... it doesn't have anything to do with Jerry Sienfeld. A Yotta (1024) is approximately the number of snowflakes that fall on Canada in a calendar year (That's a yotta snowflakes!).

James Balestra of Safefreight showed off a nify "brick" that contains a GPS receiver and a tracking transmitter that is smart enough to switch between cell and satellite signals (satellite is way more expensive to use than cell). The brick can be attached to a truck, trailer, shipping container (you name it) and transmits information back to the company's home base. Various sensors are available (temperature, motion, etc.) and Safefreight supplies easy to use software that makes it very easy to generate views, reports, and exceptions. For example, the brick can generate an alert if its temperature exceeds a range, or if the trailer goes outside a pre-determined area.

Peter Neve of Fieldworker pitched his company's device agnostic software development platform for mobile workers... He told us that Fieldworker had originally shipped software for the Apple Newton... and I am impressed with any company with that sort of longevity in the hand-held market.

Marshall Vanderburg's Municipal Software Corporation has a sweet set of packaged applications for local governments that can be easily tailored to meet custom needs. Who knew that automating beaurocracy could be so pleasent?

Paul Hanson's Anyware Group has a great solution called ROAM (Role Oriented Access Management) that securly exposes legacy applications via any Web Browser. Paul is a hoot to listen to... he told us that a Forrester analyst compared him to a Ginsu Knife salesman... and I could see the resemblance ;-)

Daniel Gonzales of Sinapsis specializes in building "captive" off-site development teams in Mexico. Mexico has some very good programming talent, and it is in the same time zone as much of the USA. With a bi-lingual project manager, Mexico is in many ways more attractive than off-shoring development to India (for example).

As a US programmer, I am (of course) negative about off-shoring any programming jobs... but I do have to admit that there are many great programmers all over the world. Daniel's company has done a good job of enabling Mexican programmers to get work from the US by lessening the risk to US companies. The efforts of Sinapsis should help improve the economy of Mexico, and the standard of living of Mexicans... That's a good thing. The bad thing is that US programmers lose jobs...

Malaysia has great programmers, Korea has great programmers, Australia has great programmers, Taiwan has great programmers, Mexico and Canada have great programmers. There is talent out there, and they want work from the US. If we in the US want to continue to be programmers, we are going to have to figure out how to stay competitive... we have to provide more value than our colleagues in other countries, or they'll get the work.

On a more positive note, there really are a lot of clever and gifted people out there in the world, and we can benefit from their efforts (as they have benefitted from our efforts). Many of the speakers fondly referred to Thomas Friedman's The World Is Flat.

From what I saw at WCIT2006 on Tuesday, the world is also exciting... truly a worthwhile way to spend a day.


(cross-posted at The Thoughtful Programmer)

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