The educational program at ISC West: Vendor heavy?

So, I'm speaking as part of a panel at ISC West next week. It's called "Increasing the Quality and Affordability of IP Video" and it's happening at 10:15 a.m. on Thursday of the show, in room 204. I think it's going to be solid. Basically, I've got vendors like Lee Caswell from Pivot3, Mark Kolar from IPVision Software, and Doug Marman from VideoIQ to talk about how different architectures can eliminate pieces of hardware and save money, and then I've got Jim Henry, CEO of Henry Bros., who can call bullshit if their solutions aren't real-world practical, and to talk about how he saves on labor and installation costs when he's installing IP video systems. I mostly ask questions and look pretty. You get the idea. It's worth attending if you think the TCO of IP video is too high, or isn't competitive with analog. How did it come about? Well, ISC West sent me a fairly cryptic note asking me if I would moderate a panel with that title and no speakers attached to it. I said, sure, but can I put the panel together? They said, sure, go nuts. And so I called some people I'd seen do presentations on saving money on IP video before, and there you have it. Easy peasy. Nobody paid to be on the panel. And I sure as hell am not being paid. But I really am looking forward to the luxurious speaker-ready room that I get to slip into because of my speaker status. I've heard they have the best croissants that side of the Mississippi. Free coffee, too! This whole topic of education at the trade shows has been getting a lot of play in some circles lately, actually. John Honovich has been a particular critic of the vendor-centric education that's been a staple of the major trade shows, and, to his credit, he's recently begun his own educational series, starting with IP Network Basics for Video Surveillance. It's a topic I know intimately, since I program the TechSec Solutions education (click through to check out the videos of what we did this year), which is a first-rate pain in the ass, and always has been. See, because the conference is for the entire security channel, from manufacturer through to the end user, we've always tried to program panels and presentations that were interesting to all pieces of that channel and featured viewpoints representative of all those pieces. Initially, we did this by creating the entire program from whole cloth, figuring out what our attendees would want and then inviting people to participate in presentations and panels that we designed. And holy crap was that like herding cats. Further, it was limited by what we knew about in-house. If we'd never heard of, say, cold storage, we couldn't very well put together a panel about it. Plus, we tended to invite those people we knew well to participate, for obvious reasons (and this was done way before the sponsors and booths had been sold, so we didn't have to worry about conflict of interest internally, but we did have to worry about the appearance of conflict of interest). So, three years ago, we went to the call for presentations model. We outlined the types of presentations we were looking for, said there needed to be an appeal to the entire channel, and let the call loose on the world, just like a "real" conference. This works okay. The first big problem is that some manufacturers just send you whatever canned speaker presentation they have on hand. It's not unique to TechSec (as we say it must be) and it's only sort of germane to that part of the channel that doesn't buy their products on a regular basis. The second big problem is that integrators/installers and end users don't really have a driving reason why they should put in a presentation. Sure, the integrators might get some business from raising their profile, but let's just say that integrators/installers are not particularly marketing savvy in this industry. Further, the end users are really just doing it to be thought-leaders in the industry and out of general beneficence. So, most of the integrators and end users on the program are invited by the manufacturers who put in presentations (they have marketing departments for that), and then you know what happens? Yeah, the end users and integrators decide not to come because there's nothing in it for them, so I get a flood of manufacturers at the last minute - literally, a week before the show - who tell me, oops, so and so had a family emergency, or, oops, so and so doesn't work there