TestExpo is run by Sogeti (latterly in conjunction with Unicom) a couple of times a year with a primary focus on the wares of the test tool vendors.
If you are a contractor contemplating whether to attend an event, you always need to consider the opportunity cost of billings foregone alongside any travel costs that may be involved even if there is no delegate fee, as has historically been the case with TestExpo.
Despite being a contractor for most of the years that I have attended, I have always felt that the event passed that value test, even if the bar was cleared more convincingly in some years than in others.
That puts me at odds with the many people who characterise the event as absolutely nothing more a blatant and sometimes aggressive sales pitch from the tool vendors. I'm not commercially naive, but after all these years, I think the event has probably earned a more intelligent and nuanced critique than that.
Previous attendees of the event will be aware that alongside the exhibition there has always been a relentless schedule of back-to-back presentations from exhibitors/sponsors and the odd 'keynote' thrown in for good measure, although how many of those could earn the 'keynote' label at other events is questionable, to put it charitably. These talks fall somewhere on this spectrum:
- A blatant/aggressive/patronising [delete as applicable] sales pitch.
- A talk that focuses on a particular challenge with reasonable passing references to the solution being promoted by the presenter and a modest concluding reference to the presenter's stand at the exhibition. By the way, I'm not saying that's how it should or shouldn't be; I don't know what guidance the speakers have historically had, if any, whilst the attendance figures will be the ultimate arbiter of what's appropriate.
- A talk that focuses on a particular challenge with no discernible direct reference to the solution being (supposedly) promoted by the presenter. No doubt if the person who sanctioned the vendor's cost of attendance saw the speaker's performance they would be, to use Civil Service speak, 'disappointed' (for which read 'livid').
Ironically that third category serves to highlight the nature of the first category and it could be argued, therefore, that the third category is itself ultimately unhelpful to the perception of the event, albeit indirectly and I'm sure unintentionally. Either way, it's certainly my own view that the presentation room is where the most damage is done to the perception of the event.
- A one-stop shop for getting right up-to-date with the start-of-the-art in the test tools space. When my testing career started in 1998 the SIGIST was in its heyday, at least in terms of attendance, occupying large rooms in posh London hotels and attracting a wide range of exhibitors that enabled it to serve the purpose of staying in touch with the vendors' wares. Sadly, those days are long past.
- A chance to network with other TestExpo attendees which interestingly have, for the most part, typically been a different crowd to that which attends other events, even though there are always some familiar faces.
- Visibility of any M&A activity among the vendors although to be fair I could easily monitor those things via the web.
- Access to the keynote talks which were sometimes quite insightful and never seemed to re-emerge at other events that I attended so to my mind they have been value-enhancing to some degree.
- A chance to pick up various pieces of information or insights. I remember in one year I noted down about twenty genuine nuggets although it has to be said that was a high water mark that was never matched and it was some years ago now.
- A chance to have an in-depth discussion with a vendor about a tool without first having to convince them of why you deserve to be allowed to become a customer (in the way that you do in some other contexts).
In short, I feel that there has been value in attending TestExpo, although the extent of that value has been somewhat marginal more often than not.
Looking at the TestExpo website, I'm unclear as to whether I would be an 'end-user delegate' in the £100+VAT bracket or a 'non-sponsoring consultant delegate' in the £750+VAT bracket. I hope and suspect it's the former.
Either way, I'm afraid that this development has tipped the balance for me, even though £100+VAT is not an enormous amount of money and so I will not be attending for the first time in many years.
The organisers appear to be selling an increased level of interactivity including 'round table discussions' reminiscent of the 'Birds Of A Feather; sessions that used to run at the SIGIST. The latter were often a case of 'the blind leading the blind' but the TestExpo organisers promise that each table will have a 'topic guru' to facilitate the conversation. How that facilitation is handled and by whom is likely to be key in determining whether the event's reputation as a pure sales pitch improves or deteriorates further.
I have already had a conversation with a vendor representative who expressed unhappiness about the event becoming chargeable but I suppose the vendors are probably in a 'wait and see' mode and who knows, charging for entry may improve the quality of the sales leads if it reduces the involvement of the 'window shoppers'. For the sake of the people on the ground who work hard to make the event happen, I genuinely hope it can continue in the medium to long term.
There is also the question of where might you alternatively invest that £100+VAT if you were so minded? The obvious options are:
- Put it towards the travel costs to one of more free events such as UKTMF, LTG, Zappers or even free seminars at Skills Matter. Update 12.02.14 - The Feb '14 UKTMF event was the first one where an extremely modest entry fee of £20+VAT was levied. The event remains free for those facilitating sessions and is still superb value as evidenced by the un-diminished attendance at the Feb '14 event. Long may that support continue because this event really is excellent.
- Put it towards the (admittedly higher) cost of a SIGIST conference or, even better but even more expensive, the annual Test Management Summit which has a good sprinkling of exhibitors itself. Update 12.02.14 - At the Feb '14 UKTMF event it was announced that the annual Test Management Summit will not be held at the IOD in 2014 but at the regular Balls Brothers venue. At the moment I am unclear what level of vendor presence there will be at the 2014 Summit but will update this section after the event. If I was a betting man, I would say that the vendor involvement will be substantially reduced this time around.
None of these alternatives are a direct substitute for TestExpo and if you are genuinely on the cusp of making a tools investment then TestExpo is almost certainly still the right event for you with £100+VAT being immaterial when seen in the context of your total investment.
I will be interested to see what happens in relation to the 2014 event if indeed that takes place as I honestly think going chargeable in 2013 may sound its death knell. But if I'm wrong and the event flourishes in its new form, I'll happily acknowledge that success and if I get positive independent feedback then I may look to resume my own attendance. But for now at least, with regret, it's "Goodbye TestExpo".
That's my 2p's worth but what do you think? Have you reached the same conclusion as me, but perhaps for different reasons? Are you skeptical but going anyway for whatever reason? Are you going to be a first-timer at the event? Please feel free to comment below.
Nb: I have no commercial relationship with any of the entities mentioned above.