CeBIT Strives to Break the IT Industry Trade Show Curse

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2014-03-15 Print this article Print

Then the CeBIT management took another gamble and started courting developers, even adding a new competition in which CeBIT gave new, sometimes unreleased devices to developers, giving them 48 hours to develop an app, with prizes for the best apps.

At CeBIT 2014, 10 percent of the exhibitors at the show were startups. Over 100 venture capital groups showed up looking for new places to invest. In addition, Felzmann said the show added a new set of conferences that focused on knowledge transfer rather than sales.

This is in stark contrast to the fate of Comdex. The show name was a contraction of the show's full title "Computer Dealer Expo." The owners built up Comdex and then sold it when it was still one of the top IT shows in North America. But then a number of things conspired to kill Comdex, mainly the Internet, the dot-com recession of the early 2000s and the contraction of the computer dealer network.

IT vendors didn't need to go to big, expensive trade shows or even to the independent dealer network, since they could sell computers directly to enterprise customers or to consumers via the Internet. A computer maker's Website became the trade show booth that was open 365 days a year.

Along with Comdex, PC Expo closed around the same time, mostly due to a lack of interest. Neither of those huge events tried the kind of transformation that CeBIT is attempting. Instead of changing with changing times, they tried to do more of the same, but the industry had moved on. Nobody was interested in the same old stuff.

There are still trade shows, of course. With a few exceptions, they are highly focused and limited in scope. They little resemble the sprawling computer festivals they once were.

These days when I hear about the really big trade shows that still exist, what I mostly hear are complaints. They are too big, it's too hard to get work done, and they're too disorganized. While I won't mention names, they know who they are. These big shows will go on for a little while because of inertia, but it seems that if they don't find a way to focus themselves, they'll follow the likes of Comdex or PC Expo and simply become memories of what was.

Does this mean CeBIT has somehow risen above fate? Not really, but the show's transformation seems to be working. Exhibitors that I talked to seem happier, as attendees crowd the aisles, not because they're leading their families, but because they've found what they want to see and are taking it in. This year's attendance of 210,000 isn't as large as it was in the past, but this time all those attendees were in a position to buy something or to influence a purchase. After all, it's not simply people you want, but the right people.

CeBIT has a ways to go to show it has a business model that's sustainable for the long term. But the number of exhibitors is up substantially, the square footage is up, and there were crowds everywhere. It seems hard to argue with that.



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