When I first set foot in the pastoral environs of the insurance industry some dozen years ago, the producers of the ACORD conference, later to become the ACORD LOMA Insurance Systems Forum, had grand visions for the event.

Specifically, they wanted the ACORD conference to become the insurance industry’s version of COMDEX, the long-running computer technology show that, at its peak, drew some 250,000 participants to its annual rite in the hotels and convention centers of Las Vegas . In many ways, ACORD sought to emulate COMDEX by providing spacious exhibit facilities, along with state-of-the-art information and sessions on the latest technologies to impact insurance, as well as the future technologies that would be a key to our industry’s growth.

Truth be told, they have done an excellent job of providing such facilities, information and sessions, and that remains the case to this day. Why, then, has the 2009 version of the ACORD LOMA Insurance Systems Forum in Orlando drawn considerable criticism from the show’s exhibitors? The answer may lie in the simple fact that while ACORD and LOMA have provided outstanding education sessions and opportunities for their vendor customers, they have not done so well in attracting their customers’ customers—insurance company executives with decision-making power—to the exhibit floor.

This year’s systems forum saw noticeably fewer attendees, perhaps not surprising in a recession. It also, however, drew predictable (and valid) criticisms about being a vendor-dominated show where exhibitors were meeting other vendors, instead of potential insurance company customers. This has been the case for at least the past five years, but as long as the economy was rolling along in good shape, it wasn’t too bad for vendors, who still managed to find enough sales leads to justify the cost of the event. The present economic situation, however, has put more pressure on all of us to do more with less, and with trade show attendance shrinking generally, those who do attend (particularly the vendors) have higher expectations.

For a COMDEX show (now known as Interop) that once dominated the technology landscape, the bitter end came only a few years after it had reached its peak attendance, and it came because the show’s organizers didn’t properly address the needs of its largest exhibitors—a few of whom are also exhibitors at ACORD LOMA. Sad to say, but some ACORD LOMA exhibitors are beginning to rumble about the same kinds of cost-to-value issues that were part of COMDEX's demise. There are valuable lessons to be learned from what happened with the once mighty COMDEX, lessons that could ultimately bolster and rejuvenate ACORD LOMA, a conference that is a tremendous resource for our industry.

The challenge for ACORD LOMA is to find ways to bring more insurance decision-makers to the event. Perhaps an ACORD/LOMA/vendor alliance could be formed to survey those potential customers and find out exactly what it is that they want and need from an insurance technology conference—and what will make them most likely to attend. ACORD and LOMA have excellent industry contacts and should be able to mount such a survey, and exhibiting vendors certainly have a vested interest in helping to attract those potential customers.

To be sure, I have had my issues with ACORD LOMA over the years, and there have been some bumps along the way (Who could forget William Shatner delivering a keynote in his pajamas and a sports coat?). Still, the idea to make ACORD LOMA an exemplary technology conference for the insurance industry is a good one. Here’s hoping they can find a way to reach those elusive customers and get them into the exhibit hall.

Ara C. Trembly is the founder of Ara Trembly, The Tech Consultant, and a noted speaker on and longtime observer of technology in insurance and financial services. He can be reached at ara@aratremblytechnology.com.

The comments made by bloggers on www.insurancenetworking.com do not necessarily reflect those of Insurance Networking News.

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