By Jules Klug-Munro, from Computer Business Review.
Last month, the Economist mockingly coined the term ‘Davos Man’ to highlight the common characteristics of the 1,000 people who run the world that gather at the World Economic Forum each February in the chocolate box Alpine ski town. Because of its perceived importance in the world economy, the computer industry is always well represented alongside the politicians, media barons, industrialists and academics. Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, Michael Dell, Eckhard Pfeiffer, Andy Grove – it’s a rollcall of the industry’s top chief executive officer. With that concentration of brain power (not to mention ego) in the same location, the power brokers have difficulty gaining exposure for their pronouncements, despite the media hordes that record their every utterance. Perhaps the best effort on this account at the 1997 Forum was from Intel chief executive Andy Grove, who castigated Europeans for their lack of enthusiasm for new technology. European economies and businesses are lagging behind the US in their use of digital technology as an integrated part of their business and country policies. Western Europe is forecast to begin [in 1997] lagging behind emerging markets in their deployment of personal computer technology. He called for European policy makers to develop incentives to increase the use of personal computers, video conferencing, electronic mail and the Internet, asserting that delays would leave future generations of Europeans with a significant technology deficit relative to the rest of the world.
You would be forgiven for detecting any self-interest at work here, given that Intel provided the microprocessors for 90% of personal computers sold worldwide last year, and that Europe was afflicted with the slowest personal computer growth rate (12%) of any major region. But you’d be at least partially wrong, Grove argues in an accent that still shows evidence of the native Hungary he left 40 years ago. There are some examples of where European take-up of advanced technology is far outstripping the US, he concedes: GSM Groupe Speciale Mobile and ISDN digital communications technologies, for instance. But availability is not the issue. GSM is available in Europe and only a dream in the US. [But] it is not the availability of the technology, it is its use. If the US had GSM-like technology, everyone would use it for notebook data communications. You almost never see GSM- connected notebook personal computers in Europe. ISDN is another case in point: You can get ISDN in Germany in a day or two and its good, reliable and available everywhere. Where I live [in Silicon Valley] you require a prayer and the patience of Job to get an ISDN connection from the phone company, who wishes ISDN just went away like a bad dream and does absolutely everything to make it a bad dream for their customers. In that regard, clearly Europe has a major advantage. Nonetheless, Grove’s ‘technology deficit’ point fell on sympathetic ears. The take-up of new technology in Europe has typically followed a year to 18 months after its widespread adoption in the US. As the ‘Davos Man’ prescribes, in a world measured in Internet years’, that will have to narrow.