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Dr. Eric Schmidt, chief executive officer of Internet search site Google, speaks to attendees of the 2003 Digital Frontier Conference.

DFC: Technology’s role in business still pervasive

By Kari Richardson

1/17/2003 -

Cell phones, instant messaging, wireless Internet access, data marts and video conferencing. Despite the high-profile failures of many dot-coms, these technologies and more have quietly shaped the inner workings of business, government and education, and continue to do so, said speakers at the Kellogg School of Management’s Digital Frontier Conference.

The two-day conference, held Jan. 17 and 18 at the Kellogg School, featured nearly two dozen panelists with expertise in high-tech business, as well as keynote addresses by Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, Google Chief Executive Dr. Eric Schmidt, Mark Hurd, president and COO of Teradata, part of NCR Corp., and former Napster CEO Hank Barry. Students at the Kellogg School organized the ninth annual conference, themed “Technology Means Business,” to bring together industry leaders, executives, alumni, students and faculty.

“What does the press say? The press says that the dot-com boom is over, that the Internet is dead,” said Eric Schmidt, CEO of Internet search firm Google. “All these obnoxious young people are going to go back into hiding. The movement is over. What’s interesting is that there are roughly 100 million homes that claim to have Internet access. These things sneak up on us.”

Keynote speaker Mayor Richard M. Daley said technology has also transformed the way the City of Chicago operates, whether it’s by allowing workers to track roadway improvement projects, such as the one just completed on Wacker Drive, or make essential information available to citizens online.

Simple technology even helps the city manage its fleet of snowplows.

But while other locales— the San Francisco Bay area, for example — have suffered as a result of over-reliance on one or two industries, Chicago has managed to combine a strong manufacturing base with strengths in the service industry, as well as a growing technology sector, Daley said.

“Chicago’s diversity has been the key to its success,” he said.

“When we look at Chicago, we think about great achievements,” Daley added. “We built the skyscraper here, split the atom, invented the television remote control. This kind of creativity is very important to the business sector and to government.”

Innovation is also a key part of life at Google, Schmidt said. The company, which has shunned pop-up ads, today is exploring targeted ways for advertisers to connect with those doing the searching. Google is also testing new products such as Google News and Froogle, an Internet shopping site.

Schmidt said Google, launched well after Yahoo and the now-defunct Excite, managed to become a leading search engine, in part, by remaining a private company when many other e-businesses were scrambling to go public.

“Access to information is not a trivial issue,” said Schmidt, adding that Google gets hundreds of thank-you letters each year, including notes from people who used the site to find missing children or research the symptoms of heart attack, getting them to the hospital sooner.

In the next part of the digital revolution, people will learn how to use information better, predicted Mark Hurd, president and COO of Teradata, part of NCR. Teradata helps companies combine disparate data channels to get one view of a customer, making it possible, for example, for a cellular phone company to pull up service records, plan information and subscription history when speaking with a disgruntled customer.

“The majority of companies sit with all their information in silence,” Hurd said, adding that those who hope to gain a competitive advantage must change that.

Another DFC keynote speaker, former Napster CEO Hank Barry, described the music swapping site’s ultimately unsuccessful effort to work out an agreement with the recording industry to allow the sharing of MP3 files online. Barry said the entertainment industry had similar concerns when the VCR was introduced two decades ago, but instead of eroding profits, home entertainment has actually increased them. He encouraged the recording industry to look for new ways to profit from technology, instead of quashing online file sharing.

“If we continue on the course we are now, the future looks stark,” Barry said. “Technology drives progress and we need progress in our lives right now.”

Drew Turitz, conference general manager and Kellogg student, said this year’s Digital Frontier Conference took a new angle.

“Past conferences examined the latest and most-hyped trends in technology. The 2003 Digital Frontier Conference attempted to look past the trends to get an understanding of how technology has shaped all organizations,” Turitz said.