anymore, or, oops, we never really asked that person if they could come and then, well, they can't. This leads me to scream obscenities and threaten to just cancel TechSec and to quit (only in the middle of the office, not to the general public, as a rule, though you never know). Those peers that can best offer education and understanding are really, really hard to get up there on the dais. For the presentation I put together for ISC West, we invited maybe five or six end users. None of them could make it - no budget, no time, no interest. So I gave up and went with just the integrator's voice. Could ISC/TechSec/everyone pay a stipend and pay for travel and whatnot for speakers? Sure. But that would drastically affect the prices for attendance. People say they can barely afford to pay for education as it is. Thus, it's not surprising to see that ISC West's speaker list is pretty vendor heavy. To wit:
Laurie Aaron Quantum SecureVendor
Zvika Ashani Agent VIVendor
Larry Barfield xpt2Consultant
Shayne P. Bates, CPP, CISM, CHS-V BrivoVendor
Bob Beliles Hirsch ElectronicsVendor
Paul Bodell IQinVisionVendor
Ed Bonifas Alarm Detection Systems, Inc.Integrator
Bill Bozeman PSAVendor
Susan Brady IP UserGroup USAAssociation
Mark Brewer ASSA ABLOYVendor
Greg Campbell Flawless: Inside the Largest Diamond Heist in Historypress
Lee Caswell Pivot3Vendor
Richard Chace SIAAssociation
Ray Coulombe Slayton SolutionsConsultant
Curt Crum Crime Prevention Unit, Boise Police DepartmentEnd user
Douglas Curtiss SonitrolIntegrator
Bob Cutting ObjectVideoVendor
Joe Davis, CPP, CFI T-MobileVendor
Bob Dulude CoreStreetVendor
Albert Elbaz Johnson ControlsIntegrator
Don Erickson Security Industry AssociationAssociation
Nick Evans AbbottEnd user
David Fowler VidSysVendor
Brent Franklin Unlimited TechnologiesIntegrator
Eric Fullerton Milestone SystemsVendor
Tom Galvin GVI SecurityVendor
Jack Gee Ft. Lauderdale Police Department & President, CLEAREnd user
Peter Giacalone Giacalone Associates, LLCConsultant
Scott Goldfine Security Sales & IntegrationPress
Jim Gompers Gompers Inc.Consultant
Bob Harris Attrition BustersConsultant
Denis Hebert President and CEO, HID GlobalVendor
Jim Henry Henry Bros. Electronics, IncIntegrator
Joe Hooper ASSA ABLOYVendor
Gordon Hope HoneywellVendor
John Hunepohl ASSA ABLOYVendor
Steve Hunt HuntBIConsultant
Mike Janzen Aimetis Corp.Vendor
Brad Jarvis HID GlobalVendor
Sandra Jones Sandra Jones and CompanyConsultant
Joel King Cisco SystemsVendor
Geoff Kohl SecurityInfoWatch.compress
Mark Kolar IPVisionSoftwareVendor
Eliot Kushner Mountain SecurityIntegrator
Sascha Kylau DSCVendor
Karen Ladd-Baker The Protection BureauIntegrator
Cosimo Malesci Fluidmesh Networks Inc.Vendor
Doug Marman VideoIQVendor
Debra Martin Raley's Family of Fine StoresEnd user
Lynn Mattice Security Executive CouncilAssociation
H. McCarthy Gipson Buffalo, New York Police DepartmentEnd user
Mark McCourt SDM Magazinepress
Rich Milburn Law Enforcement Consultant, Siras P.I.Consultant
John Nemerofsky Niscayah, IncIntegrator
Fredrik Nilsson Axis CommunicationsVendor
Dan O'Neill Applied Risk Management, LLCConsultant
Brian Offenberger Security SellingConsultant
Steven Oplinger Integrated Fire and Security Solutions, IncIntegrator
Tom Patterson MagTekVendor
Sam Pfeifle Security Systems News and Security Director Newspress
Charlie R. Pierce LeapFrog Training & ConsultingConsultant
Pedro Ramos AgilenceVendor
Todd Rockoff HDcctv AllianceAssociation
Roger Rueda, PSP Applied Risk Management, LLCConsultant
Stephen Russell 3VR SecurityVendor
Russ Ryan National Biometric Security ProjectAssociation
Scott Schafer Arecont VisionVendor
Steven Schelhammer Buffalo Police DepartmentEnd user
Sara Scroggins PelcoVendor
Scott Selby Flawless: Inside the Largest Diamond Heist in Historypress
Craig Sharman TycoVendor
Karenne Smith Sierra Intelligence Technologies, LLCVendor
Paul Smith DVTelVendor
Scott Soltis AbbottEnd user
Jo Stark IBM Global Technology ServicesVendor
Steve Surfaro Axis CommunicationsVendor
Eugene Szatkowski Secure-i, IncVendor
Beth Thomas HoneywellVendor
Steve Van Till Brivo Systems LLCVendor
Bernhard Voit Siemens, Security SolutionsIntegrator
Bryan Ware Digital SandboxVendor
Andrew Wartell Wartell Consulting, LLCConsultant
Daniel Watkins WATKINS & LETOFSKY, LLPConsultant
Jim Webster CPP, CSC Security Design Services CorporationIntegrator
Andrew Weis Civitas GroupConsultant
Terence Yap China Security & Surveillance Technology, Inc. (CSST)Vendor
John Yates Pro2CallVendor

