Q&A with Eric Krapf, General Manager and Program Co-Chair for Enterprise Connect and Publisher of No Jitter

For more than a decade, Eric Krapf has served as the General Manager and Program Co-Chair for Enterprise Connect, the leading conference and exhibition, and online events brand in the enterprise communications industry. He is also the publisher of No Jitter, the Enterprise Connect community’s daily news, and analysis website. He’s also served as managing editor of Business Communications Review (BCR) magazine and managing editor and senior editor of America’s Network magazine, covering the public telecommunications industry.

In this edition of PR Vibes, Eric will offer a glimpse of what’s to come at Enterprise Connect 2019. 

Enterprise Connect was first held in 1990, how has the show evolved over the last 29 years?

I think the overarching thing is it’s gotten big. The big thing was just the conference sessions and there was kind of a small expo in what you wouldn’t even call an expo hall, it was more of a big large ballroom that had some booths in it. Today, it’s become at least by our standards quite a large exposition with really big booths and the conference has been a great draw for the expo.

When the show started, telecom was very much an East Coast industry made up of Bell Labs in New Jersey which had companies in different parts of the country that grew up out of the telephone industry. Now it’s there’s a strong presence in Silicon Valley, in the Bay Area, and in the Seattle area.

It’s very much on pace with the larger trends that we’re seeing in the technology industry. All the big tech companies now have some play in enterprise communications, whether it’s Google, Microsoft, Cisco, Facebook, or Amazon. Enterprise Connect is no longer in an industry that’s tied to the old-fashioned telephone network. It’s very much the web and software and everything that’s driving tech today.

Who’s the target audience for Enterprise Connect? 

Regarding the size of the enterprise, it skews larger, just because that’s historically what we’ve had and that’s who the sponsors are looking to get. Companies upwards of 2,500 or so.

We’ve also got a robust attendee base just in Florida of midsized local enterprises who can get there without a huge cost and can spend not just a day or two at the show without a huge travel expense.

When it comes to verticals, our attendees are pretty much across the board, including finance, healthcare, and manufacturing.

Most of our attendees have titles within IT, like unified communications manager, unified communications specialist, network architect or network application specialist. It’s really gotten diverse, it used to be heavily telecom managers and we still get a fair number of people who have telecom or voice in their title.

This year, we’ve got a few people with DevOps titles, but we don’t typically get a ton of developers. However, we have a partner, Alan Quayle who does a TADHACK-MINI HACKATHON the weekend before our show. He also does a session on Monday where the winners of his hackathon come and talk about what they did.

What is the most impactful thing happening in the communications technology space right now?

Artificial intelligence is making an impact. We’ve got a track that’s called AI and speech technologies. There are four sessions in that track and a couple of them are almost like tutorial sessions. One of them serves as an update on the market for AI. One is about the basics of AI and Dave Michaels, an analyst in this space is doing what he calls actionable analytics or taking communications data and doing analytics with it.

We’re also seeing artificial intelligence come up in other tracks, particularly contact centers. And contact centers themselves are super-hot for us. For the first time, we’re doing a general session on contact centers. In the past, we’ve always treated contact centers as a niche within communications but now just about all the big enterprises that come to our show have big contact center projects either happening or on the drawing board. It’s an area where they see so much opportunity for return on investment and there’s so much pressure to keep your customers satisfied and to give them a good customer experience. There’s a huge opportunity now to do that with technology.

AI is starting to gather some steam in the enterprise. It’s a combination of what you can actually do now with it and the fact that I think people really believe that it is it’s a real thing. It’s not just technology for technology’s sake or something that’s still distant in the future. It’s like you’re continually layering more intelligence into products that you already have.

What other hot topics can we expect to hear about at the show?

Another topic we keep seeing more and more interest in and expect to again this year is video in all its forms. Things like huddle rooms are a hot topic. Also, the idea that video has gotten less expensive and more able to deploy quickly, particularly with cloud video services and these guys like Zoom and Blue Jeans and now the legacy providers like Polycom and Cisco are coming up with their own cloud strategies so that you can roll out video quicker, it’s no longer something that requires dedicated A/V people to provision. Companies like Cisco and Microsoft are working on the interfaces to the software where with one click, you can you can start the video conference.

Another hot topic is any kind of communications provided through the cloud. Unified communications services have been out for a few years now and people have had the opportunity to start migrating from legacy premises PBX systems to cloud-based software where they no longer have to deal with having to maintain the equipment, but it’s also easier to scale those deployments and to upgrade and to add new features incrementally rather than when you had either a big hardware PBX or even a big piece of software that was doing that, it was much less flexible.

