Inside view: conference season

Inside view: conference season

Many outside the IT ‘channel’ are surprised to hear about the huge, vendor-specific, partner-only conferences that take place in our world. With colleagues soon to head off to the Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Microsoft conferences, I thought it might be interesting to give an insider’s view of these colossal events.

Like many successful businesses we do a lot of things behind the scenes to help us to provide customers with the insights, guidance and services they want. Having excellent working relationships with the key technology vendors is an important part of this – and just as it’s important to us, it’s important for them that their key partners know about their technologies, product developments and strategy.

Over time this has spawned a host of increasingly large partner conferences. Many of these are clustered in a spring and early summer ‘conference season’, although in truth the ‘season’ now starts in early January with Citrix Summit and runs through to November with Cisco’s Partner Summit.

To give you some idea of the scale of these events, they typically run over three or four days with many thousands in attendance. Microsoft’s annual worldwide partner conference, now branded Inspire, will bring the main season to a close in early July. It’s expected to see around 18,000 delegates attending from a list of countries to rival the Olympics. 

With sessions often starting at 8 or 8:30am and running on to 6pm or beyond they can be long days too. Morning’s typically see keynote session’s led by the vendor’s CEO and their executive team, focused on strategy and major technology announcements, followed by a succession of breakout sessions. At the larger events they’ll run technical, commercial and management tracks, with a choice of topics within each delivered as presentations, demos, round-tables, lab sessions and case studies. 

The logistics are mind-boggling! There can be 20, 30, 40 or more break-out sessions running in parallel with a conference shop, exhibition, exams and a variety of scheduled meetings. Only a handful of North American cities have the transport connections, hotel rooms and conference capacity to host events of this magnitude. I remember at a past Microsoft conference attending the keynotes in the sports arena that is also home to the Toronto Maple Leafs (NHL ice hockey) and Toronto Raptors (NBA basketball).

Running something of this magnitude can be a massive investment and the larger vendors will have a sizeable, full-time team dedicated to this. For the host cities these large conferences can also inject a lot of money into the local economy and negotiations will start years ahead of time. To this day I can’t help wondering just how good a deal Minneapolis must have offered to end up on the list of past hosts, alongside the likes of Toronto, Boston (not the one in Lincolnshire!), Washington DC and LA? grin

This year Las Vegas is the go-to destination (hats off to their conference sales team!) and having already hosted IBM’s Think and Dell EMC’s Global Partner Summit has the Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), Microsoft and Cisco partner conferences still to come.

Attending these events is also a large investment for partners and it’s one that relatively few make. It’s not just the conference fee, transatlantic flight and hotel, but the cost of removing key staff from the business for most of a week. But done right they can be hugely beneficial, cementing executive relationships and providing us with the insights to give our customers the right advice and to develop our skills and capabilities in line with customers future requirements.

Next week two senior colleagues will travel to Vegas for HPE’s Global Partner Summit, which unusually is an invitation only event, and they’ll be followed in early July by those attending Microsoft Inspire. I know from past experience that it’ll be a gruelling schedule but it should also be hugely beneficial for Total and its customers.