So, by my count, that's 86 total speakers, 40 of whom are vendors, 15 are consultants (vendors who don't sell products?), 11 are integrators, 6 are association reps, 6 are members of the press/writers, and 8 are end users. Is that "vendor heavy?" I think you can make that argument. But, for the reasons outlined above, I'm not surprised by it. Since I know from experience that they're not paying to be on the program, I think it's likely they are the ones who volunteered/most readily said yes. And why wouldn't they say yes? It's to their benefit to be seen as an industry thought leader. We've been given explicit instructions not to include logos in our power points (I'm working on ours right now, actually - boy would this all look better in Keynote... May have to make the conversion), and to not pimp our respective organizations (I will of course violate that willfully, telling people that reading SSN makes you smarter and that the other publications cause brain cancer). I think there's value in the educational programming, but I don't run an integration firm or protect people and property as a security director. I'm a poor judge. The judges will weigh in next week. Whether we speak to empty halls or packed seats will tell me just how valuable these sessions are.


Sam, thanks for sharing all the insider info about putting together TechSec.  Also the tip about brain cancer.  Useful stuff.

I've been in the IT/software business for 20+ years and I've never seen an "education" forum that wasn't heavily influenced by the vendors expertise.  Fact of the matter is, technology is complex and tedious and nobody's going to do a good job of education for free. Experienced technology people (putting on my customer hat for a second) have a healthy level of cynicism that helps them cut through the BS and get to the meat of whatever education is being provided.  The free market and brand trustworthiness (based on productive educational experiences with said vendor) let the best vendors win.  

I applaud John's efforts--he's exploited an opportunity and found a way to profit while providing objective education.  But that's not necessarily the norm in the IT world, nor does it need to be.  There are lots of vendors (say, IBM, Google, Microsoft) who provide access to legit technical education without necessarily pitching their products in the same breath.  The customer will act in their own best interest and choose vendors who provide the best education.

Great comments, Sam. I attended this year and found the entire educational opportunity to be a waste of time. Absolutely the worst I have ever seen at any isc event. The single caveat was a profoundly beneficial one about role playing on ways of saving clients who wanted to switch or cancel service. Ironically, the room was largely empty and I counted 11 attendees after one woman got up in the middle of it and walked out. What a waste! This was one of only a handful of presenters I saw who really knew his stuff, did nothing out of commercial intent and hit the nail right on the head. Alas, no one was there to participate in it. Anyway, I think that isc would do well to re-examine the content and quality of their education and how they market it. I don't feel the east show with its new format will do much better. I am also of the firm opinion that the industry esx conference is a complete waste of time and money and have no intention of spending either of mine to attend it. Any further thoughts Sam?

