Why Vendor Events Are Useless
By John Parkinson
I seldom go to major vendor events any more. They've gotten so big that you can't actually get anything useful done and I already own too many of the various give away items that abound at 'partner" booths at these things.
They always seem to be in inconvenient locations (at least if you live in the Northern Midwest they're inconvenient) and I hate the travel. Every now and again, however, something comes to Chicago that looks like it could be interesting or useful, and I sign up.
Inevitably I regret it. Yesterday was no exception.
I like the vendor's roadmap (which I get briefed on periodically, anyway) and smart portfolio approach to the market. The event was pretty easy to get to, so I decided to go along and see what they were telling everyone else about their plans and products.
To the vendor's credit, they had a very open and interactive environment set up (monitored Twitter and Facebook sites) and I was able to comment (using an iPhone app; who needs a PC to do this anymore?) throughout the day, and share thoughts with the few other people who seem to use social media this way - amazingly few for a large group of technologists.
Unfortunately, the vendor had carpet-bombed the area with invitations and the venue was overwhelmed. Cramming too many people into a poorly conceived venue layout just makes everyone mad. You can't move around. There is nowhere to sit. The facilities are overwhelmed. Actually having a conversation is impossible.
And the "anyone can attend" approach tends to create too much diversity in the crowd, so it's hard to have the right level of interaction on the rare occasions it's possible. I bet the sponsors were annoyed too. Having a crowd is great. Having so large a crowd that no one can stop for a chat, ask questions and make connections isn't great.
The keynotes were pretty good. This vendor has a very strong story to tell and generally tells it well, with a refreshing degree of realism and with some balance and humor - at least from the senior executives who do keynotes.
And then there were the breakout sessions.
I should know by now that vendor breakouts will be run by lobotomized product marketing androids saturated with Kool-Aid. Even so, I can only be told so many times that "we are the only company that can do this" when I'm already doing exactly the same thing without the benefit of their participation.
This kind of over-the-top rhetoric destroys credibility and ends up being so patronizing -- "only we are smart enough to figure this out" -- that I (and it turns out a lot of other folks) just get mad at the presentation style and many don't then see past the idiocy to the value that's actually there in the ideas.
Why do vendors do this? Particularly when the un-embellished story is really good - and the time would be much better spent in answering questions from a clearly engaged audience instead of bragging and telling weak jokes.
I left early. Oh well.
John Parkinson, the former CTO of TransUnion LLC, has been a technology executive and consultant for over 30 years, advising many of the world's leading companies on the issues associated with the effective use of IT. Click here to read his columns in CIO Insight's print edition.