So, companies are seeing more flexibility with cloud systems and I’m even seeing some market data that shows they are finally beginning to believe that security is something that might be better handled by a cloud provider, rather than a dedicated staff of your own.

You don’t have IoT on the agenda, can you tell us why? 

You know, we’ve done it in the past, but we’ve been looking at the demographics of people that attend the show and when they register, we ask them about their product interest. I think IoT is kind of like mobility, we also don’t have mobility sessions because it’s in everything and it’s a whole bunch of things.  To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure I understand well enough how our audience who are IT people can leverage IoT. How do we craft content that that highlights IoT? It’s a hot term, and I think it would be beneficial to us from a marketing standpoint, but how do we build a session that says, here’s the integration of IoT, or here’s the relevance of IoT to you as an IT person within communications? That’s the challenge, but ultimately, I would like to get it on the program or next year.

Are there any new elements we can expect from this year’s show? 

Yes, absolutely. While we typically have the biggest strategic vendors doing our keynotes, for the first time in several years, we have for the past several years, we’ve got an end user giving a keynote, Joe Park from Walmart. We’re really excited about that because obviously it’s an end-user show and the audience loves to hear from their peers. We’ve got a ton of end users all over the program but we’re excited to have Walmart, as the biggest private employer in the world and one of the biggest companies in the country. There’s a ton of things going on around communications with Walmart and so Joe is going to give us a little bit of the vision of what that is. We’ll also have representatives from Microsoft, Cisco, and Amazon Web Services giving keynotes.

For the first time ever, we’ll have Google on our exhibit floor. That’s major because it shows they are making a strong commitment to the communications market.

Another thing where we have added — and I’ll be the first to say we’re very late to this and I regret that — is a very robust women in communications program that is going to be folded in throughout the week. It will include a women in communications networking luncheon and also a panel discussion with some women, most of whom are on our advisory board and user folks. There will also be a networking reception for women in communications on Monday, as well as a content session in a theater on our show floor on Wednesday.

We like the rest of technology communications and telecom have always been very male-dominated and we’re overdue for doing this but we’re excited at the response we’re getting and what we’ve been able to get on the program. It’s also great to see that of our five keynotes, three of them are women. This is the first time that we have a majority of keynotes that are women and they are top executives at the most important companies for our audience, so we’re thrilled.

We also have a new track we’re calling Strategic Leadership. We’re trying to address the fact that while our audience is very tech-savvy, increasingly, they’re having to interact more with other business units within their enterprises and understand their end users.

So, we put together some sessions around a range of topics that deal with not necessarily technology per se, they all touch on technology, of course, but they focus more on how to orient yourself strategically towards your role in within the enterprise.

What are your recommendations for getting the most out of the show? If you’re an exhibitor, a speaker or an attendee? 

For an exhibitor, we always recommend that they contact us and make sure that they are getting everything they can out of their sponsorship, meaning that they know every benefit that they get as a sponsor. If they’re doing a product announcement, they can take part in our press release on product announcements at the show. We can also advise them on what might help drive traffic to their booth or we can help them arrange meetings in the press information.

Having those open lines of communication with us in advance of the show makes such a huge difference in results between two companies that might be alike in a lot of different ways including the size of their booth or what their market segment is or their size as a company, but those who lay the groundwork and really have a strong plan going in rather than just kind of set up a booth and hope for the best perform well.

For speakers, get your damn presentations in! That was a joke. But we’re really lucky because just about all the major analyst firms and consultants in the industry speak at the show. I think the fact that we do some promotion where they can get out the word that they’re speaking and offer discounts to colleagues with a with a marketing code that we give them helps them get exposure. They should engage with our marketing team or social media team to get the word out, especially if they don’t have a team of their own to do that for them.

Another thing they can do in advance is write an article for No Jitter, talking about what they’re going to talk about in their session, which gives them a little a little boost with attendees.

A great way to maximize their efforts is to use every opportunity to chat with people. We have upwards of 30 or 35 end users on the program. So, if you go to a session where an end user speaks and you’re really interested just go up to that person and engage them in conversation. Go to lunch with them, go to where your peers are and hang out.

What’s the one thing you can point to about the show that makes it a “can’t miss” event? 

There really isn’t another independent event for the industry that is as big or as thorough or as well attended. It’s got every major vendor in the industry and the top experts that we can find, with very few exceptions are on the program, so I think it’s the one event that’s got the most of everything somebody in our industry needs.

The 29th annual Enterprise Connect will take place March 18 – 21, 2019 at the Gaylord Palms in Orlando, FL.

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