Hi Glen,
I've been thinking a lot about this in terms of next year's TechSec, my own presentation at ESX, and the presentation we gave at ISC. There are a number of factors that make "education" very difficult at these trade events:
1. There is a huge spectrum of knowledge represented by the attendees. Plenty of guys are still having to be sold on the benefits of IP, and may have never installed an IP camera. Other guys want to talk virtual machines and IP SAN storage. How do you make both of them happy in a presentation like we just gave on getting cost out of IP surveillance? Or when you're programming a show like TechSec that's dedicated to IP and five years ago was considered very progressive but is not relatively mainstream?
2. Just because someone's smart doesn't mean they're a good presenter. I thought my panel did very well here, but I've seen plenty of very boring speakers who can't convey their knowledge base well at all. Attendees get very frustrated with monotone/self-indulgence.
3. How much can you learn in an hour anyway? The real brass-tacks stuff requires in-depth hours of education. People spend years in higher education on some of these topics like marketing and sales. What are people expecting from an hour's worth of education at a trade show?
4. For some reason, despite $50,000 a year college tuition, people don't put very much value at all on education in the business world. $300?!? I'm not paying that!?! But I don't blame them because if they're paying that to sit through product pitches, it can leave a bitter taste. So it's a vicious cycle at this point: no one pays, so hard to invest in education, which leaves poor result, which mean no one wants to pay.
5. There's simply a high level of arrogance in the security industry, in my experience. Everyone knows everything already! What's to learn?!? The lack of questions posed in educational seminars that I attend and/or host blows me away. You don't have any questions for a guy like Doug Marman, the CTO for VideoIQ, a company spun off from GE and with some major technology? Why not? Simple curiosity doesn't really seem to exist in security in large part.
So, with that all said, I'll reference ESX. The panel presentation and discussions are all put together by industry members who are actually owner/operators of alarm companies and integrators. Theoretically, they would know what education is worthwhile, right? Do they pay their speakers? No. So, you're going to really only get those people speaking where they either have something in it for them (manufacturers or people like me - I want people to see me as an industry thought-leader so you'll read more of may articles and create more page views, etc.) or those who are truly altruistic (and there are some of those people - integrators and end users who see themselves as having a responsibility to move the whole industry forward).
The thing is, the mind-set of the whole industry needs to be changed. For example, they assume so much that they're doing me a favor by letting me speak at ESX that not only are they not paying me, they don't even let me attend any of the other seminars! (Actually, since I'm a member of the press, I can probably get into sessions to cover them, but other speakers can't.) How strange is that? The people creating the content that ESX is asking other people to pay for not only aren't getting paid, but they're so little valued that they're asked to pay, themselves, if they want to see other people speak. That seems crazy to me.
At TechSec, we don't pay our speakers either. We do a call for presentations (which I'm tweaking a bit this year) and they submit presentations for review. Then we accept what I consider to be the best for our potential attendees. However, I try to treat our speakers like royalty. They, of course, get the run of the conference and to attend for free, and that includes breakfast and lunch each day, plus we give them a hand-signed thank you note with a $25 gift card to iTunes (my favorite online store). Is that a lot? Is it worth the airline ticket and the hotel stay? Of course not. But my actual belief is that many of these speakers would want to attend the conference itself, and that's a $800 ticket I'm giving them for free in exchange for an hour's presentation.
Anyway, that's a long way of answering your question. Do I think ESX (or ISC's education for that matter) is a waste? No. I think some of the presenters are very smart and for me, a non-technical outsider covering the market, I think some of the presentations can be very valuable. Others, much less so.
My real question to you Glen: What do you wish you were getting that you're not getting?

Sam & Glen (and Steve),

I've really enjoyed reading this particular blog as my platform in assuming responsibility for the ISC events was to improve the education being offered. We enjoy a unique position in the industry in that we don't promote a specific standard or accreditation and are widely accepted as the gathering place for the industry to kick off the year with ISC West.
Our educational offerings have fallen short in past years, as Glen mentioned, as they were predominantly sales pitches from manufacturers. While those have a place in the education of the industry, we've learned that the paid education offering is not that place.
Sam, we've had the same challenges you describe, offering product or technology focused tracks, only to disappoint those in attendance as a function of the diverse background and responsibilities of those attending.
We began an overhaul of ISC Education last year, an overhaul that will continue through 2011, taking the education from broad stroke product and technology sessions down to job specific topics. We've employed a Conference Advisory Board, made up of a fair representation of the channel, manufacturers, integrators, dealer/installers and end-users and have also worked more closely with the Security Industry Association (SIA).
The result - based on preliminary post-event research - is an increase in the satisfaction wtih the overall conference offerings versus last year - and while we still aren't where we want to be, we are making progress.
The primary issues we struggle with are a) the Call for Papers process and b) post-event engagement. While it has its place and is a necessary part of the build up of an educational program for the reasons Sam states above, my concern with the Call for Papers process exclusively is that we've really only widened our circle of knowledge by those that have submitted proposals. My intent for ISC Education in 2011 is a build-up versus an aggregation; leveraging our industry Advisory Board - and others - to provide consensus on the real issues facing the different job functions in the security industry for 2011; and our staff finding the best content to address those issues (versus selecting from what has been offered to them).
Glen - I appreciate your comments above; while not what I want to hear - it is what I need to hear. The other issue we face is a lack of engagement from conference attendees - with the post-event surveys and needs analysis research. The traditionally low number of responses to these efforts make it difficult to fully understand the level of satisfaction of our customers - and also can lead us down the wrong path when the small number of responses doesn't accurately reflect the overall sentiment of those in attendance.

