Integration and infrastructure will be key: Gerstner

For those who are already in awe of the vast amounts of information available to us thanks to the Internet, Louis V. Gerstner Jr., the chairman and CEO of IBM, has some news for you.

“There’s an explosion of transactions coming. Inside IBM, we talk about 10 times more connected people, 100 times more network speed, 1,000 times more devices and a million times more data,” he said during a keynote address at PartnerWorld 2001, held recently in Atlanta.

According to Gerstner, we are about to enter a new phase of the Internet – one in which integration and infrastructure will be of paramount importance.

We’ve already weathered three phases of the Internet, Gerstner said.

In the first phase, content was all important. “Remember the rush to own content? Content was king – for about a week,” he said.

People originally thought the Internet was not much more than an on-line magazine where they could read up on sports scores and view digital artwork, Gerstner said. Then the Internet became infatuated with consumer-to-consumer e-commerce. It was going to be the next killer app. “The race (was on) to sell anything and everything over the ‘net. And I mean anything – books, flowers, food for the family, food for the family pet. You need a corset? No problem. Been looking for a boxcar of chemical solvents? A couple of tons of cobalt? Coming right up.”

But this phase also fizzled. Dot-coms began to die in a “messy, but predictable shake out.” And “the myth that if you weren’t a dot-com, you were going to be dot-toast” died as well, Gerstner said.

“I saw the paranoia associated with that syndrome sweeping through a lot of CEO offices over the past 18 months. And trust me, it was not a pretty sight.”

But the death of many dot-coms did not put an end to the fanfare surrounding the Internet. The trumpets were soon sounded for the stage of business-to-business e-commerce. But that phase was also hampered with problems, Gerstner said.

“Once again, something that actually mattered and delivered real competitive advantage got obscured by simplistic schemes: people striking the most amazing deals with their competitors, co-mingling their supply chains or – the coups de gras – spinning it off and taking the supply chain public,” he said.

But even though, according to Gerstner, the first phases of the Internet have been surrounded by more hype than substance, he believes the next phase, that of integration and infrastructure, will make the real difference.

“Now the noise levels clearly have subsided. The IPO alchemists have had their 15 minutes. And we’ve learned a lot. We’re a lot less na