Annoyingly, I missed the dotcom boom. And I’m not alone. I
think there are plenty of people reading this who, with the benefit of
hindsight, would have taken more notice.
After all, the late nineties was an exciting time. For humble journalists it
was a particularly exciting time. Club class trips to Silicon Valley were par
for the course and we were often treated like royalty. Which is no wonder,
considering the amount of money being spent.
On one occasion, Dell Computers really pulled out all the stops. It flew a
gaggle of fresh-faced IT journalists to Birmingham in a private jet, champagne
on tap. It put everyone up in a five-star hotel and the next morning flew those
same journalists, complete with expensive cocktail-induced hangovers, to the
Birmingham NEC by helicopter. And all of this for a computer trade show!
This was, of course, small change compared to some of the extravagance being
shown at the time. Over the course of two years, the infamous internet startup
company Boo.com spent £130m of other people’s money on limousines, glitzy PR
events and Learjets.
But despite the rampant waste of money, the period could legitimately lay
claim to some of the most exciting companies in business today. The likes of
eBay, Yahoo, Google, Cisco and HP all made their mark in that few years either
side of the millennium.
Of course, for every company that made it, there were perhaps 100 that did
not. The trick, as ever, was to determine what was the wheat and what was the
Today, we are being given another chance. The technology revolution of the late
nineties is being repeated now, but with a difference. There are similarly
exciting things going on, except this time they have been forced to demonstrate
a more sustainable, grounded and, relatively speaking, sensible business plan.
A few things spring to mind. Software as a service is one. On a business
night out recently (which, compared to the dotcom boom, was positively
pauper-like, by the way) I got to hear all about the inner-workings of a company
NetSuite is an eight-year-old startup company which has Oracle founder Larry
Ellison as its largest investor. It provides complex CRM software to small and
medium-sized businesses via the internet, so removing the technological overhead
from the radar of the company buying the technology. Hallelujah, is the word
we’re looking for here.
It’s a neat story. NetSuite hosts the database, technology and storage
required to maintain its clients’ customer records. The client accesses that
content via the web, but has no direct involvement with the upkeep of the
system. Its maintenance and security is controlled by NetSuite, which can be
kept in check by a detailed and rigorous service level agreement.
The story goes that, every night, NetSuite employs a bullet-proof,
rocket-proof, ex-military, armour-plated lorry to transport its customers’
mission-critical customer data to an obscure peak in the Rockies to bury it
beneath 200 metres of earth for safe-keeping. Even allowing for artistic
licence, it’s far more trouble than your average IT director would go to.
But the point is that NetSuite would not be able to provide the service it
does unless the underlying technology that it relies on had matured. The feeling
is that the internet has finally come of age to such an extent that we can trust
it to run our mission-critical business needs. Today’s technology companies have
a sound footing on which to base their offerings, and their clients are
increasingly being run by those that reached their ‘informative years’ during
the internet age rather than the stone age.
The exciting thing is that NetSuite isn’t alone. When Salesforce.com, another
Ellison-backed venture, which offers a similar technology to NetSuite, IPO’d in
June 2004 its shares gained a massive 56% on their first day of trading, taking
them to more than $17. Today, they change hands for twice that. Research firm
IDC predicts that the total ‘software as a service’ market will double to
$10.7bn within five years. RightNow Technologies, another version of
Salesforce.com and NetSuite, recently announced Q4 2005 results its 32nd
consecutive quarter of revenue growth.
The internet now provides a platform for real business-critical tools such as
online auctions, online procurement and online currency trading and exchange
tools. Mobile sales teams can update transactional databases from the pub using
a wireless PDA. Thankfully, your mobile workforce can also be tracked in real
time using a combination of satellite and internet technology. While this may
not sound particularly new, the great thing is that now the technology actually
So if, like me, you missed the dotcom boom, here’s a tip. NetSuite is
expected to go public some time this year, in what promises to be one of the
most eagerly awaited technology listings since Google wowed Wall Street in
August 2004. This time, you might want to take more notice.