I have been on both sides of the booth sometimes simultaneously, at tradeshows and conferences. It has been my experience that they consistently afforded me an opportunity to learn a lot, develop business relationships (network) and to acquire new business no matter whether as an attendee or an exhibitor or even as BOTH. Therefore, I was wondering, following the mention of all the upcoming user conferences and shows in Gene Roes most recent LidarNews Welcome Note, about the apparent increase in the number of shows, conferences and workshops available to those of us working in LIDAR-related industries.
If you are involved in a LIDAR-related endeavor, be it business, research, or government the breadth of opportunity to attend a show or conference that has LIDAR as a core subject area has never been greater. Of course, commensurate with the increasing availability of shows and increasing scope of LIDAR subject matter is the increase in costs in travel and time as you try to attend more and more events. Many of us are running into a hard budgetary wall as we strive to get to as many relevant shows and conferences as possible.
The decision to attend or exhibit at one of these events is comprised of a multitude of factors, but essentially comes down to hard economics. As a business person, one evaluates the return on the investment of time and money in attending. Making the decision these days is difficult (at least it certainly is for many smaller companies) because the economy has caused everyone to tighten every aspect of their budgets. Fortunately, most of the LIDAR-related show planners have done a great job of aggregating valuable, relevant content. They have also begun employing innovative approaches to enhance value for attendees.
I think that with the increasing number of shows concentrating on LIDAR (or containing extensive LIDAR-related tracks), potential attendees must work to breakdown what specialty areas or sub-categories have the most value and relevance for their line of business. The emergence of the user group concept has been one of the most beneficial and innovative forms of event. This conference format allows the product owner to engage other owners at a manufacturer-sponsored site and exchange ideas, best practices and also to offer up suggestions (and even constructive criticisms) to the manufacturer for product improvements. I know from firsthand experience that the benefits are definitely not just asymmetric.
With respect to application of limited resources to seemingly limitless opportunity, the issue boils down to: Which industry do you work in? What area of study? For operators who own LiDAR assets, it is especially difficult as there are many cross-industry applications for the same asset. For example, the owner of a mobile mapping system (MMS) may have utility customers as well as transportation agencies that they serve. The shows that experts from those industries attend do not necessarily intersect to a great extent. Conversely, there might be large overlap between the content available at a transportation industry tradeshow and the surveying and mapping tradeshow conference content
The large(er) global events such as ISPRS and ASPRS in North America offer attendees the opportunity to meet a larger breadth of subject matter experts and to expand or enhance their own cross-disciplinary expertise set. The LIDAR-specific shows such as ILMF and ELMF and SPAR afford the attendees the opportunity to really get their hands dirty with a drill-down into all things LIDAR software, techniques, hardware, business support and back office augmentation.
I recently spoke to an events professional at a major GIS industry vendor, and she pointed out to me that it is important to lay-out your clear objectives for attending a show or conference. Are you going to gather information, to meet clients, to network, to scope out the competition? Usually it is a combination of all or some of these reasons. She added that it has been her experience that many organizations especially in LIDAR and GIS struggle to really define what they want [to achieve in attending].
I have found that this can be quite true. In fairness to those in the business, it is more difficult to precisely determine which conference is the best fit and most economical when the technology is evolving so rapidly. My contact suggested that since LIDAR is so rapidly evolving and growing, that exhibitors and attendees might also add alternate venues that are not well attended by their competition, but have a LIDAR component to the industry. Again, this approach adds cost pressure to the travel budget.
Some shows are rather tangential to LIDAR industries, but none-the-less critical to certain enterprises. For instance, you will find most if not all the LIDAR system manufacturers and integrators at one of the SPIE shows held around the US each year. Many of them will tell you that it is critical to attend to stay on top of the latest innovations in laser, photonics and electro-optical technologies. Additionally, but in a different vein, along with the manufacturers, some service providers might attend or exhibit at the SPIE Defense and Security conference because they know there will be many government representatives present with whom they can discuss contracting opportunities. Another example of a tangential relationship to LIDAR is that of BIM (Laser Scanning in BIM) LIDAR is rapidly being integrated into BIM activities and the BIM shows now reflect this (BIM forum).
Its not easy to calculate the return on investment in attending these events and how to prioritize which ones to attend. I guess its like advertising you know 50% of what you spend is wasted, but you dont know which 50%.
Bill Gutelius is the President and co-founder of Active Imaging Systems (AIS). He consults on LIDAR technologies and their applications for commercial and government clients.