Cisco Expo 2007 Italia

It’s all Lele’s fault again. Or maybe Luca’s. They mentioned in their blogs that they would be speaking at this year’s Cisco Expo in Milan and, since that’s relatively close to home, I figured I’d go along and cheer for them. I also wanted to learn more about Cisco’s new “Telepresence” and other online video products, to see what ideas I could pick up for TVBLOB.

The venue was a hotel way out in the southern part of Milan. In addition to my usual 1.5 hours from home in Lecco to Milan, I had to take the metro almost to the end of the line, then a bus, then walk another 15 minutes to the conference registration on the back side of the hotel. But I had company: getting off the bus, I fell in with a teacher from Como and a guy in the web services business who were going my way, so I learned some things.

The teacher had come, on her own initiative, to keep up to date in her field: she teaches “systems” at a technical school in Como, training future programmers and, presumably, system admins. She told us that there are no government refresher courses for IT teachers. Some of her colleagues teach their students programming in Pascal for three years, and maybe some Delphi – this aspect of the curriculum is totally up to them, and they have no particular incentive to delve into more modern computer languages. The teacher I talked with seems to be one of the motivated ones who works hard to keep learning and teaching new things, though she admitted (with some embarrassment) that she’s behind on new media phenomena like YouTube.

Perhaps I should offer to speak on these topics in Ross’ IT class at school – if her teacher wouldn’t take such an offer as a slur on her own professional skills.

Anyway, the conference… It started with a plenary session of half-hour talks by local Cisco luminaries. From my (sparse and illegible) notes:

  • many people [in Italy?] will in coming years still be watching “general” TV, but they might see personalized ads (someone in the audience near me snorted at this – clearly he’s not watching general TV anymore).
  • Second Life is a virtual place generating real business – Adidas’ personal trainer service there has sold 21,000 [units of some sort]. (I created a Second Life persona, Deirdre Guru (!), a few months ago, but haven’t had much time to explore this virtual world, especially since it doesn’t display properly on my laptop – I have to use my daughter’s desktop computer. So far I can say that flying is fun, except for that time I got stranded high above the sea and then the whole world crashed.)
  • Cisco believes that company CIOs should be the “directors of innovation,” helping their colleagues enter the new era of the “human network.” Hmm. If you want to promote the human aspects, the CIO (Chief Information Officer) may not be the best person for this role.

While wandering around the expo and battling the crowd for a not-very-good lunch, I kept seeing faces that looked familiar. I am hugely handicapped in business by my poor memory for faces. Or rather, I recognize faces and know that I have met them before, but have no recollection of what their names are or in what context I met them. (In my defense: I have probably already met far more people worldwide than most individuals have to deal with in a lifetime…maybe my people memory is just overloaded!)

So I kept seeing people I thought I knew, but was too embarrassed to talk to them in case I was wrong, and no one acted as if they knew me. I began to wonder if I actually had met them or just thought I had, because so many looked like each other. The crowd was 95% male, most dressed in blue or gray suits with shirts and ties, similar haircuts and (for those who wore them) similar glasses. Another style among the men was wide-wale corduroy trousers in rust, red, or beige, with Clarks-style suede shoes and a sweater. Then there were a few guys in jeans with suit jackets. The women were uniformly dressed in black (as was I – but at least I had a beige sweater under my black suit jacket, and I’m pretty sure I was the only person there in cowboy boots!).

I don’t get it. We’re in Milan, one of the fashion capitals of the world, and the end result is that everyone looks the same? I longed for a real fashion statement, a Hawaiian shirt perhaps. If I’d seen one, I would have hugged its wearer, whether I knew him or not. Someone missed out on a hug.

Another thing that caught my eye was spelling errors. If I were projecting PowerPoint onto an enormous screen to an auditorium full of people (many of them potential buyers of very costly products), I would bloody well run a spell check on my presentation! I caught multiple errors in both English and Italian in the slides shown by Cisco’s top executives. That’s just embarrassing, and bad for business. If that’s how they treat me as an audience, what kind of attention to detail can I expect when I’m a client?

In the afternoon I watched a presentation about Cisco’s extremely expensive new “telepresence” system. I wonder if they even have one installed in Italy [June – they’re installing it now] – at $300,000 for a six-seat/one location configuration, I can’t imagine they will have many customers worldwide. And it was curious that they did not even show us a video of the system in action (though I had already seen such a video months ago, thanks to Robert Scoble.)

There was a video loop running during the lunch break, showing a lot of the same footage as in the ad above. Some parts of it seemed to show the telepresence system (kids talking to each other in classrooms in, apparently, Tibet, and someplace caucasian), with a note at the bottom: “Images on screen are simulated.” Uh, right. Not exactly a demo of the system’s real capabilities. And I’m pretty damned sure that there is no classroom in Tibet which enjoys the Internet bandwidth needed to support this system.

I stayed through a presentation about Cisco’s digital signage system (and, yes, got some good ideas), but left when someone started to talk in excruciating detail about the installation of high-end security systems.

Between urban transit and train connections, it took me three hours to get home to Lecco, at the end of which I was done in – still suffering with that sinus infection as well. I decided to skip the next day of the conference to work from home and rest up. I was sorry to miss Luca and Lele, but, having seen the agenda, I knew that I wasn’t really their target anyway – I am already very familiar with the stuff that they would be explaining about blogs, new media, etc., for the benefit of this Italian corporate audience – indeed, I probably could have given these talks myself.


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