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How vendor conferences help customers, analysts and press

I recently attended EMC World and the IBM Edge conferences in Las Vegas, and was struck by how these shows have changed the industry. Not too long ago, industry-wide shows such as Storage Networking World (SNW) were the primary events to meet with vendors for a broad view of each vendor’s product focus and strategy. Now, vendors hold their own conferences — often in Las Vegas — that are lavish productions.

The conferences are major investments for the vendors, although partners pay to exhibit in the Expo Hall and attendees may have to pay to defray some of the cost.

Attendees include customers ranging from executives that may be escorted by their vendor sales reps to technical engineers who make things work and are looking for product information. The vendor’s resellers and distributors also attend. Analysts are invited to listen to the general keynotes and then get briefed by executives on the company’s future strategy and current successes. Most vendors give analysts one-on-one sessions with the executives to get a deeper understanding of direction and motivation. I value these greatly because they help me explain vendor directions to our IT clients.

The media also attends, often with a heavy influx of foreign press. There is usually a separate session for the press and it focuses more on current technologies than the future plans that analysts get briefed on.

The vendor conference is a chance to hear what is new from a product standpoint. Vendors are increasingly adjusting product announcement schedules to coincide with their conferences. Some even time product launches to come at the same time as a competitor’s conference. The new information gets attention from analysts, press, and customers focused on that conference.

But the real value of the conference is not what products the vendors present or how they are helping to solve all the world’s problems. It really centers on the vendor’s strategic direction. Sometimes that direction gets muddled in big picture marketing talk, but there is value in sorting that out.

Post-conference, analysts write product reviews and the press reports on what is new or different. Customers may add new vendor products to their evaluations or learn new ways to optimize their current systems. Attendees may also need to reduce caloric intake after eating and drinking too much at the conference. In the case of Las Vegas, the lengthy walking requirements do not compensate for the other indulgences.

(Randy Kerns is Senior Strategist at Evaluator Group, an IT analyst firm).