It was great to see such abig turnout at the Southeastern Vending Association Convention in Destin, Fla. last week. A record turnout during a recession indicates a strong level of recognition of the importance of industry education. It's especially true given the rapid pace of technological change affecting automatic merchandising these days.On Thursday, consultant Brad Bachtelle gave a detailed summary of how sales have failed to keep up with costs over the years. He also made a strong case for using technology to improve route efficiencies, drawing from his extensive field work.The high point of the convention was a Friday panel on the future of vending organized by Marc Whitener, a Louisiana operator. The panel offered attendees the chance to hear from representatives of three of the industry's largest companies Tom Barlow of Coca Cola Refreshments, Dennis Hogan of Canteen Vending Services, and Brad Ellis of Crane Merchandising Systems on where they see the industry today and where they see it heading.Every intelligent operator recognizes the industry stands at a precipice of change. It is helpful to know what the companies with the deepest pockets think of the situation. Whitener said it best: the big players face the same choices as the rest of the players on a bigger scale.Today's VendingMarketWatch includes a summary report on the panel discussion. One of the most interesting take aways for me was the recognition that there is no clear path to the industry's future.When Whitener asked if the panelists had identified a "tipping point," that point at which technological adaptation in the field would be sufficient to drive widespread adaption, the panelists agreed there is no easy answer to the future.It was refreshing to hear such frank talk from industry leaders and to realize that the industry's best minds are searching for solutions as much as anyone.All panelists agreed that new technology brings a lot to the table.All agreed that open standards among technology suppliers is important.All agreed that technology needs to be self funding to be successful.And all agreed that new solutions to many existing problems must still be found.Hogan of Canteen Vending Services made an excellent point in saying that vending, being a service business and a relationship business, is a very hard thing for customers to quantify.The panelists also agreed that every player needs to be committed to education. The fact that the SEVA convention drew such a good turnout was encouraging.