Let's get the excitement back into the IT industry

Comment by Brian Little, business development manager at Compliant IT

Those who remembers Computer Faire out at Nasrec, stick your hand up. You three at the back with raised hands are disqualified for sticking to our IT industry well past your sell-by dates – just like me.

But sans jokes, folks, when I look back at those heady days of the late 1980s and early 1990s – and specifically at the excitement that seemed to prevail in our industry – and compare them to the last few years … well, I sometimes think I have stepped into an ugly parallel universe. A pale version lost in crass commerciality, bottomline obsession and lack of interest in the overall well-being of the industry.

The questions that I want to ask are where, when , how and why has all that was interesting, entertaining, entrepreneurial and fun been sidelined; where has the excitement and wonder gone?

Surely it can’t all have been swallowed up by accountants with their mandatory blinkers, or breadheads that see only the next buck. Believe me when I tell you that I have met enough of both of those, and sadly worked for, and partnered with, my fair share of them too. So here’s my last glass raised to all of them: short plank, long walk – bye!

But back to more pleasant things: I remember my first few Computer Faires – I was working for Lasernet and M&PD, later to become SDD, in the late 1980s through to the late 1990s in the days when distributors were channel-focused companies, providing resources for new and exciting technologies to the channel and between them and the vendors we pushed products out into the world with vigoor, excitement and in partnership with each other.

And no, Lasernet was not particularly pally with, for example, LAN Design – we were arch rivals, in fact, with competing as well as shared products into the same VAR base. But we both supported the industry with everything we had. It wasn’t about the greenback, it was about technology and evangelism, building relationships and developing the IT industry together to offer leading-edge solutions, via the channel, to users of the equipment.

Did this all simply slip away along with the slow fading of those companies and their values and commitments into corporate monoliths?

But back to Computer Faire: it  was a real event and anyone that remembers it will have to find a pretty obscure excuse to willy-nilly that statement.

The first year I attended it took up possibly two of the halls – and anyone who's been to Nasrec will know how large those halls are – and, over the next few years, grew to four or five halls, all crammed full of innovative and interesting IT products. Granted, in the days of the XT and AT computers running at 4,7Mhz, with 640kb of RAM and a whopping 10Mb double height hard drive running DOS 3.1 almost anything could be considered as revolutionary – and was, too.

The IT industry supported itself and invigorated itself – we all contributed and did it together. The vendors were committed, the distributors were committed and the resellers were committed to developing our market segment for the greater good of us all.

The annual Computer Faire was the place to be. It was an event that we all looked forward to (well, all but the poor techies that had to set up complete networks with pieces of string and sellotape as that was what was available; and, of course, the poor product managers and accounts managers that had to do stand duty for the duration with burning feet; and the poor directors that had to party with vendors and associates for four days running).

Actually everyone enjoyed it, despite the burning feet, sellotape, drunken stumbling, lost equipment, apps that never quite worked as they should and all. And the simple reason is that is was fun to do and everyone was there – if you weren’t at Computer Faire you were not on the radar screen..

The stands were outrageous, too. Some of them could cost more than an upmarket house – and companies won prizes for their efforts. Those who lost drank their sorrows away – and tried even more elaborate architectural designs the next year.

Id you were looking for a job in IT,  the Computer Faire floor was your employment agency, You made contacts and found new products.

Everyone in the corporate market that had any interest in IT or matters around IT attended. They had the opportunity to speak to vendors and distributors about the technologies and what they could do for them without any hard sell or having to discuss pipeline or budgets. The Faire was about exposing and showing technologies and solutions as a prime focus and only a secondary focus of lead generation and making money.

It was primarily an industry get-together, a place to catch up with friends, colleagues, competitors, foes and everything in between.

In fact, it was the IT community – and it's something that we seem to have lost.

What has gone wrong in our industry? Why do we not support our own industry efforts any longer? Where are you and why are you not exhibiting at the industry show, Futurex & Equip, this year? Where were you last year and the year before?

It's all well and good to say that the show has become dull with nothing to offer – but if we are not there with our products and solutions, how can it be?

So who is to blame for the excuses we put forward for not attending or not participating? You and me, I'm afraid. Shame on us both.

Seriously, a lack of support from us all – the vendors, the distributors and the resellers – is unacceptable, in my opinion. Is it really too much to ask to invest some money back into supporting the industry we live off? For the sake of community …

Over the last couple of years I have seen the distributors bail out of participating; followed by the vendors who are so tight-fisted when it comes to supporting the channel,market development and brand building. Is the IT-using public at large to follow?

Do we expect visitors to show an interest in what we have to offer when we don't bother being there? Why would they want to attend an exhibition that the suppliers of the technologies they invest in can’t be bothered to exhibit at?

Surely we can't be that internally-focused that we don’t recognize that these shows play a major role in developing our industry profile, and also create opportunities for the entire channel.

I have no real axe to grind other than I think it is time that we start supporting and growing our own South African industry and that requires inves