IT company sponsors of the government's e-commerce summit are not there to present sales pitches to attendees says one of the event's organisers.
Almost half the speakers, workshop controllers and panellists at this week's summit come from vendors of computer and communications equipment or suppliers of e-commerce services. There is also a marked overlap between speakers and sponsors, with “major sponsors” IBM, Oracle, SolNet and Cisco also providing representatives to run workshops. A fifth major sponsor, debt and credit-checking company Baycorp (which could at least be classed as a “user”), fields no fewer than three speakers or workshop chairpeople.
But Ministry of Economic Development spokesman Frank March says the chief role of vendor/sponsor representatives will be to “act as facilitators” for the workshops. The workshop structure will not allow them time to make their own pitches, he says, and the contract under which they work “limits” the amount of promotion they are allowed to do.
“The sponsors have kicked in a lot of money,” he says, “and it is reasonable to expect that they get something out of it.” But that “something” will be by way of their speakers being mentioned in the programme and brought subtly to the audience’s attention, not through being allowed to put commercial messages forward, he says.
The organising committee chose the speakers, from those suggested by the sponsors. “We chose them on the nature of their background and their ability to deliver a generic message, not a product-specific message.” The case studies to be considered in the workshops were likewise chosen by the organisers, not the chairpeople or their companies.
The heavy Baycorp involvement stems from the fact that the company is involved in different areas, from e-commerce transactions to public-key infrastructure, and is expected to discuss a range of these, March says.
Commerce and IT Minister Paul Swain says the weight of IT vendor involvement in the event hasn't drawn any criticism. He echoes March’s assurances. “We wanted people in business, people who have [implemented e-commerce systems] to talk to those who haven’t ventured into it or who are just beginning. The speakers are there to talk about their own experiences, not to promote their products.” The vendor/sponsors have a good deal of experience “which we [government] don’t have ourselves.
“We could have had a government conference, with lots of boring government speeches, but we’ve chosen to involve business,” a course which will add more value for aspiring e-commerce users, he says.
The keynote speakers – who do get a chance to address an audience directly - include Neil Richardson, chair of New Zealand’s Research, Science and Technology Council; author and seminar operator Jim Sterne; Don Tapscott, chairman of consulting and research firm Digital 4Sight, who was acclaimed by US vice-president Al Gore as one of the internet’s “gurus”; and Mark Topping, director of information and technology services at the University of Waikato – as well as John Sifonis, a director of Cisco.
Two venture capital experts, Granite Ventures managing director Tom Furlong and Arthur Sculley, partner in US private investment firm Sculley Brothers, will also speak.
There will be an exhibition space, Swain and March note, where promotion will be the emphasis.
Following the summit, Swain is suggesting, there might be “provincial tours”, where the conference’s ideas can be presented to a wider audience. Another priority will be more research into the state of development of e-commerce in New Zealand, he says.