There's Nothing Like Being There

The slow economy hasn't slowed the desire to exchange ideas in person
I need to correct an error I made in last week's column, in which I incorrectly described the nature of Nortel Networks' recent financial results. I incorrectly cited a charge against excess inventory; there was no such charge. Rather, Nortel's net loss of $19.4 billion was tied to a $12.3 billion charge for a write-down of intangible assets related to certain acquisitions, a net loss from discontinued operations, costs related to an acquisition, stock-option compensation, and one-time gains and charges. I regret this error.

As is the case in lots of industries, the year 2001 hasn't been a kind one for the media business. From editorial layoffs at The Wall Street Journal to widespread consolidation of news-oriented Web sites, to the astounding rise and fall of publications such as Business 2.0, Red Herring, and The Industry Standard, the soft economy has left its mark on media players of all shapes and sizes. For InformationWeek, it's been a challenging time as well, except in one sector that has continued to grow nicely for us despite the difficult economic climate: face-to-face events.

Despite the fact that many companies are cutting back on travel and related expenses, we're discovering that you folks in the business technology world are eager to convene in the flesh with your peers and outside experts to hear how other companies are pursuing business innovation, how they're using business technology to get closer to their customers and markets, and to meet one another and exchange ideas and debate critical issues. As they say on Masterpiece Theatre, "Go figyuh."

Is this a reflection of information overbloat, where too many E-mail messages and too much Web-based interaction have made us desperate for human contact? Or is it simpler than that--do people in this business believe that an immersion with their peers and other experts for an afternoon or a day or a few days focused on timely and critical themes can deliver significant benefits? I wish I were smart enough to know the complete answer, but that's not the case. What I do know is that this soft-economy trend-bucker is very real, and it's inspiring us to put even greater energy and effort behind the events we develop for you.

The biggest of those is only six weeks away, the Fall InformationWeek Conference at the Westin La Paloma Resort in Tucson, Ariz. ( events), from Sept. 9 to 12. As my colleague Brian Gillooly, our editor-in-chief of events, described in this space a while back, the theme of the conference is Collaborative Business, an issue we at InformationWeek have been digging into for the past few months.

As always, we'd love to get your feedback in helping us shape the discussion and the most-relevant issues surrounding this complex and multifaceted idea: Is Collaborative Business real? Is it helpful? Is it dangerous? How is it helping you? What obstacles have you avoided? What would you do differently if you could turn back the clock? Has it been more or less expensive than you imagined? How do your suppliers and partners feel about your efforts in this area?

At the conference, in addition to addressing those and many other questions and issues, we'll also try to show the link between E-business and Collaborative Business.

In our view, E-business has been an extremely valuable and significant stage in the growth of many companies of all sizes, but it was, in a sense, their adolescent years--on the one hand, energetic, passionate, and laden with potential; and on the other, a bit gangly and uncoordinated, often unsure of where it was heading but nevertheless in a huge rush to get there. Collaborative Business, by contrast, is about longer-range planning, interdependence, external focus, and being acutely aware of our own fallibility and our related need to work closely with others.

Please let me know your answers to the questions above--after all, it's the collaborative thing to do.

Editor's Choice
Mary E. Shacklett, President of Transworld Data
James M. Connolly, Contributing Editor and Writer