IT Management: IT events: community, content, commerce

Trade shows and other gatherings of IT professionals provide a forum for sharing ideas and developing a sense of community.

Romi Mahajan

There’s a broad misconception about trade shows and events, and the role they play in the IT industry. In the standard view, technology trade shows are about vendors selling their wares as IT buyers prowl the halls looking for deals. This isn’t a crazy, absurd or misguided view, but it only represents a single aspect of these events and the spectacular and important place they have in nurturing the IT ecosystem. Buying and selling does indeed take place at these events, but in reality, that activity is tertiary.

Building community is the primary reason IT professionals spend their valuable time, money and energy going to trade shows. In fact, IT professionals have a long and distinguished history of building community and fostering that community as a critical hub of ideas, innovation and, ultimately, success.

So what is community? Channeling several incredible authors and thinkers such as Jono Bacon, community represents:

  • A trusted group of peers and practitioners
  • An intellectual “safe space” to openly discuss ideas
  • A support structure for intellectual and financial nourishment
  • A collaborative web of people, ideas, projects and companies
  • A source of innervation and a sounding board for frustrations and laments

Does this sound familiar? IT events act as a convergence point for all these needs. As such, they’re a key source of inspiration and nourishment to IT professionals. Face-to-face interaction and the evocative aspects of being in a crowd of like-minded people is crucial to the development of all professionals. This is true even more so for IT professionals who are given few institutional opportunities to be autonomous.

That’s not to imply that events are the only community formation. User groups, peer groups, online forums and hallway conversations are all part of the broader community. However, events form the apex of community. IT managers should demand more budget and more time for their teams to attend trade shows.

Content is the second reason for IT professionals to attend trade shows. The IT profession is about constant learning. IT professionals and managers need to learn about new technologies and new methods, but also about new people making waves and new ways of conceptualizing business and the role of IT.

Countless surveys indicate that IT professionals need more time to learn, be proactive and upgrade their skills. IT is always an innovative component of any company. This innovation has to be fueled by learning and connection to thoughtful, technical, and provocative content. Trade shows provide intense content experiences that are difficult to duplicate in an asynchronous or distributed environment.

A key insight about the content provided at IT events is that learning happens in a non-linear fashion. Instead of simply imbibing what’s being taught, IT professionals extract concepts that they often run by their peers and communities. Thus, learning is a dialectic process you can measure through the vector of the intense physical nature of trade shows.

Third on the list for IT professionals is the usual suspect—commerce. However, even commerce is considered with too much simplicity when it comes to IT professionals and IT purchases. A trivial conception is that an IT buyer happens upon a great vendor and decides to buy its products right then and there. That’s rarely the case.

What really happens during trade shows is that IT buyers are introduced to new products, services and ideas that develop into purchases well after the show is over. That doesn’t imply the show made no difference. In fact, events are commerce enablers and promoters. They’re the stage that combines all these elements.

The combination of community, content and the culture of interaction spawned by trade shows creates and fosters the notion of commerce. No one buys IT products simply for the sake of having the latest and greatest. They buy to solve real business problems. Those solutions are determined through the rich interactions that take place with community and content. And with that, this circle is complete, with the elements of community, content and culture forming a whole.

Old paradigms die hard. Long-cherished myths about what drives different groups of people in the enterprise are similarly enduring. Within this group for whom community is the single biggest priority, trade shows and physical events are the nodal points in which months of thought and innovation are assembled. What emerges from this are the thinkers and doers equipped to drive value and change.

Romi Mahajan

Romi Mahajan is president of KKM Group. Prior to joining KKM, Mahajan was chief marketing officer of Ascentium Corp. A well-known speaker on the technology and media circuit, he serves on a variety of advisory boards and speaks at more than a dozen industry events per year.