Saturday, May 06, 2006

World Congress on Information Technology 2006 -- Austin, Texas (Third Report)

The highlight of WCIT 2006 came on the last day with the keynote by General Colin Powell, former Secretary of State of the United States. Colin spoke about aging gracefully and his retirements from various posts he held. He is now a limited partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, a top venture capital firm in Silicon Valley. Often humorous but at all times dignified, one wonders if he should instead be the president of this country.

To match the occasion, he talked about the use of IT in government. When he entered the State Department in 2001, he saw Wang Computer. He said he demanded the State Department website must be updated according to world events at a speed that justifies the Internet, and pushed his team to "beat" the CIA website and others. And, after all, in the military, tactics are all about acquiring and using information faster and better than the adversaries.

Powell, himself a second generation US citizen, spoke about an open society with immigrants. He spoke of the story of a group of high school exchange students from Brazil going out to dinner at a pizzaria in Chicago, and afterwards realizing that they did not have enough cash. Frightened of what may happen to them, the waitress came back to tell them that the owner was glad to have them in the country and the dinner will be on the owner as a gesture of welcome. This then became the lasting memories of these students of the US, a country of generosity and compassion.

One just hopes that Americans and America as a nation really acts like what Powell says all the time. And if Powell really means what he says, no wonder he could not work for George W. Bush anymore.

Following Powell on stage was Dato' Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, Prime Minister of Malaysia. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia will be the next host of WCIT in 2008, and the Prime Minister led a 300-strong delegation to Austin event. The support by Malaysia's head of state for information technology is evident and enviable. Judging from the Malaysian companies I met, it is apparent that many of these firms and the industry have come of age, especially in the areas of multimedia, software and outsourcing services. Their investment is beginning to pay off.


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