Tech infuses World Economic Forum

Any time you find yourself at a conference at which Carly Fiorina, chairman and chief executive officer of Hewlett-Packard Co., sits on a panel that also features the Nigerian president, the British foreign secretary, the World Bank president, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and a Pakistan woman's rights advocate from Pakistan, you know it is something unique.

Every year, the World Economic Forum brings together global leaders — bankers, financiers, manufacturers, technologists, scientists, economists, politicians, journalists, bishops, artists and academicians — to deliberate on critical issues affecting the global economy.

This year, some 2,000 world leaders assembled at Davos, Switzerland.

Iranian President Mohammad Khatami said, "The key to survival of humankind is being together and talking together." This characterizes the essence of the Davos conference.

In addition to the wide-ranging formal program, the forum goes to great lengths to create venues for discourse. The physical facility is designed to afford opportunities for casual interaction and formal private discussion.

And there is an infusion of technology to support an agenda of partnership and connectivity:

* Each participant is issued a picture ID smart card which regulates physical and cyber access. Each card, equipped with a microprocessor and antenna connects with the main computing center when presented to a badge reader.

* Kiosks abound, both at the conference center and hotels, where the smart card allows participants to log into the conference site to sign up for programs, tap into a searchable directory of participants and organizations, create personal directories and engage the message service.

* Participants are issued a Hewlett-Packard iPaq, a hand-held PC that includes a Microsoft Corp. operating system featuring a color touch screen and a wireless radio connection to the high-speed local-area network. Participants use this to review the meeting program, participant names and biographies, profiles of companies and organizations, create a personal agenda, review news feeds from Reuters, access the internal e-mail service and sign up for events.

* An Electronic Message service provides a mailbox for each participant.

* A cybernetwork center gives participants instant access to the Internet, news from their home country and a personal query service to help prepare for sessions with a network of subject matter experts.

* Portable Tablet PCs are issued for on-site participant use, and it includes wireless technology to allow Internet access from anywhere inside the main facility.

* Other technology enhancements include a members portal, virtual community workspaces, a knowledge navigator, which provides summaries of forum events for the last three years and country competitiveness profiles.

* The forum's Web site, www.weforum.org, allows conference activities to be integrated into a single platform and facilitates the dissemination of conference content.

This infusion of technology allows world leaders to experience first hand the power of technology to connect people and ideas and to facilitate a paperless and efficient work environment. This is one conference where the organizers "walk the talk."

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