As a magazine, Computer Reseller News gets to visit and cover a lot of IT events, exhibitions and shows all over the world. While the jet-setting lifestyle may seem glamorous, most shows are hectic, sweaty, frenzied, stressful affairs, held in dreary venues.
The rule of thumb goes like this: the bigger the event, the more homogeneous the surroundings. So, no matter where you land on our varied and wonderful planet, once you've seen one glitzy, decked-out aircraft hangar, you've seen them all. There are exceptions to this, but not many.
Anyone who has visited the summer TMA show in Brighton will tell you it's a lot more pleasurable than traipsing aimlessly around the halls of Birmingham's NEC. The ability to escape to the seafront, as opposed to the car park, in less than 60 seconds is a major bonus.
Then again, anyone who has been to the endless, noisy, surreal halls of the CeBIT show in Hanover usually ends up begging to be dumped back in Birmingham.
But there is a serious side to shows, events and exhibitions, for which many professionals are willing to risk warm plastic sandwiches, overflowing loos, strobe lighting and polystyrene cups of vile, steaming concoctions masquerading as tea and coffee.
With Monte Carlo as the venue, location is just one thing that sets the System Builder Summit/Integrator Forum Europe 2001 event apart from most shows. At least here the attendees know they will not be staying in the nearest airport hotel, overlooking six-lane motorways. The luxury Beach Plaza Hotel in Monaco suits the exclusivity of its visitors because, not unlike the high-stakes poker games held in Monte Carlo's casinos, it is by invitation only.
The location is not to everyone's taste. One Dutch vendor recently complained about the venue, saying it distracted from proper business. He suggested relocating to Frankfurt, and was thankfully ignored.
The leading suppliers
Integrator Forum Europe, as it was originally known, started in 1998 with the sole purpose of bringing the major manufacturers of PC components together with Europe's top 200 tier two and three PC builders. Over 60 major component and software vendors will attend, representing the leading suppliers of chips, hard drives, optical storage, multimedia, peripheral and networks equipment, among others.
The vendors' list is a Who's Who of the IT industry, with Microsoft, Intel, AMD, Creative, Lucent, and nVidia all represented. Even better for the system builders in attendance is that, apart from flights, the vendors pick up the tab.
To stand a chance of qualifying for the guest list, system builders must earn at least half of their turnover from PC sales and build a minimum of 5000 PCs a year.
Those who attend invariably build and shift a lot more boxes than that, but since it is a pan-European event, smaller system builders from less developed markets are also in attendance. In all, system builders from about 30 European and Middle Eastern countries will be invited.
"The event has become very successful in such a short time," said Dimitri Granovsky, director of Integrator Forum Europe. "For instance, last year the system builders at the event represented sales of about 3.5 million PCs in Europe. This year, the 200 attendees will be responsible for 12.7 million PC sales."
After just three years, Integrator Forum Europe was snapped up by Gartner Events, a division of the Gartner Group. The name change to System Builder Summit may sound a bit over the top, but it is intended to help cement the fit with the US version, which targets the same market and has been running for 15 years.
In fact, AMD, one of the key vendors at the European event, picked up an award for the Best Hardware Product at Gartner's System Builder Summit in Orlando this month.
Despite the name change, almost everything else about the European event has been left intact, much to the liking of those who have been there before. The original organiser, Integrator Forum, is still in charge of setting up and running most aspects of the event.
"This is quite a successful event," claimed Robert Stead, European marketing director at AMD. "I've seen the show grow and improve in structure and content over the last few years. With Gartner involved, there is an opportunity for it to provide delegates with more up-to-date information on the market, not to mention showcasing its other services."
A wider audience
Granovsky added: "When Gartner acquired the event last May, it was great news for us as it suddenly gave the show real recognition, opening it up to a wider audience. And, of course, the information we can now deliver will be of high quality. Gartner will have industry experts and analysts there to make presentations throughout the event."
Ruud van Nispen, vice president of business development and general manager of Ingram Micro Frameworks, agreed. "Gartner's involvement means there will definitely be more reliable information on the market in general. In addition, the company's professionalism might help further improve what is already a very good show," he said.
Bob Garrett, European marketing manager at Creative Labs, said: "Gartner's involvement adds to the profile of the show and, potentially, they can bring in new ideas. Maybe there will be some trading of sections and formats between the European and US events. The other thing they can do is feed in a lot of top research on the overall markets and technological trends. That said, it's good that the previous management team are still running the show."
So what is the allure, apart from an almost-free jaunt to one of the hottest European resorts?
"When you do something on a regular basis there is definitely a community spirit," said Stead. "The type of people who come are in high-level positions; the type who make big decisions. Although business is carried out at the show, the days of going to events and signing multimillion-pound orders are gone. You build partnerships and keep people up to date. It's a great opportunity for getting everyone up to speed and growing the relationship outside of the business arena."
Garrett also believes that the level of delegate is important at the event. "The people representing the system builder community are usually very senior - chief executives, marketing directors and the like. Although you do have technology discussions, most discussions are more business based, covering topics from margins and macroeconomics to purchasing trends."
Nispen said: "This show is important for us. The difference between this type of show and the other booth-based shows is that system builders have a chance to properly understand what the products are about while getting a glimpse into what is coming in the future. Since the show is not so crowded, there is plenty of opportunity for one-to-ones, and each vendor also gives details on current and future products."
