November 18 2022: The history of technology expos is almost as old as the history of information technology in India – and one of the oldest, observed its silver jubilee when it opened its 4-day run in Bengaluru on November 16.
The Bengaluru Tech Summit as it is known in its current avatar, subsumes what was earlier a separate biotech show. The state government of Karnataka first organized the event under the name Bangalore IT.com in 1998 with good support from the Software Technology Parks of India (STPI), at a time when the only major IT-related expos in India were the annual conventions of the Computer Society of India (CSI) which moved from city to city every year. The Delhi-based Exhibitions India, a private organization, had also started an annual show called Convergence India at Pragathi Maidan in 1993 and it will celebrate 30 years in 2023.
But by its location in India’s Silicon City, the Bengaluru event has developed a character of its own. This character was tweaked multiple times as the business of technology changed and the main sponsors – the IT department of the state -- first renamed it Bangalore IT.Biz to reflect its platform for doing serious business and then in 2013 again tweaked the named to ITE.Biz to stress that it was an enterprise IT event rather than one focused on consumer electronics. Bangalore BioTech was merged with ITE.Biz in 2017 and since 2018, the combined event is being called the Bengaluru Tech Summit.
These multiple renaming ceremonies also mirrored the somewhat mixed fortunes of the event and some confusion on how to position it. After some years of dwindling participation by industries, the organisers joined with the Germany-based global tech expo CeBIT in 2014 to run a joint event at what was then the newly created Bengaluru International Exhibition Centre (BIEC) some 30 kms away from the business district. The expo saw many tech biggies return to exhibit – but the logistics made for poor attendance and the state government decided to go it alone from the next year. It has remained a state sponsored event since then, but the location swung between a hotel – the Lalit Ashok and the Bangalore Palace. In 2020 at the height of Covid, Bengaluru Tech Summit went virtual and in 2021, it was a hybrid event with only a small physical presence. This year it is housed in and around the city's icon Bangalore Palace, an unlikely yet visually unique locale.
This year’s expo has turned out to be the biggest ever in its history with over 575 exhibitors. For many years a small startup pavilion figured in the exhibition. This year, the tail wags the dog – and startups from the country’s vibrant sector account for 330 stands, and testify to the significant innovation that is coming from this sector.
Another change noticed this year is the large presence of government R&D establishments like CSIR, Space and Defence, with the labs of DRDO occupying an entire row of stalls exhibiting everything from the latest Naval torpedoes to a full slate of missiles to the latest variant of the Arjun main battle tank, albeit all in scaled down models.
The National Aerospace Laboratory exhibited its recently developed full scale Octa-copter drone as well as scaled versions of the Saras Mk II 19 seater light transport aircraft and the Hansa 3 ( new generation) 2-seater trainer. The ISRO stand gave visitors a glimpse of a space suit that would be part of future manned space missions.
Big tech companies missing
In recent years Delhi-based events like the annual India Mobile Congress co-organised by the Telecom department and the Cellular Operators Association of India have outstripped the Bengaluru Tech Summit in size and footfalls—though in a different tech vertical. And one thing that remained unchanged this year in Bengaluru was the absence of almost the entire galaxy of big-name Indian IT companies and the India end of IT international players, who have rarely felt it necessary to support the one annual exposition of their industry in the city that is their home. Among the exceptions was Infosys which drew attention to Springboard, the free-to-use educational platform that it funds as well as the courses it co-offers with Coursera. Biotech firms are better represented with Biocon always a strong presence.
One reason for IT biggies voting with their feet may be the confusion on the part of the organisers – is Bengaluru Tech Summit a serious place for attracting business or is it a mela for school and college kids to experience some tech? The separation of visiting hours between business visitors and the public is rarely enforced – and companies arguably are unable to showcase their work in an environment overrun by young people grabbing complimentary candy and brochures.
Since 2008, the management of the Bengaluru tech expo has been entrusted to the Pune-headquartered MMActiv who are experienced event managers and sci-tech communicators.
But the direction that Bengaluru Tech Summit takes in its next 25 years may depend on some hard nosed and professional rethinking by the principal sponsor -- the Karnataka government – who may need to let go of some of its hold and of the perception of the event as yet another sarkari opportunity. If they do this, it will bring the smack of an international ambience and professionalism to its annual technology flagship.
For details of some exhibits see Image of the Day
This article has appeared in Swarajya