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Reflections on a packed conference season - getting mobile, sort of

Den Howlett Profile picture for user gonzodaddy November 16, 2015
The tech conference event season has been hectic. The good news is that there is a sense of change in the air and that's all to the good.

This year I have attended more user conferences than in any year past. Apart from the big name gigs, I've slotted in a number that were sponsored by smaller tech companies along with companies I have not covered in the past. It has been an eye opening experience.

This year, many vendors offered mobile applications as part of the delegate experience. These are (mostly) useful, especially for filling out agendas that are not already PR driven. Unfortunately, they don't take into consideration the needs of media and analysts or those with pre-planned meetings. These apps need integrations back to main calendars to ensure no overlaps. In that sense, the apps could all do with some level of improvement.

Episerver Ascend leaderboard

In years past, these apps were hardly touched. This year, the experience varied, depending upon the extent to which the sponsoring company used the app as a ways to game attendees. Episerver did the best job by some considerable margin, offering prizes and recognition for those who tweeted, photobombed or selfied like crazy. There was a lot of repetition in the resulting 'content' and here, it is clear that many don't know how to make the most of social media as an information transmitter. That's something of a lost opportunity because without rich content, you can't expect to get meaningful conversations going on the topics in which attendees are interested.

The biggest area of required improvement has to be Single Sign-On. Double Dutch build many event apps and each one has custom twists. But there is no attempt to offer SSO, which makes registration onto individual apps a repeatable PITA. C'mon guys, you need to pick up your game.

Most noticeable is in the amount of 'fun' that smaller companies put into their attendee offering. They may not have the big budgets of an Oracle to host an Elton John, but 'Weird Al' Yankovic is a darned good draw, as was the case at Future Stack. I've talked at length about mimosas for breakfast, another break with tradition. I was amazed that the late night revellers weren't topping up and ending up shitfaced for the morning session. It must be something to do with levels of restraint with which I am unfamiliar.

By comparison, the Big Gigs were...umm...stodgy in comparison. A predictable diet of suits and marketing, occasional customers saying not much in particular seemed somewhat bland at times although we did get some gems out of TechEd. How can I say all of that when Larry
Ellison & Co at Oracle and Marc Benioff, CEO Salesforce put on such great parties? Well - that's just it. Those gigs are so big that you need a small army of people to get around them. That kinda sucks a lot of the fun out of attendance.

The biggest change I've seen comes from the more technical vendors. In the past, I would expect a non stop diet of technical teaching and demos. That's fine up to a point. But this year I noticed a clear trend towards endeavoring to get the end user view front and center. I welcome that wholeheartedly because it represents an important break from the past.

The debate about suits and geeks has been going on more years than I care to remember. But as line of business managers recognize the importance of software based business models, the geeks are responding in like fashion, recognizing the necessity for high quality user experiences. This slow meeting of minds is much overdue and I sincerely hope we see this develop in a positive way in 2016. The critical piece now comes in how all this gets communicated. To that extent I was particularly struck by Williams-Sonoma acknowledgment of the marketing quotient.

Overall, it has been an insanely busy year - and it's not quite over - for event attendance. I hope we've managed to do the events we were able to attend the justice they deserve.

Disclosure: all the vendors mentioned in this story covered most of my travel and expense for attending conferences. SAP, Oracle and Salesforce are premier partners at time of writing.

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