What is the purpose of industry trade shows? That is a question many Parisian IS managers might have been pondering in the bars and cafes of the French capital when Comdex France started earlier this month. They were certainly not out in force at the Porte de Versailles exhibition center in the graffiti-scarred southern suburbs […]
What is the purpose of industry trade shows? That is a question many Parisian IS managers might have been pondering in the bars and cafes of the French capital when Comdex France started earlier this month. They were certainly not out in force at the Porte de Versailles exhibition center in the graffiti-scarred southern suburbs of Paris, begging the question of whether trade shows such as Comdex have a future? Why waste time and money at such shows when all the information a forward looking IS manager needs is easily available at the click of a URL? One of the problems with trade shows is that it is rare that anything interesting ever happens at them. As if to prove the point, Intel clone-maker Advanced Micro Devices Inc recently admitted that it had canceled conference appearances to avoid difficult questions about its do-or-die shift to 0.25 micron processes, a strategy Intel Corp itself has followed in the past. To be fair, Comdex attracted respectable audiences to the sideshow – the conferences held every morning in the spacious auditorium of the Palais des Sports, next door to the exhibition center. Here, people could see Jo Lernout, chairman of speech recognition company Lernout & Hauspie NV, demonstrate Voice Express. Sadly, it did not quite work. I think I’ve got a problem with feedback, wailed Lernout’s embarrassed assistant. The audience laughed. Also present were Robert Palmer, president of Digital Equipment Corp, and Eckhard Pfeiffer, chief executive and president of Compaq Computer Corp, just eight days after the two men had agreed the $9.6bn takeover of Digital by Compaq. A coup for the conference organizers? Not quite. Although the audience was clearly hungry for more information about the biggest computer industry takeover in history, for legal reasons, the two could give little away. The air of disappointment was palpable. But the undoubted star of the show, even ahead of French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, was Bill Gates who was in a bullish mood. After years of practice Gates knows how to deliver a speech with chutzpah. This year’s theme, one which will no doubt be repeated at trade shows around the world for the next six months, was the digital nervous system or the importance of networking and internetworking on the enterprise of the future – a new way of selling an old message. And Gates also made the case for his company against the US Department of Justice, as well as the European Commission. Bill’s pitch? That basically, Microsoft is really a minnow. We are only 4% of the software industry and less than 1% of the computer industry. That’s why we need partners, stressed Gates. Back in the exhibition center, business was slow. Attendees milled nonchalantly from stand to stand, while the salesmen, in many cases, preferred to spend their time slumped in their chairs, reading newspapers, slurping coffee and scoffing croissants. Because in a city as exciting and diverse as Paris, who wants to go to a computer show?