Fortune Magazine
Fast Forward
This tech boom has legs
For several reasons - especially growing demand in developing countries - tech's run most probably will last many years.
By David Kirkpatrick, Fortune senior editor

NEW YORK (Fortune) -- The tech boom now underway is profoundly different from any that has come before. It is broader and probably longer-lasting in its impact on tech companies, and more transformative macroeconomically. There are two reasons. First, everybody wants technology. And second, technology has become radically easier to create.

With the exception of a tiny number of places like North Korea - sadly left behind from most trends in modern life - every country, region, city, state or province to some degree wants to replicate the legendary successes of Silicon Valley. Just about every government and company worldwide now realizes that technological excellence is critical for competitiveness.

I recently asked Paul Mountford, who heads Cisco's (Charts) developing markets business, whether there were any new countries attempting to fundamentally transform their global status with technology, as Singapore, Korea and Taiwan have done. I was stunned when the first country he named was Libya.

Libya can afford it. It has oil. But who knew it was so focused on technologizing?

Nick Negroponte does. I recently wrote about his ambitious One Laptop per Child project in Fortune. He told me that Libya is the only country in the world that has thus far committed to giving every single schoolchild in the country a $100 laptop.

Another unexpected example is Barcelona, which has decided to create a huge "innovation district" in the center of the city. "Barcelona has set itself a new landmark venture: to become a fully integrated player in the new technological revolution," reads the Web site promoting the plan.

Similar government spending programs are popping up everywhere. In addition, tax incentives and other forms of encouragement are becoming common worldwide.

Technology for everyone

The other reason I'm convinced we are in a fundamentally new world is that technology has become much easier to create.

I was recently in Barcelona to moderate a panel on open source software at the ETRE technology conference. Two of the panelists represented companies located in unexpected places. One, WSO2, is in Colombo, Sri Lanka. The other, OpenBravo, is in, of all places, Pamplona, Spain. Bullish on tech, anyone?

These are both pure software companies with extremely ambitious and promising products. WSO2 is attempting to build an all-open-source middleware product to compete head to head with BEA Systems, IBM (Charts), Oracle (Charts) and other heavies. OpenBravo sells a well-respected open source ERP software (it automates the major functions of a business - accounting, manufacturing, finance, etc.) for small and mid-sized companies.

These two companies have been able to emerge in such unexpected places because of a combination of factors. For one thing, it costs less than ever to start a company. You can use open source - which these two are doing not only in their products but in running their own internal infrastructure. That radically cuts your technology acquisition costs.

You can buy other functions on a per-person-per-month basis from companies like (Charts) and NetSuite. And you can outsource much of your programming or other work to the lowest-cost labor provider, anywhere in the world.

Of course, the Internet also bequeaths companies the much-discussed ability to reach a global customer base from anywhere, at little cost. Advertising on Google (Charts), Microsoft (Charts), Yahoo (Charts) and other search sites makes marketing cheaper than ever.

Sanjiva Weerawarana, CEO of WSO2, told me there is ample programming expertise in Sri Lanka for his company so far. He migrated back to his home country after many years at IBM Research in New York.

To realize how this whole process is going on steroids, just think, for example, how potent it may be in the near future if WSO2's middleware product gets traction. A type of software that has historically cost customers hundreds of thousands of dollars will now be available free, or for just the cost of ongoing maintenance, which is how WSO2 plans to make its money.

All this has concrete economic impact on the tech industry. IBM this week said its revenues from developing countries are growing at a 19 percent rate. This year's total such revenues will be about $4.5 billion. Similar stats are emerging from most big tech companies.

In a report this week entitled "Tech-Tonic Shift?" Merrill Lynch's North American economist David Rosenberg noted that "there is no other sector in the economy right now that is putting up the numbers that tech is."

What he calls "total tech industrial production," a measure of the U.S. industry's aggregate activity, is up what he calculates as 27 percent, or four times the pace for the rest of the economy. He notes computer production is up 15 percent year-over-year, communications equipment 26 percent, and semiconductors 24 percent.

"What makes the tech sector unique is its global exposure," Rosenberg writes, noting that "51 percent of its sales are derived outside the USA."

Rosenberg's conclusion is that tech stocks, which in general have not partaken of the overall market's recent gains, are likely to finally do so.

Part of what Rosenberg is noting is a normal cyclicality. But I think the changes he notes hint at something more profound now happening in this, our most important industry.


The telco of the future doesn't own any networks. Top of page

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