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October 2, 1998


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Asia Pacific Software Showcase
Asia Pacific Software Showcase

You only live twice: The organising partners of IT India Comdex have kissed and made up. And the country's biggest industry jamboree kicks once again.

Priya Ganapati in Bombay

In June Rediff broke the sad news that the country's biggest infotech industry jamboree, IT India Comdex, may have been crippled forever. Its four organising partners had fallen out of love.

Email this story to a friend. But that was three months ago. Time, it is true, is the best healer. Now three of the four have kissed and made up.

And this time round, they promise it is going to be an affair to remember. The Comdex jamboree is on the roll once again. Scheduled for a December 2-5 blast at Pragati Maidan, New Delhi.

The three partners behind the event now are:

  • The National Association of Software and Service Companies, the largest grouping of the software and services businesses in the country;
  • Business India Exhibitions and
  • Ziff Davis, Softbank Company
The fourth partner that has been left out is the Manufacturers Association for Information Technology. MAIT is the largest grouping of India's beleaguered hardware industry. It brought to the Indian Comdex the 'IT India' prefix. Now it will be holding its own 'IT India' exhibition.

That is why the rescued Comdex affair this year will be called 'IT World '98/Comdex India' (phew!).

Business India Group Chairperson Ashok Advani has announced NASSCOM's confirmation of its association with BIE and Ziff Davis, Softbank Company, for the IT World'98/Comdex India.

In June this year, the Manufacturers Association for Information Technology and NASSCOM spilt with BIE and Ziff Davis, the international partner of BIE.

Ziff Davis holds the worldwide rights to the Comdex exhibitions and conferences.

Less than three months later NASSCOM is back into the fold. But MAIT is out in the cold.

Surprisingly, MAIT has not even been approached nor any moves towards reconciliation made. MAIT, however, refuses to take things lying down. They plan to have their own exhibition in February next year.

Industry experts view this as a case of discrimination against the poor cousins of the IT industry - the hardware sector.

Navin Kriplani, vice-president, Business India Exhibitions, is evasive when asked about MAIT's absence. "Strategically we couldn't go after both NASSCOM and MAIT together. MAIT is an offshoot of CII. So by the time we could get to them they had already planned their own show for February '98. After a point it became too late to go to them," he pleads.

Incidentally, NASSCOM is helping BIE to get expert speakers from the software industry.

Senior industry experts feel that the discrimination between NASSCOM and MAIT is a result of the software industry's success in the country.

Kriplani seconds this. "What is MAIT? It is an offshoot of CII. And is there any manufacturing industry in the country? Hardware here is basically importing the components and assembling them. We do not have an industry to speak of," he dismisses.

The friction between BIE and MAIT has turned partnering with BIE for the Comdex show into a prestige issue for MAIT. Yet despite the obvious tensions both BIE and MAIT issue statements that there is no bad blood between them and that they remain good friends, ready to work together in the future.

MAIT Deputy Director Vinnie Mehta faithfully toes the official line. "Last year many companies felt that Comdex did not provide them any value addition. So this year we plan to have our own exhibition in February. But we will definitely work with them in the future if required," he assures.

But another MAIT insider reveals the reasoning behind MAIT's non-participation at the Comdex show. "We are not interested in the show any longer. We have to stand by our word. On the face of it, it looks silly if we go back to them after splitting with them once. We will lose face and credibility in the market," the official says.

As for people who surmise that MAIT's non-participation would be their own loss, Mehta has an answer ready: "There are nearly six exhibitions coming up in the next few months. At the drop of a hat you have an exhibition," he says, tossing the matter over the shoulder.

Senior MAIT officials are, however, more informative. "Last year companies like Digital and Wipro felt that the exhibition was more about hype than substance. We are after all a business organisation. We have to answer our members," an officer pleads.

BIE confirms that Wipro and Sun Microsystems have decided not to participate in the Comdex show this year while other giants like IBM have not responded positively.

But they have a different explanation to give. "Some companies have already spent a lot of money at the recently held India Internet World conference and exhibition so they have to rethink about their participating in another big exhibition in the same year," Kriplani defends.

MAIT officials also allege that the key people at BIE have left the company. So BIE is no longer able to offer the kind of service that it did in the past.

"In a service organisation, it is people that matter. But most of the key people have left their organisation," a MAIT officer charges.

But Kriplani pooh-poohs this. "Who are the key people that they are talking about? Only one executive has left the company recently. But it is not like that we are lost. There are others who have been working with us for the last eight to eleven years," he bristles. "You fight me on my product, not on the way we do business."