One of the key things about the Summit is that it is not a pressured event, said Garrett. "If you go to exhibitions or large shows, discussions tend to be fairly brief as people have to move on to the next stand or event. There's usually a rigid show format and at the end of the day there's no room for further discussion. At this show, everyone has an opportunity to talk to exactly who they need to," he explained.
The relaxed nature of the show stems, in part, from the restricted numbers, but also from the fact that many of the attendees know and do business with each other already.
Without the desperation of signing up new accounts and impressing the media, the real business of the day - trading information - proceeds without too much pressure. It is catered for by a variety of forums and break-out sessions that allow system builders and vendors to speak with the relevant people.
Garrett said: "We've been on board since the event started, and are a great supporter of it because gathering the key integrators from around Europe to talk about the issues they face is a great way of getting a snapshot of the European PC market. We call them the local heroes, since they usually focus on their own markets. But at the show, everyone gets a chance to see how different the PC markets in other countries can be.
"For instance, the PC markets are different as some countries are dominated by different models: retail, online or channel. It lets one system builder explain what it has tried and why it has worked, while system builders from other countries will explain why it would not work for them. Although we meet these companies all the time, it is useful to have fast meetings with one supplier from one country, followed by one from another. You get a great overview.
"In our presentations, we show what we think will happen in the market for the coming year, what we are planning and our new products. We get immediate feedback, and believe me, the conversations can be quite lively."
With the depressed US economy threatening to drag the rest of the world with it, times have never been more uncertain for system builders. That's why events such as this are vital, regardless of the venue. Anything that helps plot a safe and profitable course through the fickle trends and price wars of the PC arena is greatly appreciated.
While not an endangered species, system builders have seen some decline in recent years, and comparing last year's attendee roster with this year's reveals that some system builders no longer make the cut, while others no longer exist.
Granovsky said: "The market is very tough for system builders now, which is probably due, in part, to the economic slowdown. There is a slowdown in demand, fierce competition, financial pressures and problems with availability, all of which make things difficult. It is clear that in some countries, such as France, there's a big shake-up coming. Some players will disappear and others will be taken over."
Nispen added: "The system builder market has been fairly stable over the last few years. System builders have strong relationships with existing customers, which is one of the reasons for their success. They are also able to bring new products to market much more quickly than large tier-one suppliers."
It is essential that system builders know what is coming next since the danger in this market is having the wrong product or too much of a single product, he said.
A volatile market
"The market can shift quickly and prices can change overnight, so you have to always be aware of what's coming. It's even more important for smaller system builders since they don't have the luxury of making too many mistakes in their product offerings," said Nispen.
Stead said: "The portion of the PC market for system builders is a significant piece of the market. Outside of the top 10 PC vendors, system builders make up about 50 per cent of our business. Market research typically underestimates the size of the system builder market. Gartner research usually quotes it at about 30 per cent, but the numbers we see from the breakdown in component sales indicates it is bigger than this. The PC market is hard now. We saw a decline in the average selling price of PCs around 18 months ago, and that is continuing."
According to Garrett, one of the hot topics at this year's event is how the international economy is going to affect the European IT market, not just PCs. The US market is much tougher than Europe, and while there has been some slowdown in Europe, it has been mainly through caution, not market forces, he explained.
The system builder share of the PC market is still a healthy one, but the arena is characterised by fierce competition, as well as by the arrival of new players and the disappearance of existing players on a weekly basis. Apart from having better prices than the big PC brands and closer customer relationships, system builders are the real innovators in the market, by always being the first to market with new technologies and nearly always leading the way with new kinds of specialist PCs.
Getting a first look at what's happening in the market, as well as new technologies on the way, seems essential to staying on top. So, where would you rather find out where your market is going: the NEC or Monte Carlo's Beach Plaza Hotel in Monaco? Tough one.
MONTE CARLO RALLY
Computer Reseller News and Vision Events International, a Gartner company, have announced that CRN will be a publication sponsor for System Builder Summit/Integrator Forum Europe 2001. Below is a snapshot of how the show will be structured.
Vendors' boardroom meetings
Vendors choose 15 system builders for 30-minute boardroom sessions.
These provide a forum for the entire audience to gather together, with key speakers from system builders, vendors and analysts addressing trends, new technologies and key developments. Speakers this year include Jensen Huang, chief executive of nVidia; Laurent de la Porte, European vice president of Microsoft; and Mark Beckford, vice president of reseller products at Intel.
World premiere presentation
A new addition this year enables vendors to address all the system builders at once in 20-minute sessions.
Exhibition area: The Agora
System builders can use the time between sessions to view new products, discuss deals and develop contacts.
- As an invitation-only event, the Beach Plaza Hotel in Monaco suits the exclusivity of its visitors.
- To qualify for the guest list, system builders must earn at least half of their turnover from PC sales and build a minimum of 5000 PCs a year.
- Smaller system builders from less developed markets are also eligible.
- System builders from about 30 European and Middle Eastern countries will be invited.
- The 200 attendees will be responsible for 12.7 million PC sales.
- The show is a great opportunity for getting everyone up to speed and growing relationships outside the business arena.
Appearing in this article:
AMD (01276) 803 100
Creative Labs (01189) 344 322
Ingram Micro (01908) 260 422
Integrator Forum Europe (33) 14 810 7580
Gartner (01784) 431 611
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