Ask any IT manager about trade shows, and you get a wildly varying mix of responses. Some think they’re useful, others a waste of time. Some offer great networking, but others become more of a showcase for the flashiest marketing from the deepest pockets.
With that in mind, Emily Nielsen, president of London Ont.-based Nielsen IT Consulting Inc. and organizer of Know Your Alternatives, has tried to make her show a little different. Nielsen herself attends a lot of trade shows, and “often I go to these conferences and there’s not enough substance.” She blames it on a combination of the influence of big-budget sponsors, not enough emphasis on learning and sharing, and the fact that, more often than not, they take place in the U.S. “You go down to the U.S. and get all hyped up and you think you can deploy these things but you can’t,” she said.
For the telecom- and network-focused Know Your Alternatives (KYA), she set out last year to put together a trade show featuring tech that was already available in Canada and putting product positioning in a back seat role.
As opposed to a lot of shows that have subjects dictated on the bodies they can get to fill speaker spots, Nielsen said that KYA is designed from the ground up by topic first. “A committee decides on which group of people they want to come in,” she said. “(Then), we chose the topics and went out to look for speakers.”
There is also a lot of oversight as to what the presentations will consist of. “Vendors send in the work and we’re working with them to make sure they get the message and type of educational spin for our users,” Nielsen said.
The result of this, is a show that has seen huge growth even since it’s first year. The venue for KYA moved from the Marriott in downtown Toronto to the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, and instead of featuring only talks and breakout sessions, there will be a trade floor this year.
This is great news for returning attendee, Janice Vickery, manager of IT telecommunications for Calgary-based Precision Drilling Corporation. She said that last year, her only problem with KYA was being able to find vendors after she saw them speak. With an expo area this year, she doesn’t think this will be a problem.
Vickery said last year’s conference impressed her not only because of whom she saw speak, but because of the heavy emphasis on networking. “(KYA)’s impartial and you learn a lot not only from the presenters but also who’s there,” she said. “Very seldom can you get telephone people in a room, so many people that share your experiences.”
Vickery ended up sitting at a table with an IT manager from a trucking company who had implemented a video conferencing solution she’d been asked to research. After speaking with him, both at the conference and on the phone afterward, she was able to dodge a piece of tech that lacked standardization and would have cost her employers time and money. “I was being pushed (towards) by people in my company because it was a buzz word in the industry,” she said.
Vickery thinks that KYA, with its emphasis on networking and education, is invaluable because it can help sort out marketing hype from real-world experience. Not only that, “from a value perspective, the conference fees are very reasonable,” she said.
Nielsen said that that kind of experience is why they named it Know Your Alternatives. “When you leave this conference you should have a good background to take back to your organization about (what questions we should ask),’” she said. “It’s that kind of practical advice that we’re trying to give here.”