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June 11, 1998


HCL Infosystems

Four fall our of love NASSCOM and MAIT part ways with BIE and Comdex. Is it the end for IT India's biggest jamboree?

Priya Ganapati in Bombay

Email this page to a friend. There is a cloud over 'IT India Comdex' as the four partners who have been organising the industry's biggest do have fallen apart.

Interestingly, all have their own reasons for not working together.

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Among the four, the National Association of Software and Service Companies brought in the software exhibitors. The Manufacturers Association for Information Technology ensured participation from the hardware sector. And a collaboration between Business India Exhibitions and Comdex of the US was responsible for actually running the show.

Now, after their differences, BIE and Comdex may go it alone this year. And NASSCOM and MAIT will spend more energy on conducting their individual exhibitions and seminars.

MAIT Deputy Director Vinnie Mehta explains: "When people have different charters it becomes very difficult to get together and do these things. The agreement was too rigid on our organisation. It was not giving us enough flexibility.

When asked what these different charters were, he said, "While MAIT is focused on the domestic market, NASSCOM is concentrating on exports."

NASSCOM Executive Director Dewang Mehta preferred not to comment on the situation.

Vinnie Mehta said "There are two contrary schools of thought on this. One is that the event was getting very large to handle. And two; is the feeling that you cannot miss out on such a large event."

"Yet," he pointed out that, "today is an age of specialisation. We would like smaller, better-managed shows rather than a massive jamboree. We received feedback from a lot of companies who felt that their presence was not being registered.

"Initially, people were getting value for money but now you can no longer keep track of what amount of money is going into building the brand and what amount is going into sales."

Comdex Regional Director, Asia-Pacific, Pascal Winckel does not agree with Vinnie Mehta's sharp assessment.

"We recognise that a niche market can coexist but I think every country needs a large industry gathering. It serves the purpose when an entire industry can get together. Today there is a convergence in the PC market. When you are a buyer in an enterprise you are not just buying a PC, Internet connectivity, switch or a keyboard. This is what the corporation and channel guys are looking for. This kind of event will really bring IT buyers and sellers together," he assures.

But Vinnie Mehta is quick to point out that "Last year Comdex was facing some difficulties selling the event to certain international players. Indian customs rules being very cumbersome, certain organisations abroad were feeling constrained in coming to India."

"Agreed," says Winckel, "but I would let the past be the past. This year we are getting some of the major exhibitors and are focusing on a large show and IT professionals from all over the world. We are crafting a plan to help improve on quality, programme and service."

Business India Exhibitions Vice-President Navin Kriplani may have put his finger on the real trouble.

"Let's face it. There were too many people involved in the organising committee. There were only three representatives on behalf of Business India Exhibition and Comdex. But the entire executive council of NASSCOM and MAIT were on the basic committee. In addition, there was a group of people from MAIT, specifically for this purpose. You see too many cooks spoil the broth," he complains.

Winckel seconds Kriplani: "Organising an event involves a lot of effort. You need driving forces but if you have 10, 20, 30 persons involved it delays decision making."

Vinnie Mehta has a ready response. "Well, it's a teamwork. It's such a large event. Honestly, there were not so many people involved. Typically, this is not a one-man industry. We have to take a consolidated view and ensure that the industry's interest are well protected."

He clarifies, "I am not saying that certain people deliberately delayed the decision making process. You have to get clearances from the finance ministry and the Indian Trade Promotion Organisation and also interface with 'n' number of service providers. If there are so many people involved there is bound to be a delay. But we would rather have a delay than have the industry's interest compromised. However, from the point of view of BIE and Comdex you may term it as a delay."

But other sources from the hardware segment are not as forgiving as Vinnie Mehta. They feel that Comdex has not been able to provide much value addition. For instance, last year it was expected that Comdex would get many foreign players and help set up conferences with international bigwigs. But that did not happen.

Winckel is irritated: "To be honest, it is going to lead us nowhere trying to open old wounds."

But the hardware industry sources are relentless. They point out that Comdex has already been sold thrice and no longer retains its original magic. They cite the Singapore Comdex fiasco where three floors of exhibition space was hired and eventually due to lack of participation, only one could be used!

Winckel admits to the Singapore boo-boo. "But Singapore was in a lot of turmoil, financial and economic," is his excuse. "In that region, our exhibitors and attendees have been suffering at large," he laments.

Though things have soured lately, the camaraderie that the industry is famous for has not cracked.

"I won't term this as split-up. It is an amicable decision between all the partners. There is no bad blood. It is decision purely driven by our business needs," sums up Vinnie Mehta.

Dewang Mehta agrees. "Even if we have made this contract null and void we are always ready to work together in the future. We continue to remain friends and will extend full co-operation wherever needed."

Kriplani too does not deny the possibility of a patch-up. "We are attempting to work out an arrangement," he revealed to Rediff.

But Vinnie Mehta is not sure that there will be a "patch-up" on this issue. However, he concedes that "Wherever it will suit our business needs we will definitely work with them. It is nothing like closing a chapter. If the market says so, we will definitely get together. We want to leave room for manoeuvring. After all, we have the industry's best interest at heart."

Ironically, Vinnie Mehta's reluctance can be better understood when you hear what Kriplani has to say: "We are still friends. It is just we couldn't work together in a room as the room was, well, small and the people very big."

But all said and done, it seems that the show is on. "We are committed to hosting Comdex at the same venue in New Delhi from December 2 to 5," Kriplani claims. "This time, it will be called IT World '98 Comdex India."

Only NASSCOM and MAIT will be nowhere on the scene.

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