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Tradeshow Management Software Utilizing Hybrid Technology

by Nicholas de la Garza 10.31.2008

The Exhibitions and Events Industry has embraced many different technologies, from RFID to audience response devices to registration tools and many more, but technology providers have often overlooked financial management, an essential function in today's fluctuating economy with rising travel expense. It is paramount for exhibitors to keep a watchful eye on their budgets and bottom lines, a task that is at the design core of Seattle Software's ShowGo.

Shane G Eckel, President of Seattle Software Corporation, explains, "ShowGo encompasses everything from task management to expenses, budgets, return on objectives, all the way to flight and hotel arrangements. Everything involved in exhibiting at various tradeshows and events around the nation can be managed with our product."

The idea for the product came to Eckel from his own experiences exhibiting at tradeshows and recognizing the need for better organization throughout the industry. Eckel, who formerly oversaw the tradeshow division for a dot com during the tech boom in the late nineties, explains, "The company I was at tried going out to as many tradeshows as possible to get as much traffic onto our web site, but there was just no tool at that time that would help us with organizing our schedule. We had a half million dollar budget to do 50 shows a calendar year and we were constantly worried about inventory, shipping, spending, and saving among others. I designed a little database to help organize our processes and, after I was laid off, I partnered up with a developer who basically rewrote everything I did and we produced ShowGo. The need to track all the moving pieces and financials involved in exhibiting at numerous tradeshows led us to creating ShowGo."

ShowGo allows exhibitors to track a variety of metrics, some preloaded and others user-created, allowing for immense flexibility. Users can then compare and contrast these stats to discover trends at the shows they are attending. For instance, an exhibitor could analyze the number of leads obtained at a show in comparison to the number of staff members and make informed decisions such as whether to increase or decrease their event staff. ShowGo can track these metrics for individual shows spread out over a number of years, providing an organized way to store all of the important information that will better inform exhibitors of the individual needs of the particular shows they visit every year.

While ShowGo is successful at tracking a variety of metrics, many exhibitors find the financial aspect of the software most useful. ShowGo keeps track of all the spending so exhibitors can easily see where their money is going, where they might consider spending more, and where they can cut back. Exhibitors can keep track of their budgets while also exploring other options such as 'rent vs. buy' options for high priced, risky purchases.

Eckel elaborates, "I would say the financials are probably the most heavily used section in the software. Exhibitors are always worrying about how they are doing against their budget, worrying about next year's budget, where they are going over budget, should they do a rent versus buy -- those are the type of questions that they can answer with our software. Exhibitors can use ShowGo as a repository for keeping all of their data as well as a tool to examine budgeting issues and save money."

ShowGo's efficiency is a result of its software-based architecture. Currently, many companies are trying to build online workspaces with tools like Google Docs, a service that many people find useful for its collaborative features but lacking in inherent robustness and functional richness. Eckel's solution was to design a program installed locally but with the capability to send and receive information over the internet. He explains, "ShowGo is a hybrid technology – it is software based, but the information can go over the web. This characteristic enables many more rich features than any other web product could provide – drag and drop columns, new filter creation, user customized column setups, and much more."

Eckel continues, "ShowGo's data can be hosted anywhere – on your internal network, computer, or at a data center. Our clients can connect to the information through a Virtual Private Network (VPN) – once connected, all they have to do is double click on the ShowGo icon and it pulls up and grabs the data. In addition, we also have a feature called 'replication' which synchronizes the network with their computers. If a user is going out to a show, all they have to do is hit 'sync' and it pulls all of their data onto their computer. Now they can just flip open their laptop and start working on the plane, at home, at a hotel, with no internet connection necessary. Then, when they return to their workspace, they hit 'sync' again and it synchronizes all of their changes back to the network."

While Seattle Software's main solution is software based, they also offer an internet solution called ShowGo Connect, which allows traveling exhibitors to enter and retrieve information necessary to their itinerary. Eckel details, "ShowGo Connect is strictly web-based, accessible by any browser. It was designed for sales people to retrieve information such as tasks, events, arriving and departing dates, hotel reservations, confirmation numbers, and other such pertinent information. Users can check off dates and assignments while they are traveling to help keep them on task."

While the current trend in almost every industry is to have most business processes accomplished online, Eckel feels that the internet technologies are not yet powerful enough to provide the functionality he desires in ShowGo, but does not entirely rule out an internet-based ShowGo solution in the future. He elaborates, "When we built the tool, the internet was a great place for checking your mail and transferring funds between bank accounts, but the functionality was not that rich. Many online programs just did not give the rich features that you were expecting when using a productivity tool. Early on in developing ShowGo we decided on a hybrid software base because you get full functionality, it is extremely fast, and it works in the way that most people working on robust software tools already expect. As web tools become more powerful, I do see ShowGo going online, but for now, we are still getting customers coming from competing web-based products telling us how much they love ShowGo because of its speed and robustness. We will probably go web-based in the future and it is something that we are keeping a close eye on, but we have not pulled the trigger on it just yet."

One customer who is extremely pleased with ShowGo's performance is Bob Milam, tradeshow manager for Kerry Ingredients and Flavours. A few years ago, Milam and his company realized that they needed to get a better handle on their tradeshow planning, but were displeased with some of the products available, such as Microsoft Project. Milam kept searching for a solution, finding some products that were too detailed and requiring too much maintenance to be productive, while other products were neither detailed nor robust enough. When Milam discovered ShowGo, he found that "ShowGo's features were just at the right level of detail to enable us to add to our productivity without getting consumed by the software itself. We are very happy about it."

What is most beneficial about ShowGo, according to Milam, is that "ShowGo enables us to place reminders and schedule payments pre-show when we are all calm and in our rightful minds. Then, as the show approaches and we get distracted with all of the fires that we have to put out, ShowGo is already equipped to make the payments and hit the deadlines without us having to be constantly mindful about these details."

In addition to its features and robustness, Milam also took into consideration the team behind ShowGo when deciding to purchase the product. He explains, "One of the things that I look for and evaluate when making my purchasing decisions, especially where software is concerned, is the people behind the product. Are they going to be responsive when the thing breaks? How are they to work with? Are they friendly and easy to get along with? And I give Shane Eckel and his staff a great deal of complements in that regard because every single time we had a problem we get an immediate response and an immediate fix that works, which so many times is what makes the difference for me in my technology purchases."

With his satisfied customers and an eye on the future, Eckel will continue to do what he has done for the past eight years – building and improving upon ShowGo. He concludes, "We will continue to do upgrades based off of customer feedback to give our clients what they want and what we think they need in order to provide them with a complete and powerful tool for exhibit management."

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