As I was invited to attend a round table jointly organized by the World Bank with the Moldovan government about their e-transformation program (I sit pro-bono on an expert panel for the program), I had the pleasure to visit the Cricova winery with other delegates.
This is an extraordinary place. You get into a proper wine city, through a gate, followed by a long road running in between vineyards, until you reach an electric train on rubber wheels that takes you through the long galleries of this incredible cellar. As we entered, the temperature dropped from the almost 35 centigrade outside to the 15 to 18 inside. It was a great ride in between barrels and reservoirs where the Cricova wine is kept and ages.
Fig.1 – (Small) part of the Cricova collection
We finally stopped to visit the collection, which is as incredible as the ride. A long gallery (see fig.1) with local and foreign wines, including one of the oldest bottles in the world, dated 1902 (see fig.2), many wines from the thirties, and cellar slots that are rented to collectionists to store their private collections, given the excellent climatic conditions in the galleries.
Fig.2 – Bottle dated 1902
Passed this very rich collection – or rather set of collections – we got to the tasting rooms. There are five, each with its own peculiarities. We visited a round-shaped one reminiscent of captain Nemo’s submarine in Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousands Leagues Under the Sea, to then have our tasting event in a long, 60-people room (see fig.3), where several prime ministers, dignitaries and celebrities from many countries have had wine-tasting experiences. We tasted six or seven different wines, ranging from Chardonnay, to a rosé to a Beaujolais, to sparkling white ending with a wonderful cognac.
Fig.3 – Tasting Room
I am not a wine connoisseur, but I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. It was a blend of entertainment (the train ride in the cellar was like a mild version of the crazy ride in the silver mines in Schwaz, Austria), culture, drinking and even music (there was some traditional music aired throughout the tasting).
Some of you will be probably asking why I am digressing about a wine tasting experience on my Gartner blog. The reason is that I was in Moldova to discuss about the use of IT to modernize government and help growth. The meeting the following day was very interesting as there were experiences from various countries that – although in different ways and under different circumstances – succeeded in using IT strategically to the benefit of their economies.
But when, during the wine-tasting evening, I asked whether a virtual tour of the winery was available online, I had the impression that people had not really thought about that . The morning after I checked the Cricova winery web site and found a flashy informational site, but nothing like a virtual tour.
Now, I know very little about wine, but I have been traveling a lot around the world, and I would probably put my visit to the winery amongst the best and most emotional experiences I ever had. Checking on wikipedia the day after, I found that the wine industry is indeed one of the top ones in Moldova.
So, I thought, what would it take to focus a portion of the Moldovan e-transformation program on using IT to enhance and market the winery experience? Here is a rough list of early thoughts:
- Providing a real virtual tour on the winery web site.
- Providing access to the full wine database, so that visitors can get as much information as they wish about the collection
- developing one or several videogames inspired by the winery. They may range from a Monopoly-like game (where wine collections replace cities); to an adventure to find the way through the cellar maze facing enemies of all sorts and being asked question checking one’s increasing knowledge of wine; to a FarmVille or SimCity sort of game where groups of players can collaborate further develop the cellar, or invent new wines, as well as trade al ones.
- for people visiting the cellar, a simplified version of the system deployed at the Library of Congress in Washington DC. Visitors could be given an id card – like the paper passport used by the Library of Congress – and use it every time they are interested in knowing more about a particular wine or even an individual bottle, let alone the story of the cellar or data about the size, temperature and history of each room. The information they require would not need to be displayed in real time, but may be sent later by email, or made available through a URL giving access to a personal page to be looked in the comfort of their homes (or through their smartphone as they visit another winery).
Now, some people may object that this looks like leisure, and a developing country has more fundamental needs that a mixture of an amusement park and wine tour.
My take is that development must be rooted into the strengths of a country, be they natural resources or skills. While looking at success stories from other jurisdictions is always interesting and inspirational, wouldn’t a focus on a specific industry – say wine-based entertainment for the sake of the conversation – be a powerful driver for skilled resources to coalesce around an application niche that could make the country’s IT industry sought for abroad? Think about the thousands of wineries all over the world that could be inspired by what Cricova could do with technology.
Even if people would buy into the idea, there would still be a fair amount of skepticism as to how to launch such a project. Should it be R&D? Should it use only public or only private funding, or some form of PPP? And how would the requirements and the boundaries for such a project be determined, given the novelty of the idea and the possible lack of relevant experience in the local IT market (I am just guessing here, there may be Moldovan software companies that have what it takes to jumpstart on all this)?
Well, if this is the case, wouldn’t this be a wonderful case for engaging software developers and other experts inside and outside the country, using a combination of crowdsourcing, idea and application contests? Why not launching a contest for how to build a virtual tour or how to conceive the best possible wine-amusement park? And what about engaging existing social networks that group wine enthusiasts, to get their help to make the existing collections alive? Without forgetting the importance of targeting influencers in social networks, in order for them to act as amplifiers and relayers for the winery marketing messages.
The beauty of most of the above is that it can be achieved rather inexpensively, leveraging voluntary resources, investing small amounts of money in pilots and contests, and yet getting a very rapid return in terms of making the Cricova wine better known in larger markets, and definitely cooler than many competitors.
Not every country can become the next Singapore, nor it should. Learning good practices from countries that have been successful at achieving growth or transforming industry sectors is important. But leveraging peculiarities and own strengths is even more so.