U.S. Business Booms At ISE

After every big trade show event, questions about mood on the show floor and how it pertains to business growth are at the forefront of everyone's mind. Well, I can safely report that the mood at the Integrated Systems Europe (ISE) show last week in Amsterdam was ecstatic. And I don't mean trade-show-press-release ecstatic, I mean, genuinely enthusiastic, on all fronts.

Here are the numbers: This year's ISE achieved a record 34,870 attendance, representing a 22 percent increase on last year's total. According to organizers, this is the highest attendance achieved by any standalone AV tradeshow anywhere in the world. A total of 715 exhibitors, including 150 new companies representing an 11 percent increase on ISE 2010, covered some 26,650 net square meters of floor space. The latter figure will likely be surpassed again in 2012, as on-site exhibitor rebooking resulted in 102 percent of the 2011 floor plan being reserved. It's already been confirmed that the 2012 show will occupy an expanded footprint, with the addition of Hall 7 to the already sprawling 2011 layout.

I attended the show for the first time this year. In watching ISE grow since it's debut in 2004, it has become apparent that it's not just the European equivalent of InfoComm, but a major event in its own right, as AV manufacturers now treat it as an important milestone in their R&D calendar. I returned with a notebook full of product news and exhibitor comments that ranged from "we just had a huge project walk into the booth!" to a concerted analysis of what it means for American manufacturers, AV integrators, and consultants to expand abroad.

New Jersey-based AV integrator Verrex exhibits at ISE to support its glowing international client base. "Business has been great," noted Theresa Hahn, director of marketing and business development, who added that the company's global expansion continues in both its U.K. and Asia offices. Following the economic turmoil, "We've come out really strong. We have a lot of clients in banking and finance, so we looked to add more consumer clients in the pharmaceutical and advertising spaces." Right now, Verrex's pipeline is looking really good, with a lot of business from existing clients and a lot of new business as well -- in all regions of the world.

For manufacturers, ISE presents an interesting blend of opportunities. On the one hand, there is assured business growth aided by the dollar's relative weakness, as tried and tested U.S.-made products are made even more attractive from a cost perspective. But there is also an air of innovation at this trade show, which brought much needed training and education to the European market.

Where once there was a disparate market full of AV practitioners who operated differently from country to country, it appears there is now a cohesive whole in this rapidly maturing market. ISE is at the center of this development, and there's a bit of a pioneering element in the atmosphere.

"The level of conversation has been elevated," observed Steve Metzger, president of Biamp. "The new technology here is impressive. There's a lot of innovation, and the conversation is about what's going to take us to the next big thing."

This was Metzger's first year attending ISE, though he would have attended sooner if his schedule had allowed. "I had heard that ISE was growing in both size and importance to the industry. Having now attended my first ISE, I would have to say that I agree with that assertion. The show impressed me in both its size and its finish. The show floor itself had a decidedly well-developed commercial feel and best-of-class exhibitors were well represented. Although not yet as large as Infocomm in the U.S., it appears to be well on its way. In all, I'd say this show now represents one of the most important opportunities for Biamp to communicate with its customers."

One year ago at ISE, Biamp launched Vocia. One year later, Biamp has two subsequent functional releases of Vocia completed and released, and several completed installations worldwide. "The benefits of the product introduction and the subsequent releases last year were clear to me at this show as was evidenced by the constant flow of dialog with customers about upcoming project requirements, or imminent projects in which the product should or would be used," Metzger added. "The current global dialog around emerging voice evacuation, mass notification, and life safety standards make ISE one of the more interesting opportunities for discussion, particularly for Europe, the Middle East, and India."

On that note, Mike Blackman, managing director, Integrated Systems Events, concurred, stating in a post-show press release: "ISE has a distinctive European flavour but it is increasingly a forum for global business. We have had substantial visitor growth from Russia, the Middle East, Africa and the Indian sub-continent, and are also hosting significant numbers of consultants and top-level integrators from Asia and North America."

In terms of education, Extron reported that the number-one class they were receiving requests for was its digital video training. Commenting on its new Emerging Technologies courses, Joe da Silva, director of product marketing noted, "People are really seeking knowledge on these topics. There has been more change in the last three years than at any other time in this industry."

I met a number of AV designers and integrators who are working on some astoundingly cool projects, foremost among these were 7th Sense, HoloVis, and Visual Acuity, all U.K.-based companies who are developing crazy new stuff for several significant U.S. projects. They're pushing technology's boundaries and will likely raise the profile of the industry as they do so.

The overall message at the show was one that I've heard consistently in the past year or so. Customer relationships are the key. I heard this from numerous manufacturers, and even just walking by a presentation at the Panasonic booth, I heard a presenter say relationships were of critical importance to the company.

The notion was summed up well by Anders Løkke, international marketing and communications manager for projectiondesign. "We can make the most innovative products in the world, but if we don't supply customer care, we won't take our products very far."

Celebrating its ten-year anniversary this year, projectiondesign has exhibited at every ISE show since the event was launched. The manufacturer is tripling its personnel, expanding its support to regions around the world, and rolling out a partner program this year, all with the aim to support customers.