CeBit 2014 diary: Cameron comes to town

11 Mar 2014

How can one link together rural broadband, Big Data and enterprise resource-planning software? By including a pair of EU leaders in the mix, of course. An early start on the stand of sponsor Software AG at this year’s CeBIT put me in a very unaccustomed position among the scrum of paparazzi, as German chancellor Angela Merkel and British prime minister David Cameron walked up behind a fearlessly simplistic diorama of Smart Big Data at work.

As you may be able to tell from my wobbly picture, the perfectly sensible explanation of how cargo-tagging and inventory management makes shipping more efficient may not have exactly kindled the perfect spirit of European allegiance that both Merkel and Cameron would have preferred as a takeaway message for the assembled press-pack. It certainly fired up Software AG’s Karl-Heinz Streibich, whose German flowed much faster than my talent for translation; I got the idea, in as much as an appraisal of the use of Big Data in an Internet of Things around a container port can be made in a three-minute speech with two impatient heads of state waiting their turn with the microphone.

A few words from Frau Merkel, and even fewer from David Cameron, and that was our lot: off went the cavalcade to a selection of other stands in the sponsor’s hall. I had time to shoot the breeze with a few of the Software AG team, chat with a colleague on itineraries and important stuff such as food, before wandering off and feeling lost almost immediately. I then met up with the head of the same cavalcade, this time on the T-Mobile stand (easily recognised by a roof of vermilion umbrellas, like a fire extinguisher went off at a Mary Poppins convention).

This time the boot was on the other foot when it came to oratory: Mr Cameron had a firm grasp of the microphone and was going to talk about rural broadband, and how many hundreds of millions of euros the UK government was pouring into making sure that the countryside isn’t left behind the towns, and how important this was for making sure businesses are able to reach the global markets in which we all need to trade…

I lost interest at that point, and took another picture instead, of an impressive sweep of LG curved LED screens taking a starring role in an intimidating surveillance/CCTV installation, also on the T-Mobile stand.

I couldn’t ask too many questions about how that worked because, at that point, there was quite a cruel chuckle from the assembled press corps; it became very clear that the speech-writers had tried to inject a bit of to-and-fro between the two leaders, and the awkwardness of this only served to highlight the fact that neither spoke nor understood each other’s language at all. Whereas Frau Merkel had seemed more at ease standing behind the shipping display, when it came to rural broadband this sounded much more like David Cameron’s topic.

It’s been a good few years since I’ve been out in the German rural hinterland, cursing at inadequate internet access; but then I’ve not looked for a while because I’m told things haven’t moved forward much. This is in contrast to the UK: if there’s a single overarching feature of the conversations I have with PC Pro Business Clinic subjects, it is how tantalisingly close they all are to getting superfast fibre-based internet links this year. Perhaps, just this once, this is a case of the plucky Brits leading the way: that would certainly account for the evident differences in comfort levels displayed by each leader either while speaking, or while waiting for their carefully choreographed turn.

Fortunately for me, the next couple of days here are much less heavily managed. I’m expecting more productive conversations with the Software AG people, with Intel, and with as many other quirky suppliers and inventors as I can find.

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