Tonight was the inaugural audience event of the newly formed New York Technology Council, and I must say the organization is off to an excellent start. The event was panel discussion focusing on technology trends for 2010, and included Alfred Spector, who heads Google’s research and special initiatives (and is based in New York City, not Silicon Valley), Bill Zack, an Architect Evangelist for Microsoft focusing on Azure, and New York City Councilmember Gale Brewer, who is the Chair of the Council’s Committee on Technology in Government. The panel was moderated by BusinessWeek’s Arik Hesseldahl. This was a strong panel, with an excellent moderator and an impressive turnout; a good omen for the future success of NYTECH.
I won’t relate the blow-by-blow of the discussion (if you’re interested in that you can read the tweets from the event), but I think a summary of the discourse merits some discussion.
Questions and statements concerning health IT, government open data, mobile devices, and broadband were raised. With each question, patterns emerged amongst each panelist’s answers. Google’s Spector said his company believes all data will, and should, be interconnected. Google also feels that mobile devices, fetching data from the cloud, will continue to grow in popularity and disrupt. Microsoft offers, not surprisingly, a differing, though not opposing, view. Redmond’s take is that on-premise and cloud-based architectures are very different, that each offers distinct advantages and that in many cases, a combination of the two is the most sensible choice. Contrast this with Spector’s comment that “it's only incidental whether data is stored on-premise or in the cloud” as long as it’s not in a “walled garden.”
Before I get to Councilmember Brewer’s views, let’s observe that in their responses, Google and Microsoft each clearly espouse views that correlate to their own agendas. Google wants everything to be published and interconnected, so that it can all be indexed, searched, and Adwordized. Microsoft, on the other hand, wishes both to promote its new cloud platform (Azure) and protect its legacy PC and server software franchise. Software + Services, don’t ya know? Google is all for mobile devices, and why not? They’ve got an increasingly ubiquitous mobile operating system, and are tickled pink by underpowered devices that rely on the Web and the cloud for their functionality. Microsoft, too, sees mobile as a key part of the future tech landscape, but doesn’t quite assign the same emphasis to the space as does Google. If Windows Mobile 7 ever comes out, and if it gets any traction, let’s see if Microsoft changes its story here. In any case, the themes are pretty clear: Google wants to index, advertise and monetize it; Microsoft wants to license it or host it.
So what vantage point did Councilmember Brewer have to offer?: Reality! Brewer explained that many New Yorkers can’t afford broadband. Their libraries have it, but they’re only open 6 days a week, at most. Schools are short on computers and, in any case, pulling broadband lines into the 1600 NYC Department of Education school buildings isn’t the trivial matter Microsoft and Google might assume. And mobile devices don’t help: NYC school kids are not allowed to have them in school; in fact, if they even want to bring them, they have to leave them at a local bodega (corner grocery) and pay a checking fee of $1. Think this is a problem unique to underfunded cities? Think again. Brewer explained that New York City has an annual budget larger than any other American city, 48 of its states, and half the countries in the world. Software? Services? Connectivity? Hmmm…how about something faster than dialup for people who could benefit most from it.
The panelists never really talked about trends. Explicitly. But they sure hit on the key issues for the year ahead. While the titans duke it out over architecture and business models, a huge proportion of their customers are still fighting for decent usability, functionality and basic access.