Few remember, but before blogs, reporters would head off to a trade show and at some point file a notebook story of related show information not quite big enough to be blown up into a story of its own, but of sufficient interest to put it in front of a reader. Heres my notebook on my trip to the CeBit fair in Hannover, Germany.
Lets start with the guy who runs the show now. The first stop on the fair grounds, with its 26 halls of exhibits and 400,000 visitors, is the administration building where Dr. Sven Michael Pruser, vice-president of Deutsche Messe AG, is trying to figure out how to steer the very big ship that is CeBIT. Big trade shows, especially after the massive Comdex flameout, are suspect these days. It is difficult to bring focus to a show that has more than 6,000 exhibitors, covers as broad a field as technology from enterprise through consumers and while English (which is the default language of business) is broadly spoken at CeBIT it is not the primary language.
Prusers plan is to focus on business-to-business and become, "The leading business event for the digital world," he told me over coffee in the administration building high above the fairgrounds. With interest in individual products going down and interest in solutions going up, according to Pruser, the show will undergo a major change next year as a focus on four solutions areas becomes the dominant theme. Emerging technologies, enterprise solutions, public sector areas and the digital lifestyle are the four key areas which will be grouped together on the fair grounds and will be the focus of an increased conference program, according to Pruser.
Heres my opinion. A focus on solutions is fine, but with some major vendors pulling back or pulling out on exhibit space, Pruser and crew are in for a ride of managing resources while managing expectations. They do have strengths they can play off of based on my couple days of wandering about the grounds.
Big alliances. The Russians are at CeBIT in a very big way this year. The country is rich in cash, has a strong intellectual and technology base and is much more amenable (near as I can tell) to doing business with nearly any other country than the U.S. Russian President Vladimir Putin was expected to attend, but was a no show. However, Russian IT and Communications Manager Leonid Reiman was there talking about how he expected Russian IT exports to increase from last years $1.8 billion to $10 billion by 2010. CeBIT is also where countries ranging from Croatia to Iran to Poland to Dubai are talking up their capabilities. You wont find that range of internationalism (China is a very big presence here) at any other trade show. The U.S. companies dont use CeBIT as a product introduction stage and seem to leave most of their exhibiting up to their European subsidiaries.
Standard setting. In the Internet era, product introductions are headed the way of the Dodo bird. The idea of flying a bunch of journalists in to look at some new box just doesnt make sense when everyone can have all the information they need via the Web. However, there is a change in standard setting taking place. Once, the world waited while standards were hammered out in the U.S. The States were, after all, the biggest electronics market by far and companies were smart to wait until they were sure their products would work in the States. No more. Despite lots of joking about European bureaucracy, the European Union is a strong force in setting standards—particularly so in privacy, security and environmental safeguards. Technology vendors are bending their product designs to accommodate EU standards, which now seem to be a couple years ahead of the U.S. Can CeBIT make standards discussions really interesting? That is a tough one.
Applications running across industries. Auto shows do a good job at talking about technology in cars. Consumer electronic shows are a good place to see the latest widgets. However, the really interesting applications are the ones that span industries. Location systems you can carry with you to find directions while driving but also let folks know where you are when you are walking about and maybe also monitor your heart rate and let you do a video blog of your trip to Paris spans many industries. Taking a bigger view of applications is an opportunity for some trade show or event.
Will vendors find an ROI in all this change? Are they still willing to pay for those dual level booths with kitchens and bars? Or would they like to return to the original trade fair roots when customers in three-piece suits came with checkbook in hand to buy their technology gear for the year? Those answers will start to appear next year.
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