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The history of SME… One veteran speaks fondly of another

UBM, the organisers of The Facilities Show, will be celebrating 15 years of the event when it takes place in June. I am sure that Service Management Expo (SME), now part of that show and co-located with it at ExCeL London, has a significantly longer history. And, I think SME may have started out in London – so a bit of a ‘back to the future’ moment there too. All of which got me wondering about how many years ago actually SME started.


Nobody here is old enough to remember that kind of ancient history, so I approached long time participant in the field service industry Ian Mapp to find out if he knew when it all began. Luckily, he was not offended when I suggested he might be ‘of the right age’ to have been there, and happily shared his reminiscences.

“What’s that you say, young ’un? You’ll have to speak up a bit. And pass me another Wurther’s Original, sonny.”

Okay, maybe he was offended!

“SME? It has always been a mainstay event for the field service industry in the UK – at one time it was an acronym for Service Management Europe rather than Service Management Expo, but it has always been UK-centric in terms of visitor numbers and focus for exhibitors. It has always been the place to find the latest developments in technology, to meet up with knowledgeable colleagues and share stories about this wonderful, stressful, challenging business. For example, everyone is now talking about wearable technology, but my first hands-on experience (actually head-on experience) was at SME.

I say always, but I actually do not know how long it has been going. More than 25 years – possibly even 30 – would be my best guess. So, at 15, The Facilities Show is just an upstart by comparison. And, it has not always been a UBM event, previously it was run by Penton Media. Although, I think it was a self-organising show even before that.

Field service software companies like Cognito, Click Software, Tesseract, Solarvista and Astea have long supported the event, through changes of venue, ownership and format. And there has always been a strong contingent of hardware suppliers, a perennial fascination for visitors. Many companies have also come and gone as exhibitors over the life of the SME – like Prolog, Pacific Decision Sciences and even Oracle. Some have disappeared from view, while others have done quite well. RAM Mobile Data anyone?

It has been at the NEC for some years but, before that, it was Earls Court in London in 2002, before that another spell at the NEC, and before that – even I forget! I do have a vague recollection of it being in what was essentially a converted multi-storey car park in Wembley, but that could simply be a recurring nightmare of mine!

I am sure your readers will be able to fill in the blanks in my memory.”

Then, I asked Ian about his thoughts for the event this year, indeed whether he would be attending himself.

“I think that UBM lost their way a bit with SME in 2013, which was a disappointing event, but they seem to be back on their game this year and the move to ExCeL creates a lot of opportunities for improvement. They genuinely seem dedicated to increasing visitor numbers and re-invigorating the event this year. It would be great to see visitor numbers in the thousands again – just like the good old days!

Oh yes, I’ll be there - in some capacity or other. I always try to get to SME. The beauty of the event is that field service is a “people business”. I know that sounds trite, but it is true. After all, the industry is all about people delivering service to other people. As such, a face-to-face event will always appeal to the kind of people that work in it.

And besides, it’s always good to have a drink and catch-up with old friends.”


Thanks to Ian for his time. Cognito will be there (Stand P1500) and we look forward to meeting you and Ian there too – although we cannot promise that he will buy you a drink! If you have any memories (or photos) you want to share then feel free to comment, or email them to info@cognitoiq.com. To sign up for SME updates from Cognito, click here!

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