Thursday, May 1, 2008

Walking the show floor at ISC West, I was reminded of that old Robert Merrill quote that many of us musicians like to trot out: "When in doubt, sing loud." Now, Merrill wasn't much for adverbs, I guess, but he had a way with pop songs ("How Much Is that Doggie in the Window") and an ear for human nature. There are a lot of manufacturers in the industry that make up for a dearth of ideas with loud proclamations of bigger, better and best. But there were a lot of good ideas on the show floor, too, and there's a clear separation taking place between the companies that are embracing the new world order and those that are clinging desperately to the past. I was struck by the number of companies this year who touted not their new products, but their new partnerships. Booth after booth contained signs with strings of other companies' logos, if not spaces for other companies' products. This is a sea change from only a few years back. And speaking of sea changes, has anyone else noticed that the practice of trying to bait people into booths with scantily clad women has been dramatically reduced? Sure, there was still a bunny or two to be found on the floor, but I don't hesitate to say that the industry seems to be growing up in that regard. In fact, there were more women in the aisles as attendees than I've ever seen before. Now the universal booth bait is the iPod. You can tell how flush a company is by whether it's offering a Nano or Touch in exchange for your business card. Of course, IP was everywhere, too. IP had just about lost all meaning for me by the time I got out of there, along with "open architecture," "API," "SDK," and "integration." Getting a tour of the Panasonic booth, I really couldn't get over the analog ghetto, a little corner labeled "analog" where Panasonic had stuck its analog camera line. For a company with such a proud analog history to have so fully embraced the IP camera seems particularly telling to me. People talk video analytics now pretty matter of factly, as well. You can get analytics on a chip, on a DVR, on a camera, on an encoder, in your breakfast cereal, pretty much anywhere. If you still distrust this stuff, you're probably also still questioning whether this IP thingee is here to stay. The analytics makers who've moved beyond convincing you their stuff works: That's who you need to be talking to. And by the way, where was IBM? Did anybody see their S3 out on the show floor? I managed to miss them. Wait, what's that? They were on the bottom floor? In the 74,000s? Really? Are you sure? Huh. Not that there's any shame in being on the second floor, but you sure don't get the same foot traffic down there and I wonder if you couldn't make some kind of xenophobia argument when you consider that it's mostly the Asian delegations who find themselves down there. Regardless, it seems to me that ISC is going to need to think about moving or limiting space in some way as it continues to grow. That's one thing that does seem to be a safe bet (to use a bad Vegas-based pun), that the show will continue to grow, at least for the short-term future. Money is flowing into the industry with talk of it being recession proof. Certainly, the throngs who filled the aisles this year did not speak to an economic downturn. But with all of the new product lines and funding rounds announced, there was an inescapable feeling that all of this couldn't possibly last. Can 30-odd analytics firms all turn a buck? Is there really that much difference between this IP camera and that? Who will be swallowed up, and who will simply fade away? In some ways, that's up to you, the integrator who puts all of this product out into the field and makes sure customers are happy, and so buy more of it in an effort to keep more people safe. Those manufacturers who understand that simple fact, I wager will stick around. Those that don't I can still hear their loud singing ringing in my ears.