Softworld brings partners together

Swimming against the current can be tough. Life is so much easier when everyone has a common goal.

That’s what attracted a lot of those who attended Softworld 2000, to the conference, which was held in Halifax last month. Everyone at the conference was there for more or less the same reason: to bring companies and communities together so that they could forge relationships and work out some deals.

“This event is very much a networking event and it’s all about making contacts,” said Ivor D. Smith, the marketing officer at the Aberdeen city council in Scotland. “Everything is designed in this event to make people reach each other. The unique format of this event is ideal.”

Aberdeen led the largest contingent of delegates at the conference with about 50 people and 35 companies from all over the U.K.

Currently, oil and gas are the main driving forces of the economy in Aberdeen. The city and surrounding areas want to diversify, and they are looking to information and communications technology (ICT) as an important part of their diversification strategy.

Softworld offers the city a venue in which to let others around the world learn about what the Scottish community has to offer, Smith said.

“We’ve got a lot of companies with us simply because there are a lot of opportunities in the ICT industries that we want to expose them to. This is an international event. It’s not just about Canadian companies. It attracts delegates from all over the world. It’s a big event in the ICT calendar.”

Instead of flashy booths set up on the show floor, Softworld, which attracted over 800 delegates from around 35 countries, has partnering forums in which companies give seven-minute presentations about themselves. This year’s delegates also had access to e-match!, software that builds profiles of each company in attendance and then, using keyword searches, matches them up with others to whom they may want to talk. The software was made available to delegates as soon as registration began a year ago. This gave companies a chance to start contacting each other and setting up meetings before the conference even began

“The intent with the software is to make that whole relationship building and deal making a lot more efficient. You can meet a lot more people, and you don’t have to worry about going from scratch and building a relationship,” said Ian Blanchard, the past chair of the Information Technology Industry Alliance of Nova Scotia.

“I know we made some appointments with people through that system. It was very useful as a communications tool,” said Thomas G. Morr, a managing partner at the Greater Washington Initiative, a public-private organization designed to promote the U.S. capital’s businesses. Like Aberdeen, the Washington delegation of 28 people from both the public and private sector came down to showcase the areas high-tech offerings.

“This event is about speaking to people and networking. It’s not about standing in a booth and hoping that someone will walk by and you can grab them,” Smith said.

Michael J. Jamieson, the projects director of Inverness, U.K.-based Pinnacle Business Solutions, which develops materials management software, agreed. “It’s focused, very informal and the whole thing is about networking,” he said.

The atmosphere is also friendly rather than competitive, Jamieson said. He has been introduced to potential business partners by other people attending the conference.

“Everyone is pulling together to try to help each other. We’re not all defending our little forts, saying ‘Keep out,'” he said.

It is also the spirit of pulling together that brought Morr to Softworld. About two years ago, the Washington area, which has over 12,400 high-tech firms, decided it wanted to make a conscious effort to work more closely with Canadian companies. As part of this effort, they entered into an agreement with the Greater Halifax Partnership, and the two have been working to form business relationships between companies in the two cities and with others around the world.

During Softworld the two cities set up a meeting with delegates from Vietnam. The two are also forging relationships with companies in Germany and the U.K. “We can share the relationships that we’re building in those places with each other, which increases our ability to grow our local economy,” Morr said.

“I’m willing to lose business to Halifax if that’s what it takes to make this work, and I think they are as well. But when you look at it, the things that makes Halifax attractive as a place for businesses to locate are unique to Halifax, and Washington in much the same way.”