CeBIT looks to link internet and industry

Hanover, Germany (dpa) – This year’s CeBiT in the northern German city of Hanover may not be on the same mammoth scale as during the economic boom but the world’s largest computer and IT trade fair has certainly regained some of its lost lustre in recent years.

The five-day trade show opened its doors on Tuesday looking to present itself as an interface between the hi-tech digital world and more traditional industries such as carmakers, utility companies as well as health and logistics services.

”The CeBIT is the largest marketplace for the hi-tech industry.

Full stop,” stated Frank Poerschmann, member of the Managing Board at Deutsche Messe, when asked what the fair’s status was in 2013.

The computer and IT industry is one of the few shining lights in the pervading global economic gloom with internet technology playing an ever-increasing role in all branches of industry.

”Shareconomy is currently the hottest topic for business and society,” said Poerschmann. ”It is the area of greatest opportunity for us.”

Although the days of computer industry superstars such as Microsoft founder Bill Gates coming to Hanover to present their visions for the future are now in the past, new products are still often kept under wraps until the press congregates for CeBIT.

CeBIT’s popularity peaked in 2001 when around 850,000 visitors flocked to see the products on show by almost 8,100 exhibitors.

Attendance figures have dropped sharply since then with numbers holding steady around 300,000 visitors and 4,000 exhibitors over the past four years. CeBIT has also been reduced from over a week to five days, something Poerschmann believes was necessary.

”It is the amount of business generated and the amount of decision-makers who have met each other that is relevant, not the amount of space in use,” he explained.

The number of top-level decision-makers from IT other industries such as commerce and the skilled trades attended CeBIT has never been higher. The fair’s smaller format means financing is less of a problem, while revenue is also generated through conferences and company advertising.

”The CeBIT is structured in this way so that it can finance its own further development.”

If Poerschmann’s calculations are correct, CeBIT could yet have an important role in bridging the gap between the needs of traditional industries and the products and services offered by the IT and computer industry.

A smartphone is often out of date within a year but the software used in manufacturing equipment, motor vehicles or airplanes may not be upgraded for years.

The tension caused by this discrepancy was clear to see at the glitzy CeBIT opening ceremony.

Thomas Enders, chairman of the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (EADS), pointed to the fact that when the European Mars robot ”Bridget” lands on the red planet in 2018, computers will be three times more powerful than they are today.

However, the Mars robot will not benefit in any way from this development. The same is true in aircraft construction where the performance of software components is frozen at the time of production even if the plane goes on to be in service for decades.

The question remains whether CeBIT can become the vehicle to bridge this gap or if the companies join forces of their own accord in the course of everyday business.

There are certainly enough areas for CeBIT to concern itself with, not least in the area of big data technology which looks at helping customers to analyse large, unstructured sets of data from a variety of sources and of different types to help improve business processes.

It is likely that in the next few years CeBIT will lose much of the booming business with smartphones and tablets to the Mobile World Congress, which took place in Barcelona just a few days before the fair in Hanover.

The Mobile World Congress attracted large numbers of phone manufacturers, internet service providers and online companies, with the hectic atmosphere reminiscent of CeBIT in its heyday. Every year, more and more international CEOs are making the trip to Spain and consequently foregoing a subsequent journey to Hanover.