Reasons to register

I usually experience a sudden surge in popularity as Comdex Canada draws near.

Friends of mine who have a passing interest in computers ask me if I can get them passes for the show. My mother, who knew a network administrator, thought I could get him inside for free. I also got a call

from a consultant, who once phoned me offering to write a freelance story if he could register as media (note to organizers: double-check all journalists’ credentials). This year, the phone is quiet.

Comdex Canada would probably never have gotten as large as the flagship show in Las Vegas that takes place each fall, but there have always been reasons to look forward to it: hot new products, free T-shirts and trinkets, parties from major vendors and distributors. This year there are fewer vendors exhibiting, principally because there are fewer vendors still in business. Some, like Supercom, have decided not to host a party this year. A tight rein on budgets and increased concerns over the opportunity costs of letting staff attend a trade show may bring down attendance numbers as well.

Advocating that the industry flock to Comdex in a downturn makes me feel a bit like Tom Cruise justifying the Academy’s decision to go ahead with the Oscars in the months after Sept. 11. Even though I get no direct benefit from it, to argue that the show must go on seems self-serving, particularly given the fact that the other editors and I are taking part in it.

On the other hand, we wouldn’t be involved as the official media sponsor if we didn’t feel there was value in the conference. Last year we launched the ITBusiness theatre, where we interviewed keynote speakers one-on-one and hosted panels with industry experts on issues we’ve explored in our magazines. As you will see from the listing available online today, we have worked even harder this year to contribute to the Comdex experience.

Our stage is in the middle of the show floor, and with good reason. Comdex Canada organizers Key3Media have indicated this year’s event is becoming more educational than product-focused, and there is certainly some truth in that. But I’ve always enjoyed the chance for serendipity that can come from browsing through the exhibits. You may find the product you need. You may run into an old acquaintance or make a new contact. Or you may come across our theatre at the very moment you want to get a discussion going with some of our featured panelists and speakers. I don’t think Comdex was ever simply a product fair, nor is it now just a three-day training session. Education has to be integrated with what’s exhibited, and vice-versa.

Even when the market was booming, there were rumours that Comdex was losing its relevance. I should know — I wrote at least two stories saying so. The trend seemed to be towards niche events that concentrated on a specific technology, like wireless gadgets, or operating systems like Linux. It’s possible that the former “”Computer Dealer Exhibition,”” as Comdex was once known, was trying to cover an industry that has grown too large for a single show. It will be interesting to see if, in the market’s reduced circumstances, whether the event matches the scope of the industry.

The words “”complete solution”” come up a lot in IT. It’s a cliche that’s overused, but it applies to industry conferences as well. Niche shows can allow us to get in-depth information on specific products and trends, but they don’t always give us the opportunity to make connections with other products, other trends. This is why Comdex has a future, and why it should be a part of your future as an IT professional. I have always learned more at the show than at any other event, and even though it’s still about five days away, I’m sure I will this year as well. It’s still worth it.

sschick@itbusiness.ca

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