Europe's biggest technology fair, CeBIT, has struggled with dwindling numbers over recent years. Now a strategic overhaul has seen the list of exhibitors grow for the first time since 2006. Has CeBIT turned the corner?
Exhibitors are coming back to CeBIT - slowly but surely
Cloud computing will be one of the big topics at this year's CeBIT information technology (IT) trade fair, which runs from March 1 to 5 in the northern German city of Hanover.
The idea behind cloud computing is simple: By storing software and data on central servers on the Internet instead of on individual workstations, users can access the information and programs they need using only a web browser.
It's a concept that can help large organizations make big savings on software license fees and maintenance costs. But that doesn't mean cloud computing is restricted to the corporate world. Many private computer users have been enjoying the benefits of cloud-based systems for years via web-based email services such as Google Mail or Hotmail.
CeBIT visitors looking for tangible products rather than virtual services can look forward to a wide range of consumer electronics, including 3D devices, smartphones and tablet computers.
Smartphones and applications for them are the big topic again
Organizers hope these displays will lure plenty of private visitors to the fair without compromising the event's reputation as a business platform.
Four sections for different target groups
In the past, CeBIT suffered something of an identity crisis as it tried to juggle the needs of private consumers and professionals at the same time. Catering to one group was often perceived as a snub to the other.
This year, in a bid to improve the fair's structure, organizers have clearly divided the event into four platforms, each with a different target group.
The "CeBIT pro" targets corporate IT decision-makers, while "CeBIT live" caters to private consumers. "CeBIT gov" focuses on technology in the public sector. "CeBIT lab" serves as a cluster for scientists and university research groups.
Frank Behrendt, a technology expert with German communications consultancy Fischer Appelt, said the fair needed the strategic overhaul to get attendance numbers back on track.
"CeBIT has worked extensively on its own profile and you can see first results today," Behrendt told Deutsche Welle.
In 2009, visitor numbers reached an all-time low
"By giving business-to-business exhibitors their own professional area and also giving private users their own space, the trade fair has a clear structure again."
Financial crisis hit CeBIT hard
Long gone are the days when CeBIT would attract some 800,000 people – like in the year 2001. Last year only 334,000 visitors made it to Hanover, compared to 400,000 in 2009.
The financial crisis hit the IT sector hard, forcing the closure of 60 smaller computer fairs worldwide over the past three years.
In 2009, when the recession was in full swing, the number of exhibitors at CeBIT shrank by roughly 25 percent to 4,300. In 2010, only 4,157 exhibitors displayed their products – the lowest figure in 20 years.
This year, however, exhibitor numbers are up again. One week before the fair's opening day, more than 4,200 companies had registered, said CeBIT's CEO Frank Pörschmann on Monday.
"The big names are back"
Pörschmann said the fact that a major company like IBM was sending CEO Sam Palmisano to this year's opening ceremony showed that CeBIT is still a leading event in the IT sector.
"The big names are back," Pörschmann said, explaining that major printing producers like Xerox and Epson, which had stayed away from Hanover in recent years, are returning to the fold.
Turkey is CeBIT's partner country this year
But CeBIT is no longer focusing on hardware companies like it did in the past.
"CeBIT has undergone a successful transformation process," said Ernst Raue of Deutsche Messe, the company that organizes the fair. "We are moving away from the hardware sector into the field of complex IT solutions."
On its way to former glory
August-Wilhelm Scheer from the German IT industry association Bitkom said new role divisions required such a move. Speaking to journalists in a telephone conference, he said social media have turned private users into both consumers and creators of content.
"The hottest topic at this year's CeBIT will be apps," he said.
Communications consultant Frank Behrendt said he thinks CeBIT is on track to regain its former glory. But if it wants to be successful in the long run, he said, CeBIT needs to "set trends again and be the place where new topics are presented."
CeBIT's partner country this year is Turkey. Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan will open the fair on Monday, February 28, together with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Author: Nina Haase
Editor: Sam Edmonds