Have you got your VIP wristband for the Xerocon pre-con party yet? On the eve of this week's big event, John Stokdyk ponders the cultural significance of the software tradeshow and its offshoots.
In the past few years, accounting software tradeshows have become a key battleground for the profession’s loyalty. In the war of the widescreens, global giants QuickBooks, Xero and Sage have competed to see which of them can pour away the most money on celebrity speakers, CPD theatres and hospitality at their ever-increasing corporate bonanzas.
Almost without knowing it, software marketing has become a branch of the entertainment industry.
The phenomenon originates in the US, where holidays are strictly rationed. Many business owners, bookkeepers and accountants work in isolation and lack the support and feedback of working in an office full of peers. In this setting, the big software events are all about filling that hole with inspiration, copious amounts of alcohol and a sense of belonging. Or, as the attendees would no doubt explain in the white space on their tax returns, business-related networking.
Xero has transplanted the model to Australia and New Zealand and now heads the table in the UK with its annual Xerocon event, which takes place in London next week.
Xero UK managing director Gary Turner likes to characterise Xerocon as “Glastonbury for accountants”, but a more interesting parallel is the Edinburgh festival. What started out as a low-key gathering has grown so large that it has spawned its own satellite circuit – the fringe or pre-conference 'pre-con'.
If you’re a glutton for all things Xero, you can sign up for the Xero University the day before. That evening, there's a choice between competing fringe events with a pre-con party hosted by Practice Ignition and Receipt Bank's VIP Yacht Party, featuring a personal appearance by Mr Turner himself.
Though Gary would scoff at the suggestion from his perch in front of the 30m wide stage display, he is a direct descendant of celebrity CEOs like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Larry Ellison, who made the software tradeshow what it is today. In a way, the remote nature of cloud software has intensified this trend. If you don't actually have to have someone visit your office to install the system, how are you going to hassle them about the new feature you want, or moan at them about how long it takes to answer the support line?
As a seasoned semiotician, Turner would no doubt appreciate the subtle irony that the spectacle over which he presides has become the epitome of the "society of the spectacle" predicted by situationist Guy Debord in the 1960s. See you down by the dockside on Tuesday night, folks!
About John Stokdyk
AccountingWEB’s Head of Insight has been with the site since 1999 and likes to spend his time studying accountants’ technology habits. When not nerding out, you can find him exploring obscure indie music and searching for the perfect organic sourdough loaf from his base in Brighton, UK.