Maybe the French figured it out before the rest of us did

IS Guerrilla

Here’s what I’m thinking: maybe we’ve overestimated the importance of our industry a little bit. Maybe we’ve forgotten that everything new becomes old at some point, and that every industry, and I mean every industry, has to mature eventually.

Douglas Elix, senior vice-president of IBM’s Global Services Unit, was quoted in the Wall Street Journal as saying, “It’s time for our industry to grow up,” and I think he may be right. And based on recent experience, I think that maybe the French figured this out a long time before those of us on this side of the Atlantic did.

You see, I’ve changed locations a few times this last couple of weeks – New York, Washington, Paris, and now Chicago – and I think that by moving around and comparing what I saw place to place, I’ve learned something in the process.

Here’s what I learned: the French aren’t as arrogant as they’re usually accused of being; I just think that they’ve seen so much change over the years that they’re particularly hard to impress. And the changes they’ve seen have definitely been revolutionary (pun very much intended). I suspect that to their way of thinking, the technology “revolution” we’ve been going through for the last few years is just another in a long series of them. The IT revolution, the tech revolution, whatever you want to call it, is important, yes, wide-ranging in impact, yes, but in the historical context of things, nothing to get really excited about.

We North Americans seem to get overly excited about all this technology stuff. You can’t turn around in a U.S. city without facing a tech ad campaign of some kind. Whether they’re billboards or TV spots or airport posters, they’re all for something new and techie: “You must have/absolutely need the newest PC/PDA/cell phone/consulting firm!”

They don’t even leave you alone in your hotel room. At the Marriott: “Work faster and play sooner with our high-speed Internet connection!” Revolutionary? No. Over the top? Yes.

The French have all the same stuff we have, they just don’t get that excited about it all, and they don’t talk about it much.

Parisians, for example, live every day with the real reminders of genuine revolution, the kind where kings were toppled and people lost their heads.

Now I’m just speculating here, but it seems to me that it would be pretty hard to use faster dial up to impress a city that’s seen kings and queens, revolution and riot, Napoleon, and occupation by the Germans.

Extend that thinking to the whole of the IT business – interesting to the French, even exciting sometimes, but certainly not revolutionary.

A revolution? We already had one of those thank you, and it was much more interesting then.

The French don’t appear to spend their time fixating on IT, their ads aren’t full of garish promotions for hardware and new tech toys and even the French people in the technology business itself seemed to have realized from the beginning that their time in the sun was fleeting at best.

I met a couple of French IT guys in a Canadian bar off St. Germain (really: it’s called the Moosehead) and the last thing they seemed to be interested in talking about was the technology business. Yeah, I work in IT, they said, but more importantly, where are you going for dinner?

And to these guys, the idea of getting filthy rich off of an Internet IPO would seem to be uninteresting, if not gauche.

Maybe they’ve already seen the signs that we’re seeing over here today – the Wall Street Journal ran a headline a few days back: “IT firms see need for mergers as prices fall, sector matures.”

“Information-technology experts say their industry needs to consolidate, forced by ever-falling product prices and the rise of industry standards in the midst of a two-year depression.”

OK, hands up: who didn’t see this one coming? A lot of us in North America, that’s who.

Yes, I think we’re going to change the world with our technology, but I think the French understand that it’s not really worth getting terribly, embarrassingly excited about it all – in a constantly changing world, we’re not in the vanguard of the first revolution, and a technological one certainly won’t be the last.

Hanley is an IS professional in Calgary. He can be reached