CeBIT is changing. The IT trade show first opened its doors in Hanover, northern Germany, 21 years ago, and will do so again between 15 and 21 March 2007. But 2008 will be different, as the event undertakes a "180° shift in focus", in line with changing market dynamics, says Sven Prüser, CeBIT's senior vice president.
So what's going on and why is such a change deemed necessary? Clive Longbottom, a service director at Quocirca, believes that shows such as CeBIT have to reinvent themselves or die. "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," he says.
By the late 1990s, however, the demographic had changed to "tyre-kickers" who were attending "to see what was sexy, but had little influence let alone buying capability". This led to the demise of large-scale generic events such as Comdex, which was held annually in Las Vegas, "because it was just geeks in the end and 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'," says Longbottom.
As a result, most big shows in the US are now oriented to specific vertical markets such as retail or technologies such as CRM, because they are more focused and generally more cost-effective.
Although Longbottom acknowledges that CeBIT is still probably the largest IT trade show in the world, he also points to the fact that visitor numbers have halved from a peak of 850,000 in 2001 to about 424,000 in 2006. Moreover, big names such as Lenovo, Motorola and Nokia have all hit the headlines over recent months saying that they will not be paying for exhibition stands this year.
Lenovo says of its decision not to attend the show: "Lenovo does not have a booth at CeBIT 2007. The company focuses in Germany on marketing activities that show a direct return-on-investment like road shows or partner-recruiting events."
But Prüser is sanguine. "If organisations have nothing to show, then it's probably better not to appear. But Motorola and Nokia are. They'll have a lot of people at the exhibition and will be co-exhibitors with Vodafone. So they'll occupy some of the space that Vodafone rents, which is a cost-saving and a very efficient thing to do," he says.
As for visitor numbers, while Prüser acknowledges that they have fallen since 2001 when "the industry was dominated by the dot-com economy and was having a champagne party", he also says that they have now stabilised.
He also believes that the quality of attendee has improved since those heady days. Six years ago, "a lot of visitors came just to be informed about the market, which was good for us, but bad for the exhibitors as they were mainly just talking", but that has now changed.
"The number of people wanting to do business on the spot has now increased tremendously. About 85 percent of visitors are business or IT decision-makers and there are, of course, also retailers, dealers and distributors, which want to keep in touch with new technical developments and talk to suppliers to help them plan for the year ahead," Prüser says.
Moreover, he adds, CeBIT "is still the most international show in the world", with foreign visitors remaining fairly consistent at about one quarter of the total or 104,000 in 2006.
The statistics come from a sample survey that is undertaken among about 5,000 attendees each year. The figures are independently audited and approved by Ernst & Young before being provided to exhibitors.
But Prüser also accepts that shows such as CeBIT need to change in line with...