Trade shows: not exempt from change

Trade shows: not exempt from change


Officials at Comdex Canada recently announced that the show they originally planned for September will be delayed until March. For the first time in a decade, the Canadian IT scene will see four seasons pass without its largest annual gathering.

That Comdex is facing tough times isn’t news. After all, the company that produces Comdex changed its name (bye KeyMedia, hello Medialive International) after emerging from bankruptcy protection. The bankruptcy move came after it cancelled several shows, including those scheduled for Vancouver and Montreal.

But Comdex is hardly alone. The old school, big bang trade show – the kind that welcomes all but seems to please fewer with each passing year – is a dying breed in the IT sector.

The biggest shows today are, at their most broad, technology-based (think Linux or Windows) or industry-specific (government or the financial industry). Far more common are the smaller, more focused shows that offer attendees access to more in-depth knowledge.

It may be too early to hold a eulogy for the era of “booth bunnies” and free stress balls, but the Comdex delay is a sign of the industry’s evolution. For instance, there was a time when perhaps 80 per cent of a given Comdex crowd was facing the same workplace challenges.

Maybe it was when the attendee’s department first investigated client/server computing, thus warranting a visit to the “personal productivity suite” booth. Perhaps it was when companies first went online in a serious way, something most organizations chose to do within a few years of each other.

I’m betting virtually everyone reading this was touched by Y2K projects in some way. The seminar programs at the big shows were chock full of millennium talk.

Today, about the only common challenge faced by IT departments is justifying their budgets.

One could argue that wireless is a common theme, but to date only select industries (those with highly mobile work forces) have pursued it in a serious way. The rest are content to wait for competitive pressure or a well-defined ROI to show itself. Integration is another dominant theme, but those using heavy-duty legacy apps need specific assistance from specific parties.

Security is yet another common thread, but even the biggest security show (and I’ve yet to see one bigger than a hotel conference room) isn’t likely to match Comdex in size or scope.

As the competitive edge – not the importance – of IT becomes less prevalent, the problems departments face will be increasingly dictated by business requirements. Thus, one size will not fit all. The vendors realize this, which is why they’re merging and buying, in a bid to plug as many holes as they can in their product lines.

Sure, show attendance will pick up once the economy rebounds, but as we become increasingly specialized, so too will the events designed to make our lives easier.

You’ve already voted with your feet.