As I write this article, I am in Germany in the process of attending the ISH convention and meeting with the FEST (European Distributors) organization. Our plans are to discuss best practices, communication protocols and two-step distribution and continue the efforts that were started several years ago to understand distribution practices in our respective organizations.

Over the last 60 days, I have attended a number of industry events. I have a newfound respect for the “road warriors” that spend a great deal of their working days traveling — you certainly earn your pay. Interestingly, there seem to be some common themes at all of the events.

One is the discussions of social media and its impact on business and society. It seems apparent that this phenomenon will have a dramatic impact on how people interact; less clear is how it will impact businesses. There is a bit of a “wild west” mentality associated with social media at this time, and I would urge all members to perform a great deal of due diligence on this matter. HARDI staff is in the process of researching the opportunities and threats this presents to members, but preliminary information indicates members should be very careful about what they put on sites such as Facebook, as proprietary information may not be secure. We will have further information coming in the near future.

A second theme seems to be around the role of technology in our businesses. At these meetings, the number of people that already have iPads, and the number of suppliers who are providing or planning to provide applications with this platform, was striking. Whether Apple or some other provider wins the hardware battle, it seems that the “iPad” could impact business in the same way the smartphone or laptop computer has up to now. Closely related to the hardware is the information that is available through software — particularly analytics and dashboards that will make it very possible for managers to have up-to-date information on customers and their business no matter where they go — a mixed blessing to be sure.

A third theme that seemed to be present at all the conferences was the volatility of the economy going forward. We heard that the past is not the precursor of the future, that the last recession has changed the rules, that we must be more flexible and responsive, and that change will be the constant. I seem to have heard some of this before, but there is little doubt those organizations that respond quickly to change, with the right decisions, of course, are going to be successful. Although the rate of change may be increasing, this seems to have always been true; and being close to our customers and providing solutions to their problems will always be the right focus.

Finally, there seemed to be a lot of discussion on how important the right people are going to be for success in the future. While this has always been true, what seems to be the underlying theme of these discussions is that the demands of the future will require more strategic and creative thinking, with technology helping minimize the more mundane and transactional tasks. If this is true, I personally would welcome this, as it would almost certainly lead to attracting the type of people to our profession that enjoy these demands. Certainly, if we are going to attract young people to our industry, we are going to have to provide that kind of environment.

The regional meetings, the legislative Fly-In and the national meetings are approaching soon. I hope to see all of you there.