And the product, Kriplani vows, will be a very good one. "We are passionate about this business," he emphasises. With a slick presentation detailing all that you ever wanted to know about the show this year Kriplani has set out to silence the critics.

The IT World'98/Comdex India exhibition will embrace nearly 25,000 square feet from December 2-5 at Pragati Maidan, New Delhi.

A chastened BIE promises there will be quality in terms of visitors and a proper showcase for the latest and relevant technologies would be provided.

"We have included telecom for the first time. Earlier it was pure IT, but today no one can escape the merger of telecom with IT. If you do so then you are a dinosaur not living in the current world," says an eager Kriplani.

The conferences this year include sessions on telecom, security and mobility.

Kriplani is quick to confess and silence the sceptics sniggering over conferences on the almost non-existent mobility of systems in the country.

"Mobility is one of the interesting topics. I am not sure about it because it has not taken off in the country as yet. Laptops have not taken off so it won't be a thrust area," he admits.

One of the much-touted highlights of this year's show is 'Breakfast with the CEOs'.

"We have planned a one-and-a-half hour session where an executive can have breakfast with the CEOs. There must be many who meet, let's say, for example, a Dhirubhai Ambani, but how many get a chance to sit down and talk to the man. This session plans to give an opportunity for executives to interact with CEOs," says a very excited Kriplani.

Sources at BIE reveal that in all likelihood the exhibition will be inaugurated by the IT evangelist Chief Minister of Andhara Pradesh Chandrababu Naidu.

Kriplani rolls off some more of the highlights:

  • Demonstration of the Indian supercomputer - the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing's PARAM 10000.
  • Video wall to simulate the Y2K crash.
  • 400 exhibitors spread over 25,000 square meters.
  • A promotional budget of nearly Rs 20 million.

"Even today there are many public sector units that have not taken the Y2K problem seriously. So we are having this video wall to simulate what happens when your system crashes due to this problem. Basically we want to create a panic situation so that people take it seriously in the country," explains Kriplani.

BIE obviously seems to have learnt from its mistakes. Last year's Comdex exhibition saw excessive crowds as a result of an advertising blitz.

This led to some exhibitors shutting down their stalls, unable to cope with the massive inflow of people.

Kriplani assures this will not be repeated. "My customers want focused audience. So we have shifted from media spending to selectively promoting the exhibition among the correct niches. This year we do not want just anyone reading about the event in any newspaper and saying chalo Pragati Maidan. This year's exhibition is not for the janta," he is emphatic.

At the Comdex show last year the infrastructure put up by BIE had taken a heavy beating due to the overwhelming response to the exhibition. MAIT officials reveal that the poor show management is one of the other reasons for their decision to opt out.

Kriplani agrees that there were problems last year and in the same breath assures that this year will not be chaotic.

"Last year our registration system broke down. We are planning to have 80 computers this year as compared to the 20 last year. Also, we are trying to reduce the burden on onsite registrations by giving incentives for those registering in advance," he explains.

BIE is pulling out all stops to ensure that the most common charge of Comdex not providing value for money is not repeated this year. "We are making sure that we give value," promises Kriplani.

And to see to it that this promise comes true, BIE has come out with some innovative ideas that they claim will assure value for money.

"Exhibitors taking a space of over 100 square meters will be given a VIP gold card. They will then get an escort with a mobile phone to accompany them right from the facilitation desk at the Delhi airport. In addition, they will get free refreshments and cold drinks at the venue. They will also be given a car and an escort will take them around and drop them back at the hotel at the end of the day," Kriplani declares.

Another of the promotional schemes envisaged to draw in the all-important business cards is a lucky draw. The winner gets an all-expenses-paid trip to the Las Vegas Comdex show in April.

BIE also plans to issue colour coded badges that will be an indicator of your position in the hierarchy of things.

"We are planning on colour coding the badges. So if you see a guy with a gold badge you know that you have to go to him. This will make it easier for delegates to know the right persons to talk to," he says seriously.

Kriplani is ready to face his detractors and make a comeback as the organiser of the IT industry's biggest do. This time he wants to play the role of the industry's saviour too.

"People in the country have not yet taken to new technologies. We want to make a lot of noise through Comdex. After all the more noise you make more people come to know and more people use that technology," he stresses.

"We are passionate about this business. There is a shift evident in the country today. You have to show value, you have to deliver if you want to survive and we want to survive," he says.


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

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