After years of struggling to fill convention centres for its flagship IT event, MediaLive International Inc. and Financial Insights, an IDC company, recently announced the forthcoming FS4Toronto, a roundtable conference bringing together

IT executives with their counterparts in financial services.

MediaLive has already signed up Microsoft, Oracle, Allstream and several other firms as early sponsors for the two-day event, which will take place at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre on Nov. 8-9.

Pipeline recently spoke with Eric Davies, executive director, MediaLive International Canada, about why the industry needs FS4Toronto now.

Pipeline: When did the concept for this show get developed?

Eric Davies: The genesis of this actually came from some of our founding gold sponsors. When we retired Comdex as a brand, it was because the world understood that, at least here in Canada, a very broad-based IT event was not what was needed. We needed to get a laser focus on the market. When we said, “”What’s needed?”” the consensus was what’s needed was vertical market approaches. Secondarily, what was needed most right now was something in financial services. There was not an IT business-focused event for financial services. As we talked around the city to executives within the FIs, we kept coming back to several key elements. One is that there is still today and maybe even more so, greater tension within the FIs between the demands on IT by things like regulatory compliance, government, security, risk management — you know, headquarters kinds of things. And the demand on resources for that — and no new resources being allocated — and yet a demand by the business lines to be creative, to be innovative, to develop new products, to go to market with new products, and the demands that created.

Pipeline: After years of developing Comdex, you’re no doubt familiar with the IT audience, but how did you refine your approach for this show, given it was a different segment of the business community?

ED: All of the content for the conference came out of conversations we had with FI executives, both on the technology side and on the business side. Whenever we had a resonant theme coming from the business side, we would test that out in the next three conversations with IT, to see what their response was. When we came up with the over-aching theme of customer centricity, that seemed to be something that everybody could agree upon — that all brand value is ultimately is in the perception of the customer. In the time we live in, there is no delivery of any service to anybody that is not done through IT infrastructure and the applications. How well that is done, with the customer sitting at the center of that, is the key to how successful these enterprises are going to be.

Pipeline: Your events have taken on much more of an educational focus, but is there going to be any element of a traditional exhibition?

ED: There will be a small exhibits hall. This is clearly first and foremost a professional development conference, but there is an exhibits all. All the gold sponsors are there with larger exhibits, and the people who have vertical market solutions will be there as well.

Pipeline: How are you reaching out to the FI community to generate demand for registration?

ED: Well, there’s the traditional methods. We’re in the mail with 35,000 direct mail pieces. We’re in your publications, we’re elsewhere. But probably the most significant things we’re doing is a very concentrated, targeted telemarketing effort backed up with an e-mail viral networking (campaign).

Pipeline: What do you expect your audience to take away from the event?

ED: My favourite way of saying it is what’s in the ad in Computing Canada — it’s the “”A-ha!”” moments. It’s the insights. The way this conference is constructed is all roundtables. So everyone is in a conversation. The idea is it’s peer to peer rather than a so-called expert standing up and pitching. There’s no pitching. It’s content experts, it’s IDC analysts at the table, ourselves and then the attendees. And the attendees have an equal stake in what they bring to the conference.

Pipeline: Will FS4Toronto remain in Toronto or is the idea to expand it across the country?

ED: This certainly will start out in Toronto. The idea is to take it elsewhere in Canada as the first step. This is a uniquely Canadian event. We think there is a lot about financial services in Canada that deserves to have a bigger play in the North American market. And this is one of the ways to do that.

Pipeline: Love it or hate it, no brand is as recognized in the IT industry as Comdex. How will you be working to create similar recognition around FS4Toronto?

ED: When you have a very targeted brand like this, it takes about three years for it to burn in and be recognized. When you’re very focused, it takes less time then when you’re very broad and horizontal.

Pipeline: What’s it been like trying to line up the appropriate mix of experts for the roundtables?

ED: That process is going on right now. Yesterday we had two lovely conversations with BMO, the other with a senior vice-president of another major financial institution, both of whom will be in the executive solutions roundtables conferences. That’s the level that we’re getting. When we’re having conversations and we talk the message, they get it. We’re not having a problem.

Pipeline: You’re offering more flexibility with this event, where people don’t have to commit to a full day. Why?

ED: The whole intent here is we know people are busy. They need to be able to look at the schedule and look at what fits their needs, whether it’s in one half-day of two half-days or whatever it is, get out of their offices, go to whatever it is and go back to work.

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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