Ariba Gambles (Doubles Down??) on LIVE 2009

In a private announcement that went out on Tuesday, Ariba told its customers and prospects that it was changing tracks with LIVE 2009, opting to cancel the 1000+ person 2-3 day country-wide conference that it had held for years. Rather, Ariba will hold a virtual event later in April which will combine different multi-media technologies, delivering an online conference environment that anyone with a web browser will have the potential to access. They will then complement this session with six different regional conferences slated, at this point, for the West Coast, Midwest, and East Coast in the US and the UK, France and the Nordic region in Europe. Tentative locations I've heard thrown around (but not confirmed) include: San Francisco, Chicago, New York, London, Paris and Stockholm.

In my view, Ariba had three options with LIVE 2009: 1) Do nothing and hold the main event; 2) Cancel the event; or 3) Try a more creative approach that brought LIVE to customers and prospects. If Ariba had taken the first option, I suspect attendence would have been down by a third or more (possibly more than 50%) given reduced travel budgets. In fact, a number of vendors and conference organizers are cancelling events this year specifically because employees don't have permission to travel. SAP has even cancelled Sapphire in Europe -- a key event for the ERP provider.

Just last week, I received a note from the Green Procurement Exhibition, a Chicago-based conference that I was planning to speak at, that "due to reduced budgets in all of the industries we serve, travel restrictions by government and private industry, and almost universal fear by potential vendors and attendees of what the economy holds for the immediate future, it is with great regret … [that it must] discontinue operations in 2009." I'm guessing this will be a theme that we here more and more about this year. In fact, I've advised many of my vendor and consulting clients to dial-back their 2009 conference budgets because the prospects they've been able to meet in the past are much less likely to be in attendance this year.

Given these cancellations, the fact that Ariba is doubling down on its LIVE bet, investing in both regional events and a virtual show is testament to a willingness to place some major bets with the sales and marketing budget. Clearly, this investment won't come cheap, and I suspect it's one where Ariba will have to cover more of the costs for themselves considering that smaller, regional events are unlikely to attract the same level of sponsor support (or dollars) given reduced budgets from those who had booths at LIVE in the past. I also doubt that Ariba will be able to charge attendees what they have for past LIVE events.

I look forward to hearing more about the plans for LIVE as they unfold in the coming weeks. In this environment, we will all be served by learning and networking. And Ariba is proposing to bring us both in this modified format. Still, whether they're able to get large regional turnouts in each of the cities remains to be seen given the fact that even within local geographies, it still requires discretionary funds to send employees to events.

- Jason Busch

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