March 12, 2007 11:08 AM PDT

CeBit gets a face-lift

Europe's biggest technology conference is changing to keep itself relevant in a new trade show era.

CeBit, which is scheduled to begin Thursday, is undergoing a "180-degree shift in focus" in line with changing market dynamics, according to Sven-Michael Prüser, the trade show's senior vice president. Next year, the conference floors will be divided into areas that mirror CeBit's three key types of attendees: professional users, public workers, and "digital lifestyle" retailers and distributors.

"The idea is to design the floor plan in such a way that buyers can find things easily," Prüser said last week. "Basically, the same companies will be exhibiting, but they'll not be showing products so much as solutions."

"If you look at the late 1980s, it was the boom time for shows. They were massive because technologists went, and they had budgets. IT directors would go from stand to stand, and would be prepared to spend a lot of money."
--Clive Longbottom, service director, Quocirca

Instead of displaying its newest processors, for example, Prüser said Intel would partner with game console makers to "showcase how its products are being used."

Emerging technologies such as telematics are also slated to get more visibility in the show's halls, with displays designed to help visitors understand how a technology can benefit them. User organizations will likewise be asked to provide best-practice advice to peers based on their own implementation experiences.

In addition, a wide range of buyer-to-vendor "matchmaking" services are in the works. Such services were first offered five years ago to facilitate partnership talks between midsize companies in Latin America and the European Union.

If shows such as CeBit, which first opened its doors 21 years ago, don't reinvent themselves, they'll die. So says Clive Longbottom, a service director at British research firm Quocirca.

"If you look at the late 1980s, it was the boom time for shows," Longbottom said. "They were massive because technologists went, and they had budgets. IT directors would go from stand to stand, and would be prepared to spend a lot of money."

By the late 1990s, attendees were largely "tire kickers" attending "to see what was sexy, but (they) had little influence--let alone buying capability," Longbottom said.

The demographic shift led to the demise of the large-scale generic IT event Comdex, which was held annually in Las Vegas, "because it was just geeks in the end," Longbottom said. "The vendors were saying, 'We've been charged X amount of money for a stand, and we've got no leads and no return on investment.'"

As a result, he said, most big technology shows in the United States are now oriented toward specific vertical markets such as retail or toward software categories such as customer relationship management; more focused generally means more cost-effective.

CONTINUED: Exhibitors to see an ROI?…
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