The not so loneliness of long distance exhibiting

The Australasian Corrosion Association convention in Auckland NZ last week (ACA Nov 2016) saw me set up my first exhibitors stand at a convention. The best piece of advice I’d been given was to go out and buy a comfortable pair of shoes.

I did the rounds and got lots of inconsistent advice and opinions such as:

  • You have to be there to remind clients that you’re still around and haven’t gone away;

  • Exhibiting is not worth while in a narrow vertical market where you’re already well known;

  • Exhibiting only works if you have saleable items to exhibit;

  • It gives people that have heard about you chance to casually find out what you’re about;

  • It gives your opposition a chance to find out what you’re up to;

  • Consultants can spend their time better at forums and paper presentations than at stands.

First time exhibiting is a bit like getting your first job running a sideshow at a rural agricultural show where the people turning up are only interested in the livestock and not the entertainment, well, that’s how it feels.

So was it worthwhile? I don’t know. One person told me they’d exhibited for several years and it didn’t seem worthwhile until they stopped exhibiting and then their business sales fell off; another said it really helped them get established and now they don’t need to exhibit any more.

The best opinion I received was that exhibiting has to be an intentional component of an integrated marketing strategy reasoned by identified purposes with measurable objectives. Sounds great, I wrote it down, now I suppose at least I’ve got a year to work out what that means for me.

I’m really glad I went, it may have been a waste of time but I got so much advice to trawl through. Advice from friends and colleagues, from supporters and competitors, from people that see me as an extension to their own businesses and those that see me as a opposition.

But of all the advice I received, I’m most thankful is what came from all the other exhibitors for sharing their views so openly, and the small but critical group of followers passionate to see our electrical pipeline hazard analysis tool (elephant) software flourish and succeed.

So will I exhibit next year? Hell yeah! Will I do it differently? You bet! And what did I achieve by exhibiting in Auckland? I made lots of mistakes that I can learn from and managed to put one message out there which is this: “elephant has arrived and we’re not going away!

Auckland 8 Years Later: the journey re-begins where it started

Eight years ago while working for GHD in Auckland (New Zealand) I was asked to cost hazardous voltage mitigation for a pipeline in accordance with the Standard AS/NZS 4853:2000 Electric hazards on metallic pipelines.

We estimated $750k using CDEGS package just to do the Low Frequency Induction (LFI) analysis for all Transmission and Distribution power circuits impacting on the length of pipeline. As you might guess, that analysis never happened.

Too often pipeline LFI analysis (if it’s done) is only for one or two of the nearest circuits, ignoring those more than a few hundred metres away, usually because available technology simply doesn't scale up for pipelines that are tens of kilometres long in modern cities, it’s too hard and too slow.

Eight years ago in Auckland I questioned why it was that there are no fast scalable LFI pipeline software products running straight off the back of Geographical Information System (GIS) packages. Turns out that it’s not so simple.

Checking with old colleagues within the Power Coordination department of Telstra where my cathodic protection career started in the 80s I discover that this is exactly what they'd done for telecommunications cables, but their software is unsuitable for pipelines; and so my journey began.

An evening spare time interest grew into an obsession over the next five years. Then three years ago I left my job at Corrosion Control Engineering Vic to form my own company and started using my ‘proof of concept’ first generation code to bootstrap commercialization through successive projects.

Wow, what a journey it’s been, and what I’ve learned about GIS and how it can be shoe-horned with a little magic and imagination in amazing ways for the pipeline industry. The software now has a name: 'elephant' Electrical Pipeline Analysis Tool and we use it in-house, but that is due to change.

So here I am eight years later, back in Auckland where the concept was born. My LFI calculation software will soon be ready for commercial release. I have my first stand ever at the 2016 Australasian Corrosion Association (ACA) convention and I have no idea of what to expect, what a roller coaster ride.

Compliance and Safety is more than just a slogan, it’s a commitment that has sent me on an 8 year software development journey through some serious physics, maths and electrical engineering. Now I want to know what features and capabilities pipeline asset managers and other consultants would really like.

If you have a view and you are not at the conference then send me some feedback.

In my next blog I’ll share the journey and tell you what I discover this time round in Auckland.