InfoBalt works hard to promote IT sector

  • 2000-09-28
  • Darius James Ross
VILNIUS - E-commerce. The New Economy. Dot-coms. Internet entrepreneurs. These are just some of the watchwords crowding the headlines in today's business media. These terms are not foreign to a growing segment of Lithuanian society. Since 1994, Lithuania's information technology (IT), telecommunications and office equipment suppliers have had the benefit of a vociferous trade association, InfoBalt, that promotes their interests and raises their international profile. Though it is named InfoBalt, the association represents only Lithuanian companies, although it does maintain ties with companies in Latvia and Estonia.

InfoBalt was formed six years ago by a group of Lithuanian IT companies who were tired of paying high prices to foreign trade show organizers. "They just realized that they could put on their own (trade) shows at far more reasonable prices," said Vilma Misiukoniene, director of InfoBalt's Copyright Agency. "We have now developed very far from this original purpose," she said.

Today InfoBalt continues to serve as the organizer of the annual InfoBalt trade show but has also grown into a lobbying group, charity organization, pollster and promoter of the Lithuanian IT industry. "Germany has forty different organizations for its different IT sectors and interest groups. There's such a converging process in IT and its related industries right now that it's becoming harder to separate them," said Misiukoniene. What she's referring to is the increasing interdependence between personal computers, cell phones and office machines such as printers, scanners and photocopiers. InfoBalt serves as single umbrella group covering all of these sectors. Today it has 145 member companies, including heavyweights such as IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Ericsson, Lietuvos Telekomas and Arthur Anderson. The larger companies pay a membership fee to the association based on annual income. There is also a lower fixed annual fee that is paid by all companies regardless of size.

Money spent on membership is well worth it. InfoBalt does not hesitate to criticize government policy. "Two years ago we actually had a Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunications. We were proud of it, and Estonian and Latvian IT people would point to it as an example of forward thinking to their governments," said Misiukoniene.

The ministry was abolished two years ago following a change in the elected government. Strangely, IT is now under the Ministry for Municipalities and Public Reform while telecommunications is under the Ministry of Transportation.

"This is ridiculous," said Misiukoniene.

InfoBalt's president, Robertas Tamulevicius, went even further.

"What we have now are two separate departments duplicating efforts as well as industry information databases. It is a complete waste of the taxpayer's money and also leads to a lack of coordination in these areas," he said.

At the upcoming InfoBalt trade show in late October, the group will be hosting a competition ranking Lithuania's political parties on their IT platforms. Though the competition will occur following the Oct. 8 parliamentary elections, the group feels it will still put pressure on the parties to continue thinking about the country's IT future.

Electoral results will be one of the criteria, but InfoBalt will do a poll of the general public by means of its Web site and will also separately survey political science students, their professors, members of the InfoBalt association and exhibitors at the trade show.

"The winner will not be the party that writes the best IT platform but the one that best proves it can implement the strategies it has put forward," said Tamulevicius. In addition, voting will be dynamic, allowing the voters to change their vote during the course of the show.

InfoBalt also played a crucial part in the drafting of the recently passed Law on Electronic Signatures in Lithuania and has also participated extensively in consultation process for the forthcoming vote on the Law on Electronic Commerce.