The cancellation of several military and government conferences is among the latest collateral damage of financial belt-tightening and looming additional defense budget cuts. But the real question is, “So what?” Read that question carefully. It does not mean, “What does it matter?” but rather “What do global security professionals do now to develop effective networks with the business sector?”
And, those are only two of the important questions raised by the reduction in the number of conferences during a time when cutting costs is crucial. Among the others are:
How will military decision makers find the best technical solutions at the best price?
How will they share their top priorities with the people who can help to meet them?
How will companies know where to best invest their scarce research and development dollars?
Those three questions do not even scratch the surface. The real-life features of conferences have fulfilled needs in these areas for many years, and having fewer of them will leave gaping holes. Conferences are about communicating. Reducing the number of opportunities for effective, focused communications among government and industry professionals will have long-term effects.
The true value of association-sponsored events cannot be overstated. Outside their day-to-day surroundings, government customers and industry suppliers meet with a single purpose: to cost-effectively solve today’s problems and alleviate future ones. To this end, best practices are shared, requirements explained and options explored. Training and education, eye-to-eye contact, technology demonstrations and, yes, even intelligence gathering take place.
These opportunities are especially important in small businesses’ role in solving big problems. Government leaders have said time and time again that they need the innovation, agility and flexibility small businesses provide. But if their opportunities to reach out to these inventive pioneers in the one-to-many forums are limited, what then? Where else can they communicate their needs? How will small businesses ever mature?
Granted, the amount of money the government saves in travel and hotel expenses could be substantial. And, from the corporate standpoint, exhibiting at fewer conferences may mean less money spent on these as well as other expenses, including shipping exhibit materials. But at what cost to a company’s future? At what cost to the economy? At what ultimate cost to government agencies?
Undeniably, all associations, including AFCEA, have a stake in this latest turn of budget cutting for travel and events. For dozens of years, these organizations have been facilitating these forums for exchanging ideas, sharing information and experimenting hands-on with the technologies of the future. Their staffs have been choosing the best venue, scheduling top-level speakers and pouring though pounds of documents to determine the most relative discussion topics. And, their goals have gone far beyond stupendous profit margins or extraordinary fame. At the very heart of each conference they’ve sponsored, their aim has been to bring the government and business sectors together so people can connect and learn from each other. While they are well aware that technology facilitates information gathering and networking in ways it never has before, they understand that even technology has its limits when it comes to building trusted relationships.
The bottom line is that fewer conferences won’t only impact the financial bottom line. Was it time to take a hard look at travel budgets and fees? Perhaps so, but those funds have always been an investment in professional development, in network development and, in many cases, in future savings. The success of our military demonstrates that the return on that investment has been great. Fewer conferences? So what? A cost-conscious future is about to tell.