Data Intelligence: It's Showtime! Get the Most Out of Industry Events

Oct. 1, 2005
Until you're aware of the possibilities, you can't begin to see how they can work for you or your company.

Ah, yes! It's that time of year again— no, not football season tradeshow season. It seems as if there's one every week that's clamoring for our attention and dollars. And, of course, each one is touted as the material handling industry's "leading" or "oldest" or "biggest" or "best" or "fill-in-the-blank" superlative. (They hire PR firms to come up with these clever lines you know.)

So, unless you have unlimited time and money (or have taken early retirement and just want to spend the next few months crisscrossing the country going to trade shows), how do you decide where to spend your time and money—and then, how do you get the most out of being there?

If you're looking for a bar code, RFID, or other automatic identification and data capture (AIDC) solution, it's becoming increasingly difficult to decide. There are a lot of good "vertical" events out there targeted to your particular needs. In fact, some suspect that the "horizontal" technology trade show is facing its demise.

One approach, then, is to simply go to the shows you always go to. An increasing number of AIDC vendors (or at least products) are showing up as pre-packaged solutions at many of these events. Sounds like a plan, right?

Not so fast. The decision isn't (or shouldn't be) all that easy. Maybe an event that goes beyond the boundaries of your job description should be added to your list.

Why? Stop and think what your company should expect to get out of your attendance at a trade show and seminar program. Yes, you need to have some tangible takeaways to apply to your immediate responsibilities. But I would like to suggest that your attendance at one of these events should support the company's strategic vision as well as its tactical requirements.

How? By educating you about the possibilities offered by AIDC technologies, by exposing you to the synergies and inter-relationships that develop in any enterprise implementation, and by placing you in a position to learn about applications outside your job description that can make you think about new ways to make your own job easier.

Wow! Sign me up! Right?

Well, not necessarily. Just walking into one of these horizontal or broad-scale events won't make you a genius. You have to be open to new ideas and willing to do a little creative thinking. Some solutions might be handed to you on a silver platter (or a PowerPoint slide) but others might not be as obvious.

Here's a classic example. Kevin Ashton, who was the instigating force behind the EPC system, was just looking for a way to help keep track of cosmetics in a store display. (With so many identical items, cosmetics racks are notoriously disarrayed as shoppers examine then replace items, often in the wrong slot.) Ashton had heard something about RFID and thought it was worth investigating. The rest is history.

But what does that have to do with you? You're no Kevin Ashton. Right? Well, neither was he until he began looking way "out-side the box" for a solution to a problem.

Therein lies the lesson. Until you're aware of the possibilities, you can't begin to see how they can work for you or your company (think outside your own department here).

So, here are five tips for getting the most out of attending an event with which you're not familiar.

  1. Go with colleagues from other departments and see what excites them (and why).
  2. Strategize beforehand about the "ideal" workflow or process flow (so you'll be able to seize ideas when they come at you).
  3. Consider hiring a consultant or getting a trusted technology supplier to help with strategizing and planning your time at the event (or even attend it with you).
  4. Plan on attending at least one seminar that has nothing to do with your job description but sounds really interesting.
  5. Network with professionals from out-side your own field who are also seeking innovative solutions. (Great ideas sometimes come from the strangest places.)

You may not come back with any immediate, earth-shaking innovations but you will be charged up with a lot of new information and insights. And that's the whole point.

"Until you're aware of the possibilities, you can't begin to see how they can work for you or your company."

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