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Notes & comments from FMI's MarkeTechnics 2004 Show
SAN FRANCISCO - "The business of this industry is not technology," said FMI senior vice president Michael Sansolo in his introductory remarks yesterday at the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) MarkeTechnics conference here. "The business of this industry is selling food to our shoppers." And the question, he said, is "how do we use technology to help our companies profit from technology?"

Which set up, in a sense, one of the interesting contradictions that always has existed at the MarkeTechnics conference. It is a hard-core technology show, with companies demonstrating all manner of products and services to a receptive and tech-oriented audience. And yet, at the same time, virtually all of the attendees have to take what they learn here and sell it back in the home office, to convince people back home that these technological investments will bear fruit. (In the current competitive environment, often they have to do so quickly, which creates additional pressure on all concerned.)

In his opening keynote address, Geoffrey Colvin, senior editor at large at Fortune and co-anchor of PBS's Wall Street Week, spoke to more general concerns - specifically America's role in the global economy and concerns about the outsourcing of jobs to foreign countries.

While it is true that America is losing manufacturing jobs, Colvin said, the fact is that the planet is losing manufacturing jobs, because the planet is becoming more efficient. The real issue, he said, is that "jobs if a higher caliber" like accountants and engineers are moving outside the US, "It used to be that when there was work to be done, the people who would design the work would be in the US, and the actual work would be done outside the US. But now, more and more people in developing countries are getting the education that we give people in the US." This what creates real issues for the US, he said, because "designing the work is the essence of management, the essence of innovation." And when innovation moves outside the US, he said, that's what creates real pressures on the US economy.

As this happens, he said, the next step is product innovation, then brand-building, and finally, general, overall management.

The good news, Colvin said, for the US economy is that it has long been the world's most flexible economy. The bad news is that for the US system to survive, it depends on the US educational system, "and innovation and flexibility are not the words that first come to mind when you think about the educational system."

In other developments at MarkeTechnics…

  • Kevin Mitnick, a former convicted hacker who now helps companies deal with computer security threats, told the audience that the greatest security problem that companies have is people, not hardware or software. He called it "holes in the human firewall," saying that most hackers don't look for technical vulnerabilities. "They look to exploit human fallibilities to get information that allow them to exploit technical fallibilities."

    In one of the more amusing moments, Mitnick demonstrated in about 90 seconds how, knowing just what a person's name is, he could obtain their address, phone number, social security number and even mother's maiden name - all the things necessary to obtain far more damaging financial information.

KC's View:
We'll have more tomorrow from MarkeTechnics 2004.