Olympics Open New Chapter for Integrators

Given the mountain of type already generated by the 1996 Summer Olympics, the idea to devote any part of Washington Technology's front page to the Atlanta Games was met with some cool resistance from different members of our news team. Upon closer study, the Games seem poised to become a meaningful chapter within the integration services industry's short history. More than just a showcase for worldwide integration services, Atlanta may well be that ephemeral place in time when an industry is given the latitude to define its mission.

At the upcoming Games, Xerox Corp is not selling copiers or printers, it's selling document management solutions. AT&T isn't selling telephones, it's selling access services. And of course IBM Corp. is selling "solutions for a small planet."

In the case of the systems integration industry, the timing of the Games could not be better. They arrive in Atlanta six months after a court unshackled IBM from a 40-year-old consent decree and one month after Electronic Data Systems Corp. announced its split from its global parent General Motors Corp.

Both of the newly emancipated integration giants are now pledging to grow their businesses through a string of global alliances with media, telecom and entertainment partners.

The fast-changing infotech services market is about to enter its greatest period of global flux to date, and yet to many people the sale of services and solutions remains a vague enterprise with little cache or significance.

Whether the spectacle of the '96 Olympics will change that remains anyone's guess, but as a promotional vehicle these Games appear to have an uncanny sense of timing relative to the dynamics at work inside the integration services industry.

As always, the Olympic Games remind us of how the word "distance" has less and less meaning in our world. The competition seems poised to move several laps closer to defeat distance as the Games arrive on the crest of the Internet wave.

And just as comedian Milton Berle is credited with helping the television industry get off the ground by supplying the content needed to drive the sale of millions of TV sets, IBM seems intent on packaging the Atlanta Games to spur a largely untested Internet services business known as content hosting.

The risks are enormous, but IBM's timing could not be better. More than helping debut a new business, this year's Olympic Games have given the integration industry an opportunity to define its global reach and underscore the role of not just technology product, but services.

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