Please know that we are open to any and all feedback around ISC Education...and we need to hear from you, and others like you, particularly if you've had a bad experience. We are in the vacuum of knowledge and feedback that Sam describes above without your feedback.
If you - or anyone - would like to reach me please feel free to e-mail me at

Ed Nichols
Vice President
ISC Events

Thanks for your thoughtful response Sam. To answer your question bluntly, I wish I was getting training that would help me to sell more, make money, grow business and grow market share. That isn't asking for much from our significant investment in going to these things is it? Out of six educational sessions I attended at isc west, only one of them did that for me. As a matter of fact it was a workshop that was right on target, provided specific solutions, high energy, very interactive and much needed by our entire industry. It was also barely attended. I have no idea if this speaker was paid for his work or not, but based on the lack of attendance it will probably be the last time he comes there if he wasn't. The arrogance you describe on the part of the esx conference is precisely why this conference is clearly failing. Its failing financially and its failing its attendees. Those who organize it seem to be completely full of themselves and out of touch based on what you wrote. We took a close look at their brochure and not one person from our entire management team found anything that created even the slightest desire to attend. Frankly, I expect that esx attendees will generate exactly the same value as the speakers will. It seems that in their inability to place true value on quality education lumps all of these trade shows into the same category... networking events and vendor sponsored sales pitches. If esx, techsec, isc and all of them would be smart, they would dust off their wallets and bring in really good commercial free education to justify the cost associated with attending. Frankly, the money we're going to save by not attending esx is exactly what we have budgeted to bring in the speaker I saw at isc west so he can provide a higher level of training to our entire company privately. Awaiting your reply. GL

Glen, I'm going to take some time to think about the feedback you've given me. In the short term, know that putting conferences, especially smaller ones like TechSec, isn't cheap. Obviously, there has to be a win-win, whereby the people who put on the conference make it worth their while and the people who attend find it to be worth THEIR while. That's capitalism in a nutshell. We've looked at paying speakers and free education and it can be hard to make the numbers work, but I think really we've just got to be more creative and get closer to the heart of what attendees find valuable.

Sam, maybe Vendor's would be willing to kick in some cash to sponsor paid speakers. "So and So brought to you by Wheaties, the breakfast of champions!" They do this all the time at the SHRM, BICSI, ICM and other conferences we have attended. Why our industry doesn't... I do not know. After all, if the attendees make more money, so will the vendors. I know that we are particularly loyal to those who help us bring home the bacon. Verizon sent some of us to a truly wonderful customer service program a couple of years ago. They were smart because we never forgot it! As we grow, we use more of their services.
Just a thought. Maybe there's something in it for you too Ed?


Since all speakers are unpaid, what is the motivation for people who are not looking to sell product? Manufacturers are ok with speaking for free because they know they can use the opportunity to market their products or general technology (even if indirectly 'hyping' their category). 

The conference price is $500 - $1000 which is a lot of money given that manufacturers are excited to fly around the country and provide the same content for free to people in their hometowns.

You could go the IFSEC route, not charge attendees and let manufacturers just pitch ( or you could pay speakers to give unbiased operational/technical presentations (which would motivate integrators, engineers, consultants, etc.). I am not sure what is the best path but it seems the current approach of charging attendees to watch volunteer speakers is challenging because of adverse incentives of the 'volunteer' speakers (i.e. marketing people from manufacturers).

Glen and John,

Our success with the manufacturer sponsored model to allow us to pay for our content has been limited in the past, primarily in that its predicated on the manufacturer sponsorship funding the session - so it requires their buy-in first. Once they've committed, frequently they would like to drive the content and it becomes more difficult to prevent that from becoming a sales pitch - back to square one.

I will be at IFSEC next month specifically to see the education. Our Infosecurity (UK) event has been successful in offering show floor education for a number of years. While this addresses cost, it doesn't necessarily ensure against the issue initially raised here in that too much education being offered is manufacturer sales pitches.

We will be testing a hybrid of this model at ISC Solutions (formerly ISC East) in November, with targeted content being offered in classrooms on the show floor - as well as manufacturer case studies.

Will any of you be at IFSEC next month? If so, I'd like to meet to continue this discussion. First beer is on me.