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A Comdex mea culpa

Comdex general manager Eric Faurot explains how the once-acclaimed trade show fell into a funk.

How did we end up here?

Like any industry that's emerging from a fast-growth, trend-conscious adolescence, the information technology industry faces the challenges of adulthood. For many years, Comdex was the most popular IT show around. In an industry for which popularity equaled success, nothing was more important.

We lost focus, and to a great extent, we lost relevance to the community we serve.
During the tech boom, Comdex also reflected the prevailing frenzy by becoming everything to everyone: It's a conference, it's a trade show, it's all-night parties at which I can test-drive a Mercedes. A circuslike atmosphere permeated the IT industry. Comdex was happy to comply with the chaos when it instead should have been working to distill the elements most critical to buyers and sellers.

When the name of the game was numbers, Comdex played that game better than anyone else. However, like many major technology providers, we neglected to notice that the needs of our buyers were changing. As a result, we lost focus, and to a great extent, we lost relevance to the community we serve.

During the buildup to the headiest times of the Internet boom, customers like IBM, Intel and Dell told us that we needed to provide a more focused event. But for too long, Comdex straddled the line between consumer and business-to-business IT. When the market collapsed, we consequently experienced dramatic drops in attendance and exhibitor participation. The overall quality of the Comdex experience suffered, and we needed to decide what we wanted to be when we grew up.

Comdex is an IT business-to-business event, not a consumer technology event. It was supposed to bring buyers and sellers together in the most efficient, effective way. Next week's event in Las Vegas will be more targeted.

We have instituted an attendee qualification process that requires attendees who have not qualified through our methodology to pay a $50 entrance fee.

Comdex needed to grow up.
About 90 percent of our preregistered attendees are actually involved in the corporate buying process. In addition, we have eliminated the consumer technologies, the camera companies and the car companies, and we've gotten back to basics--to IT buyers' needs.

Comdex needed to grow up, because it was in an industry slow to emerge from adolescence. Our customers demanded more accountability and better returns on their investments. That forced us to make the tough decisions that a previously strong economy had made easy to ignore.

That said, we anticipate skepticism and anger due to the changes. The floor will be smaller, and there will no longer be impromptu rock concerts in the halls. What's more, it's unlikely that you'll be able to clothe 15 of your closest friends with vendor T-shirts and hats.

I know that my Comdex team still has heavy lifting to do. The trade show floor has yet to catch up to the other significant changes we have accomplished since coming out of bankruptcy in June. Still, we are working to meet the needs of our attendees and exhibitors. Our $870 billion-dollar IT market requires an event that provides buyers with a comprehensive and objective view of their market.

Comdex is more than a trade show; it's a community and a necessary forum for the IT industry.