It’s a small show after all

At least David Usher is getting some value out of Comdex Canada.

Last year, the Toronto-based rock ‘n’ roll singer opened for Sloan at the Ingram Micro party. This year he moved up in the world, headlining the Tech Data party Wednesday night at a local nightclub. Who knows whether the

Tech Data people were aware of it, but it seemed like a dig at Ingram, which didn’t even host a party this year (did they blow all their fun budget on that recent golf tournament, or what?).

Though you might think Usher would be pleased at his rise in the industry, his set sounded sort of tragic, particularly when he launched into “”Push,”” a single from his days as the front man for the band Moist. “”I expected more than this,”” he sang. So, apparently, did the attendees at this year’s conference.

Everybody — and I really mean everybody — has commented on how small the show is this year. It’s replaced Toronto’s recent heat wave as the standard conversation opener at booths, in tutorials and at Comdex cafeterias. People sound almost personally disappointed, as though the vendors who didn’t show up this year let them down. It is clear that more than any previous year, Comdex Canada is a way for IT people to check the industry’s temperature. Those who made the trek to the Metro Toronto Convention Centre this week are alarmed to find it’s still sick.

I don’t know what people were expecting. Yes, the show is smaller, but the industry is smaller, too. Given the layoffs, downsizing, bankruptcies and accounting scandals, it’s a wonder there are enough firms promoting themselves to take part in Comdex at all. Maybe the downturn has been dragging on long enough now that people were looking to the conference as the beginning of a turnaround. Though some companies are achieving significant victories, the industry overall is still fighting its way out of this slump.

Expectations become more difficult to manage when people fail to remember the past with any accuracy. When people complain about the show’s size they imply that in the “”good old days”” Comdex satisfied almost everyone. Far from it. I remember my first Comdex Canada, when the event occupied both the North and South Hall of the convention centre. If, like me, you made appointments with vendors to stop by their booth for a visit, you would discover to your horror that you didn’t plan your schedule according to the halls where the booths were located. You could end up running back and forth — in dress shoes, no less — between the corridor connecting the two ends of the building. This made for a wearying, disappointing series of missed opportunities and time management nightmares. Other people, browsing at a more leisurely pace, wouldn’t even make it from one hall to the other. Instead, they’d hear their friends tell them about what they missed. It was not uncommon to leave Comdex Canada feeling as though you were surrounded by products and tutorials but unable to take advantage of it properly.

Whether they realize it or not, the Comdex exhibits are based on the same structure as the “”agoras,”” or market places of Ancient Greece. It is from this model that modern-day shopping malls were designed, and in the past Comdex was like a temporary IT version of the Eaton’s Centre. Today, it’s more like a boutique, and that’s a good thing. I remember booths in the Comdexes of yore that were overrun with visitors, leaving vendors unable to effectively allocate their resources. As one sales rep on today’s show floor pointed out to me, it’s possible to take the time to develop the beginnings of a real relationship with both visitors — the sort of relationships that turn these visitors into partners or customers.

Due to my own schedule, I have never spent less time at Comdex Canada than I have this year. It was really less than a full day. In that time I heard a great keynote speech from an industry veteran (see today’s news), had a fascinating discussion with some major outsourcing companies and saw the best of the industry’s latest products. That’s not bad value for a busy professional on the go. And unlike David Usher’s performance last night, I’ll be back next year waiting for the encore.

sschick@itbusiness.ca

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