CES Provides Lessons for Consumer IT Vendors that Chose to Stay Home

NEWS ANALYSIS: While it's easy to remotely cover the Consumer Electronics Show comfortably from home in the midst of an historic cold wave, it's best to get face time on the show floor.

I’m not at the Consumer Electronics Show this year. It's much better to cover the event indoors back home in the frozen North. However, as I watched the video streams of the keynotes and read the live blogs, one thing was clear.

Although CES (or the International CES 2014 as they like to be called), does a good job at being the physical location for every TV vendor, wearable health-monitor device maker and even auto makers aspiring to be seen as digitally hip to gather, the CES as webcast provider is still wanting.

CES is not alone in this. Despite living in a broadcast world where live sports and such events as the Oscars have been elevated to an art, for most vendors the live streams of their events is still a camera pointed at the stage.

Of course CES wants to fill the place, but consumer event organizers from the Super Bowl on down have learned the value of adding high production values to events through associated commentary, analysis and even commercials offering entertainment and special deals. This is Lesson Number One for vendors: Are you getting the most Web miles you can from your events? I doubt it.

Lesson Number Two involves corporate growth. Clay Christensen (author of the Innovator’s Dilemma) identified the failure of companies to maintain growth as one of the most serious problems a company can face. Your customers, employees and investors demand revenue growth.

The problem is even in a growing market (smartphones) it gets very difficult to maintain growth as more and more competitors jump into the pool. The trick is for established companies to find and fuel the next big growth market.

In some ways, CES is all about vendors testing the waters around big and bigger TVs, wearable-digital devices and alternatives to the Windows/Intel personal-computing model before fully committing all corporate resources. When traditional companies fail to sustain their growth internally, they turn to expansion through acquisition, which especially in the tech space, is difficult.

Lesson Number Three: Remember SoMoLo? Creating applications and products with a social, mobile and location aware orientation was the buzz word three years ago. Now, all the big products being introduced include those elements.

SoMoLo has moved from buzzword to attributes expected of all products and only worth mentioning if those capabilities are not apparent. Enterprise vendors championing big data, cloud computing and software as a service might want to rethink their branding as those enterprise attributes are quickly moving into expected capabilities instead of product differentiators.

Lesson Number Four: Just getting there was a challenge. This was a tough year to get to CES with multiple delayed flights due to the extreme cold. As I said, I’m not there this year and it is fun covering CES via reports, webcasts and blogs, but it is not the same as being there.

Vendors go to CES hoping to find some sort of product consensus and industry direction to align their corporate strategies. You can only find that consensus through lots of meetings, lots of walking around the convention center and attending as many receptions as a body can stand.

Vendors need to make the effort to talk to the media, customers and competitors. Enterprise technology vendors need to make sure they are duplicating that walk around—even in the digital age you can’t match honest face-to-face discussions.

Eric Lundquist is a technology analyst at Ziff Brothers Investments, a private investment firm. Lundquist, who was editor-in-chief at eWEEK (previously PC WEEK) from 1996-2008 authored this article for eWEEK to share his thoughts on technology, products and services. No investment advice is offered in this article. All duties are disclaimed. Lundquist works separately for a private investment firm which may at any time invest in companies whose products are discussed in this article and no disclosure of securities transactions will be made.