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PowerPlex 2015: a model for 21st century application software conferences

Den Howlett Profile picture for user gonzodaddy July 6, 2015
PowerPlex gave attendees a rare opportunity to freely mingle with one another in a way that is rare to see. It makes for interesting conversations.

Plex manufacturing
As an attendee at dozens of events in a year, one of the comparisons I like to make comes in the quality of conversation I'm able to have with customers. The more polished they seem, the more likely they are to have cut a deal with the vendor to smile brightly and talk up their solution. That, unfortunately is the way of things at many a conference and, it seems, the larger the company, the more controlled are their customer referrals. PowerPlex was quite the reverse.

During the lunch breaks, which ran mercifully long, each table had signage to indicate the industry segment and hosting organization. They were mostly hosted by one or more customers who in turn had a Plex 'minder,' prospects plus implementers and assorted media/analysts. It made for a heady mix that reminded me of customer tours where a consultant is taking prospects from place to place in an effort to get their questions answered in the first person. Anyone who has done a software selection knows just how valuable these Q&A sessions really are.

I was not chaperoned, no-one told me who I could and could not talk to, I was left free to roam the hall. As a software buyer advocate, it was like being let go knock myself out in a candy store.

One conversation in particular was especially riveting. The prospect, a large scale manufacturer with an impressive IT budget was open about being in market and looking at other big ticket providers. It was clear they have a laundry list of topics that need answering - meaningful price comparison, infrastructure needs to support cloud operations, community value and how that is driven and support responsiveness indicators were just a few of the broad sweep of topics. The person asking the questions is a CIO. Disclosure: I have since received detail on those topics which I will be bringing up with at least one other vendor.

On the other side of the table was a customer representative who holds the title of 'IT analyst.' At this point it is worth bearing in mind that in my experience, customers buy from customers but usually prefer to talk with their peer level counterparts. In this case, titles matter less than the job in hand. It was interesting to watch the back and forth between two highly knowledgable people talking as peers, each eagerly feeding off the other.

It also confirmed my long held view that in large scale deals, the CIO is important in the context of signing off on a project, but it is the line 1,2 and 3 decision makers who are far more important to the deal. These are the folk who have to make the software work, who have the real world experience that molds their approach and to which peers can turn for valuable life lessons.

It was impressive that despite their knowing I represent a media organization, there was no attempt by Plex to interject with 'that's not for public consumption' at every sensitive issue. In short, I witnessed authenticity at a level that is rare outside the confines of the conference room.

At another table, I learned about the reality of cloud solution implementations, the challenges that providers face and in particular the need to act as buyer advocates when those same customers need code changes or customizations that really are crucial to project success rather than simply a pet project or nice to have that has been escalated to must have for no particularly discernible business reason.

Vinnie Mirchandani was equally impressed:

I spent time with a couple of prospects who, in another sign of confidence, were allowed to walk around the event and get unvarnished input from customers and analysts. Paul Wright, CIO at Accuride shared with me details of the Plex customer community – the leadership seasoned Plex customers like him provide and encourage their peers to provide. He also talked about his openness with Plex prospects in a conversation dotted with terms like “G-codes for lathes” and “maquiladoras”

Speaking of Paul Wright, IT director at wheel maker Accuride and a 14-year Plex veteran, I shot a long video which I subsequently split into two pieces. Wright was a keynote speaker joining Jason Blessing, CEO Plex on stage for a slightly rehearsed discussion on the challenges of working in non-US territories. On video, we got into some of the nitty gritty around international implementations which showed a side we hear about a lot in backroom conversations but which are rarely articulated with brutal honesty in the public domain.

The same goes for Steve Carlson, director operational IT/planning at Floracraft, maker of floral products, who talked about the challenges of go live in a greenfield to automated supply chain implementation and Scott Tollafield, IT director at Fisher and Company, discussing sensors connected to software - something Fisher has been doing for at least four years.

This was an event that had all the hallmarks of a user conference in the real sense of the word, with executives fading into the background and letting their customers advocate from a position of passion and sincerity, tempered with reality. All in all, it provided a refreshing experience that will live long in the memory and which sets a high bar for others to follow and a clear mark of differentiation in an industry that is notorious for smoke and mirrors, FUD and posturing.

For those interested, here is the playlist of videos I shot at PowerPlex:

Image credit - via the author

Disclosure - Plex is a premier partner at time of writing and covered most of my T&E for attendance at the event. they also provided video production facilities via NIA, their onsite video production partner.

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