Yesterday, I attended Cyberposium, Harvard Business School's annual tech conference. In a nutshell: heinous. This isn't the MIT alum in me speaking out, but the difference in quality between MIT Sloan conferences and HBS was staggering. I really expected more, even on the superficial stuff. Not even close.
The Keynote speaker was Marissa Mayer of Google. Since she's been with the company almost since the beginning, I thought we were in for a real restrospective look at user experience technology, and where the cutting edge is evolving. No such luck. Instead, we were treated to a hour + "GoogleMercial" of all the cool things that they're building. When someone in the audience rightly asked about why we were talking about such "groundbreaking" products as Orkut, when it was Adwords/Adsense that generate 98% of the revenues, it was just glossed over. All sizzle, no steak.
I also attended an interesting discussion on Healthcare Informatics. Despite the seemingly obvious benefits of electronic patient management systems, the healthcare industry seems to lag other industries like finance in the use of technology. This panel made it pretty clear why: it's fundamentally disfunctional. It seems that every player in the value chain is captive to the insurance companies and to the handful of doctors/agencies that control licensing of specialists. I walked away with the concern that even if substantial technical advances are made in drug discovery, pharmacology, etc, that the industry is so broken that it wouldn't really matter. The analogy I thought of is the airline industry. If all of a sudden, every passenger plane could fly at mach 3 with the same fuel costs, would the industry get any better? Probably not.
The healthcare panel did spotlight one of the more passionate entrepreneurs I've seen in a while: Jonathan Bush of Athenahealth. He's got an ideal background for this industry, with both on the ground experience as a combat medic and EMT:
I did walk out of the room feeling that this is a market that doesn't need slight adjustments, but total obliteration. Someone needs to attack the billing, management, collaboration elements of healthcare information systems and bring a 10X force of cost reductions to this business.