|German Chancellor Angela Merkel (far left) and Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk (second from left) play with some Polish technology at this year's CeBIT|
Courtesy of Parp
CeBIT in Hannover is the biggest IT sector exhibition in the world. In 2012, over 300,000 people visited the fair. For Polish tech firms, however, 2013 was special, since Poland was chosen as the event’s “Partner Country.”
Politicians used the occasion for photo ops and speeches. Polish technologies – such as devices developed by Virgo Systems and used in Mars Rover Curiosity, or the world’s fastest microchip, produced by Digital Core Design from Bytom – garnered worldwide headlines.
But that was just a small part of CeBIT. Most of the business there was done behind the scenes, by smaller, lesser-known companies, which used the opportunity to showcase their products and talents for the first time.
In most of the exhibition halls, there were special sections with dozens of exhibitors from Poland packed into one big cluster. The space was rented by the Polish Agency for Enterprise Development (PARP) and stands there used the same graphic theme (few Polish companies decided to rent bigger space on their own).
All of this provided better visibility, since the Polish exhibition logo towered above all of the other stands. However, there was limited space that the companies could use to showcase their products. In one of the halls, the stand belonging to the German branch of Polish IT giant Comarch was the same size as that of all of the other Polish companies in the same room, combined.
It was difficult to showcase anything in such small spaces, so many of the stands looked similar. Mostly, the Polish stands consisted of someone standing behind a counter, with trinkets, pens and various promotional materials.
The motto of the Polish exhibition was “Poland TalentIT People.” And while it wouldn’t pass through spell-check software, the motto is an apt summary of many Polish companies’ main selling point.
“[The motto] fits our business idea: Selling our products to foreign clients using highly educated Polish IT specialists. We have graduates, we have young, highly skilled people – 350 of them. We heavily advertise that,” said Christian Kuhr, business development manager at Outbox, a company that specializes in customer relationship management (CRM) software.
Outbox is already present in the UK, Austria, Switzerland and Germany. The firm said it was trying to use CeBIT as a tool to expand its presence in the country.
“We are counting on these Polish ‘zones.’ People who come here have already answered the question ‘Are you interested in Poland?’ with a ‘yes.’ So it’s an easy start for us,” added Mr Kuhr.
Participants regularly mentioned the low cost of Polish products and specialists. Many companies from Western Europe and the United States are looking for more cost-effective alternatives outside their country, in India, but Poland has some advantages that its Asian competitors don’t.
“Many companies are looking for alternatives [to India], mostly because of the clash of cultures. That might sound strange, but it’s very important in the IT sector,” said Wojciech Pawiński, CEO of Bluesoft, which provides various types of software.
Going both local and global
Some companies went to Hannover to find new clients, or companies that could help them enter foreign markets. One such firm was Fineus, whose flagship product is accounting software that allows you to hire a CFO for as little as a few hours if needed.
“We deal with very sensitive data, so we’re looking for partners that are trusted in their local market and could resell our products,” said Piotr Przewrocki, CEO of Fineus.
SoftProduct, a veteran in the software development field (its history dates back to the mid-1980s), chose an original approach to doing business at CeBIT. The firm looked for German companies that could help them sell their products outside Europe.
“We don’t believe we can sell a lot in Europe,” said SoftProduct CEO Krzysztof Olszewski. “People here have everything, we need to look at other markets. And Germans are good at doing this. For example, in Myanmar there’s no German embassy, but there are already 30 financial brokers there trying to open the market for Germany.”
Ironically, some Polish firms came to Germany just to meet other Polish firms. “People here have time, and are here for the same reasons as we are – to talk business,” said Łukasz Starzec, a sales specialist at Sequence, a Polish distributor of electronics.
“In Poland we’d be able to set up maybe two meetings a day because of all the distance that we would need to cover. Here everyone is in the same place,” he added.
Trying to conquer the world
But there were also companies that used the fair to find new customers, regardless of their origin.
“We had meetings with potential clients from Brazil, Norway, South Korea,” said Dariusz Nawojczyk, marketing officer from Oktawave, a cloud computing company. “We’re targeting SMEs from around the world, because we think the largest companies will be the last ones to use clouds, since they have already spent a fortune on their IT resources and would like to make use of them.”
The cloud computing sector was very visible at CeBIT, as “the cloud” has become a buzzword in the IT sector over the last few years. Oktawave prides itself on providing what it says is the fastest storage available on the market, and the company is waiting for an EU patent for its solution. They’ll have to work pretty hard to get a slice of that pie, though, because most of the global IT giants, including the likes of Cisco and Microsoft, are already providing cloud services.
BTC came to CeBIT with its own software solution (“Oxeris”), and a partnership agreement with Intel for EMEA markets. That way the company could offer a unique package of both software and hardware solutions in anti-theft technology.
“We can secure your device, whether it’s a smartphone, laptop or desktop computer. Intel Anti-Theft Technology is installed on millions of these devices; we provide software and a help desk to run them,” said Michał Olan, product manager at BTC. “We’re able to block the device, delete sensitive data or even restore it.”
Another company with a similar approach was Softline, which helped carry out Poland’s most recent census in 2011 and is trying to sell its software to South American countries.
“This was a huge undertaking. It involved 24,000 different devices, and we had to provide all the necessary software for them,” said Robert Dygas, sales director at Softline. “It’s the type of project that is a top priority for governments and officials are looking for someone with experience in the field.”
‘Why so serious?’
Government authorities and institutions were present at CeBIT as well. Many Polish attendees criticized Poland’s Social Insurance Institution (ZUS) for being present, mostly because the body isn’t exactly known for its innovative technologies, but also because it only provides services for the Polish market.
But at least ZUS had some interactive, multimedia presentations that attracted some visitors. This was in stark contrast to the Grodzisk Mazowiecki stall, where the image of a middle-aged official, standing bored behind a desk with a bowl of hard candy probably didn’t appeal to many passers-by.
With so many Polish companies present at CeBIT for the first time, the question remains: Will they come back? And the answer, seemingly, is probably not. The way business is done today, with video conferencing available to everyone, means it’s more cost-effective to simply send sales representatives to the fair. Renting a booth could be an option, but for marketing reasons only.
Most of the people that spoke with WBJ said the same thing: Deals are rarely signed at CeBIT, but contacts are made and talks are scheduled that could lead to more business after the show is over.
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