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Coronavirus: VARs Look To Virtual Conferences As IT Events Cancelled

‘There are certainly advantages to letting both our engineers and pre-sales team go to these virtual events. Additionally we can get more people trained that we would be able to if we had to pay housing, airfare, and conference fees,’ says Lori Koch, director of marketing at Comport Technology Solutions.

IT solution providers support the move by many of their top vendor partners to switch the format of a large number of vendor conferences to virtual events, but said they will miss the personal connections they experience from face-to-face events.

The IT industry has cancelled or postponed nearly all its face-to-face conferences through at least the middle of May and converted many of them to virtual events as the risks of transmitting the COVID-19 coronavirus has grown.

This ranges from some of the biggest IT events including the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) annual show in Las Vegas to large vendor-focused events such as Dell Technologies World and VeeamON to small events from companies including Rubrik and Zadara.

[Related: Coronavirus Stimulus Package: Small Business Loans Could Have Big Channel Impact]

Many of those conferences, including those from Apple, Aruba, Cisco, Facebook, Google, IBM, Microsoft, Pax8, and Red Hat are now being repositioned as virtual events.

Many solution providers look forward to virtual events as substitutes for face-to-face events in the face of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

Alec Taylor, partner and consultant at Ivoxy Consulting, a Kirkland, Wash.-based solution provider, told CRN that he likes virtual conferences regardless of the current climate.

"The costs are significantly less for all involved, and more people can attend," Taylor said. "Folks can attend the talks that are relevant, and go on about their personal and work lives otherwise. If I fly to Las Vegas for four days, I miss out on family time or important in-person business. Funds can be invested in more content, interactive labs and/or sales incentives. The facilities and banquet costs of events like AWS Invent and VMworld must be huge."

Virtual events are the right way to hold conferences in times like the pandemic, said Rick Chernick, CEO of Camera Corner Connecting Point, a Green Bay, Wis.-based solution provider.

"Virtual conferences are really great," Chernick told CRN. "We have time to watch and learn from them, and no travel cost. They are shorter in length and offer decent content for the most part. More people can also participate."

Virtual conferences are probably here to stay, for better or for worse, said Robby Hill, founder and CEO of HillSouth, a Florence, S.C.-based solution provider.

"There is no clear substitute for face-to-face interaction," Hill said. "I feel my opinion is going to soon be in the minority as we probably exit this crisis with a very different outtake on business travel and online gatherings, but for me I’m just not there yet. There is so much to do to transform our workers and clients lives to handle stay at home working for the moment, [and so] I don’t see time to set aside for a virtual conference yet."

Virtual conferences make it possible for channel partners to take advantage of cost savings to get more of their people trained and educated on the latest technologies, said Lori Koch, director of marketing at Comport Technology Solutions, a Ramsey, N.J.-based solution provider.

"There are certainly advantages to letting both our engineers and pre-sales team go to these virtual events," Koch said. "Additionally we can get more people trained than we would be able to if we had to pay housing, airfare and conference fees."

Virtual conference are the equivalent of making lemonade from lemons, said Todd O’Bert, president and CEO of Productive, a, Eden Prairie, Minn.-based solution provider.

"I will attend them, but would prefer to go to Vegas, Orlando, etc.," O'Bert told CRN. "I always learn more when I’m immersed in the conference. Think language immersion vs. class room education."

The biggest drawback of virtual conferences is the lack of face-to-face meetings that are so important in building relationships, solution providers said.

"Not being able to sit down one-on-one is not as much fun," Chernick said. "But this is our only option. I'll miss the time we spend at events outside of seminars building of friendships."

Chernick said he hopes vendors who convert to virtual conferences make those events short and to the point, and use special deals to generate interest.

"Give us specials during the event if resellers are watching," he said. "Maybe a code number in the end of each session offering some kind of special they can’t get if not on."

Comport's Koch said she hopes the vendors remember to bring in true subject experts.

"You have the video conferencing," Koch said. "Bring in interesting people and new topics, and make it applicable to what is happening now. If you ignore the effects of coronavirus and carry on as you had intended, you are missing a big part of what you should be discussing."

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