Ziff CEO Views Future of Information Technology Industry

By Ojala, Marydee | Searcher, July 1994 | Go to article overview

Ziff CEO Views Future of Information Technology Industry


Ojala, Marydee, Searcher


[EDITORIAL COMMENT: Searcher Ojala contributed this article before the news in mid-June that Ziff had gone up for sale.]

In an April 21 st speech to some 300 high technology executives, including such luminaries as Novell's Chairman Ray Noorda, Ziff Communications CEO, Eric Hippeau, declared the "killer app" of information technology would be products such as Hoover SandPoint and ZDI Interchange. In other words, online databases supplied by new online searching techniques. Hippearu walked the audience through an interactive, though canned, demonstration of both products and scattered mentions of Information Access Company databases throughout his speech. You just gotta love a CEO who can comfortably mention his latest search on LEXIS/NEXIS.

The venue for Hippeau's remarks was Snowbird, a renowned Utah ski resort. The occasion was the annual meeting of the Utah Information Technology Association. The title was "The Outlook for the Information Technology Industry." The speech was high tech, full of color graphics, film clips and interactivity. Hippeau began by stating that the whole information technology industry is "headed down slippery slopes." Did I mention Hippeau is an avid skier? The overall theme of his presentation was that the fundamental shift from analog to digital had occurred. "All media," claimed Hippeau, "are going digital."

As a journalist, Hippeau used the classic formula of Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How to structure his speech. The What of digital convergence revolves around its definition. Noting that there appears to be no clear definition of digital convergence, Hippeau said that when there's no definition, people fall back on, "It's cool." Most analysts seem to think that the definition relies on functions such as video on demand, home shopping, and interactive entertainment ("telegambling" and "cybersex" were the two that Hippeau mentioned). This is a bit frightening and obviously not particularly to Hippeau's liking either. Why would anybody want this stuff? Maybe it's greed, maybe it's the hoopla.

Hippeau winked at us when he observed that tests of products for the so-called "Information Highway," performed by such heavy hitters as Time Warner, have remained secret. The clear implication was that the tests failed. Then there's the question of who's going to pay for it. Consumers have a price threshold of no more than $10 per month. The only time they seem to be enthusiastic about spending more is for pay-per-view boxing. But the business world is willing and able to foot the bill. Global corporations like the idea of teleconferencing, interactive training, and transaction processing.

Digital Convergence and Databases

Hippeau made the distinction between content and delivery mechanisms, coming down firmly on the side of content. He pointed out that a television set is a terrific media for entertainment, for watching movies and sports, but not for business applications. The computer, he believes, is the best place for content, for information that can be used for business purposes. If all media are going digital and interactive, Hippeau sees the personal computer as the key to success. …

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