User indifference hurts chances of Comdex revival

A lack of interest may have killed Comdex 2004, but the real challenge for the organisers is to make sure the show isn't killed...

A lack of interest among top IT suppliers may have killed Comdex 2004, but the real challenge confronting the organisers is to ensure that a lack of interest among IT professionals doesn't kill the show altogether. 

MediaLive International shocked the IT community last week when it cancelled this November's Comdex show.

MediaLive said the show could have been profitable, but a lack of interest from major IT suppliers such as IBM and Dell meant that it wouldn't be a worthwhile draw for corporate IT users. 

Instead, the company said it would skip this year's show to "reshape the event with the co-operation of information technology industry leaders" and get it ready for November 2005.

MediaLive has established a Comdex Advisory Board that includes representatives from major IT companies to help determine how the show can best meet the industry's future needs. 

Eric Goldfarb, chief information officer at financial services company PRG-Schultz International, said a one-year hiatus is "prudent ... rather than killing the show completely from lack of support. 

"To me, what they're trying to do is tune the agenda and try to get it so there's more incentives for vendors to show up." 

Philip Brody, chief technology officer for the Clark County School District in Nevada, said the show's absence this year would not be a loss for him or his IT staff. "In the past, it had always been too big," he said.

Industry-specific shows are more useful "because they are more application-oriented", said Randy James, chief information officer at Americo Life. Jones added that although he has attended Comdex several times in recent years, he did not plan to go in November. 

"I think Comdex is the first of a long list of potential trade-show dropouts," said Scot Klimke chief information officer at Network Appliance, who prefers more targeted events to get information.

"I wonder whether CeBIT [America], now in its second year, Gartner's IT Expo and even the venerable Consumer Electronics Show can survive in the era of a maturing market, tight expense budgets and all the alternatives available to buyers." 

Others said they see value in Comdex and are dismayed by its cancellation. 

Henry Volkman, chief information officer and IT director at restaurant chain Del Taco, said he has "always found the show useful, even though most of us aren't able to implement the latest innovations where we work until they are almost old hat".

General IT shows like Comdex are as valuable as the more targeted shows, he said, "since the field gets more dynamic every year and continues to grow beyond anyone's ability to put it in one tent or a single event". 

Dell spokesman Jess Blackburn said his company has not had a major booth on the Comdex floor because "we just reached a determination several years ago that the trade-show format for us was not particularly effective". 

Instead, Dell last year had several self-serve kiosks where attendees could order Dell computers. The company prefers to have more personalised meetings with customers in hotel suites outside the exhibit hall, Blackburn said. 

Last year's Comdex was slimmed down and touted by MediaLive as a focused, business-to-business IT event instead of a glitzy consumer-oriented show.

About 40,000 people attended in 2003, down from around 200,000 in its heyday in the 1990s. 

Eric Faurot, general manager of Comdex, said a key to again making Comdex a must-see event is to get the major IT vendors back on the show floor so products can be compared more fully.

"We're talking with everybody, and that's exactly what the [Comdex Advisory] Board is going to address," he said.

"The reality is it takes time to get trust back."

Todd R Weiss writes for Computerworld

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