Computer Shows… what happened to them?

A couple of our consultants attended a local computer show this week and reported back on the lack of software companies exhibiting. Not only that, there were more exhibitionists (you know what I mean!) than punters and the whole thing seemed to be just another opportunity for old computer-industry pals to shoot the breeze and share a skinny latte.

I do miss the big computer shows of days gone by. Who can forget the Which Computer? Show or the Accounting Software Show at the NEC in Birmingham?

Sadly, they disappeared for various reasons: cost – these shows were expensive and after the Year2000 debacle, software companies never really had the money to throw around anymore; business user apathy – most of what you want to find out about systems can be done through a good trawl of the web; and suppliers who decided they could provide the same ‘show’ experience via a webinar (which they can’t).

For me, these computer shows of old, showcasing the latest and greatest in accounting software, business intelligence, CRM, products for vertical markets and so forth served a couple of unique purposes.

They let existing users come along and see how the next release was looking and offered a chance to have a good go at the supplier if he was dragging his feet over release dates. I still recall with amusement sitting in a presentation on the next release of a well-known software product (let’s call it ‘Moon’ Accounts) and having to ease my way out of the room as irate users bombarded the speaker with angry questions because the promised updates were well overdue.

The show was also an opportunity to see what the opposition were up to. Complacency is a terrible thing. We’ve sold Microsoft Dynamics NAV or Navision as it was called back then for more than 16 years and we never gave up thinking it was the best product on the planet. So, a visit to the accounting software show meant you could sign up for all of your rivals’ presentation sessions and see what they had that you didn’t. It could be an eye opener. Shock horror.. sometimes we were behind the curve!

The shows may be gone but they’re not completely dead. We plan to run our own show “Turnkey 2013” early next year. If we can’t go to the show, the show will have to come to us and, who knows, the exhibitionists might be outnumbered!

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At Turnkey we’re wondering if the IT industry pull a rabbit out of the hat in 2011?

2011 is being marketed as “The Year of the Cloud” meaning that the hosting of IT systems off-premise is set to take off. For someone who has experienced more ‘The year of’ stories than I would care to mention in my 25+ years in computing, I have become a tad cynical whenever the industry hypes the ‘next big thing’.

However, when major suppliers like Microsoft tell you that the vast majority of their R&D expenditure for business software is targeted on making it available as a hosted solution, then you have to take notice. Taking notice not perhaps for the best of reasons i.e. that it’s the right way to go, but more because a company with the clout of Microsoft will inevitably have a major say in how these things pan out.

That’s not to say there aren’t good reasons for moving to hosting – no upfront capital spend, identifiable and manageable expenditure, no expensive IT people to employ (and struggle to comprehend), upgrades and updates delivered seamlessly, you-focus-on-running-your-business-and-we’ll-look-after-the-IT etc. It all sounds eminently sensible, but…. there are always the ‘buts’.

For the number crunchers there’s always this nagging doubt that it’s actually going to cost them more. And for the business owners, the worry that ‘their data’ i.e. their customers, contacts, prospects, profitability, cash flow and so forth is not locked securely within their building but is floating about somewhere up in that ‘cloud’.

2011, in Chinese terms, will be the ‘Year of the Rabbit’ which I have to say sounds a tad unexciting. So, is the Microsoft alternative, ‘2011 – the year of the cloud’, likely to generate some excitement in the IT industry?

For it to really take off, we have to address these concerns and convince the sceptical number crunchers and business owners that we really do have a value for money, credible alternative to a roomful of servers and lots of sophisticated, expensive PCs scattered around the office.

And, perhaps most importantly, we have to convince them that it’s not another of the IT industry’s cunning ploys to part them from their money. I mean, it’s 10 years on and they still haven’t forgiven us for the Y2K debacle!