SIFMA's Technology Management Conference and Exhibition in NYC this week was a shadow of its former self. Battered by the economy and budget cuts, technology firms stayed away in droves. The exhibition was spread thinly between two floors where it once thickly covered three floors. On Wednesday, even at lunchtime, the crowd was sparse this year. Previous years' biggest exhibitors included Reuters, which didn't show this year due to a reported spat with new owner Thomson. It seems The Reuters people wanted their own booth, as did Thomson's ILX chaps. The result was none. Interactive Data Corporation took the space that Reuters previously occupied. SunGard did its own thing with a half-day mini conference at another hotel. There seemed to be a plethora of data vendors there, both new and old. Some, like TradeTheNews.com, targeting retail investors. Some, like Acquire Media (which bought NewsEdge where I once almost worked) and Dow Jones (where I did work), are focusing on elementized news for algorithms. There were also plenty of algorithmic trading solutions providers to be seen, they seemed to be the happiest of the lot and said that business was brisk despite the downturn. Progress Apama had a jazzy booth with a splendid magician. He guessed the last four digits of my Social Security number. And, no, I was not a "shill" as someone suggested. Sybase had a cipher/magician who was also incredible. There was a serious dearth of good swag this year. I guess good corporate gifts are too expensive for today's fragile budgets. FTEN had a super dinosaur squeeze toy and Tibco (are they still around?) gave out a useful tiny tool kit. Otherwise it was mostly pens and business card raffles for iPods and such.
The party scene was still opulent, on the other hand. Portware unveiled a new advertisement on a Times Square electronic billboard and hosted a do at the Blue Fin bar. SunGard's shindig was on top of the Empire Hotel, where one could view the ongoing construction site that is Manhattan. There were many, many techies well on their way to terrible hangovers there. On Wednesday evening Fidessa held a cocktail in a beautiful bar inside an old church, appropriately called 'Providence'. And KX snagged a nice little bar near Gramercy Park, which was packed.
My journalistic colleagues were out in force as usual, after free drinks and interviews with the usual suspects. I had a quick look through the publications on the table in the entry hall and it occurred to me that the old business models are looking very tired indeed. Monthly and even weekly magazines with dated people moves and self-serving contributed articles are surely past their sell-by date. The mainstream media has latched on to our old patch, and coverage of financial markets and technology is now instantaneous and widespread. I think we need a new niche.
SIFMA itself might have to rethink its tech conference model. Some previous exhibitors claimed not to like SIFMA's 'anyone goes' attitude. Letting in all and sundry does not usually create business opportunities for the vendors and ideas can be stolen. Perhaps SIFMA could adopt the DWT (Dealing With Technology) model for conferences - no vendors allowed unless exhibiting. When I was there DWT only allowed customers to attend, which gave the vendors more incentive to pay the price for a booth. The world has changed, now our industry has to catch up. That goes for the conferences, the software firms, and the publications. SIFMA this year made that much, at least, very clear.