COMMON Preview: A Few Little Changes, and Some Big Ones in Store
August 28, 2006 Mary Lou Roberts
As is expected and desired, each COMMON conference brings with it some changes, which are designed, of course, to attract and meet the needs of COMMON members, draw more independent software vendors into the Expo, and build the momentum of the COMMON organization itself. This fall’s conference, which will be held in Miami Beach, Florida, from September 17 through 21, is no exception.
Did someone consciously plan the Disaster Recovery theme of the COMMON event? In the middle of hurricane season? In Miami?
The most obvious difference from past practice is that the Opening Session will be combined with the IBM System i Town Meeting and will begin at 3 p.m., followed immediately by the Welcome Reception and the opening of the Expo. According to Ralph Gervasi, COMMON’s executive director, “Our exhibitors are happy with this change, as it brings more excitement to the opening of the hall.”
Following on the successes of previous conferences, attendees can choose to attend pre-conference workshops, which have an additional fee. This fall, the workshops include lectures on SQL, disaster recovery, and RPG applications as well as hands-on labs for CL programming and TCP/IP configuration.
Also, for the second time, COMMON is offering attendees a chance to get an in-depth education through all-day Integrated Seminars that will be offered during the conference. According to Gervasi, two different seminars (at no additional cost) will be offered at this conference: one on Domino administration, and the other on Linux.
Some things always remain constant: death, taxes, and pre-COMMON rumors. With so little certainty in life, it’s refreshing to ponder about the things that never change. This year’s fall COMMON conference is in line with the long-standing tradition of being a catalyst for the production of grist for the rumor mill. This year, the rumblings are all about the future of COMMON’s semi-annual conference schedule, with some predicting that COMMON will go to a one major conference a year format, some predicting that the two-conference format will remain, and some suggesting that COMMON will continue to develop its regional event format and rely on those events to reach and educate the membership.
I talked with Gervasi, who quickly put the lid on some of these rumors. For one thing, Gervasi stresses that COMMON has already stated that there will be a fall conference in 2007, keeping the two-conference format in place for next year, at least, with the spring COMMON scheduled for Anaheim, California. Further, Gervasi explained that “COMMON is already researching venues for well into 2009 and beyond. As soon as we wrap up negotiations and firm up contracts, we will happily announce those venues to the membership. Our members have come to expect the high quality, in-depth education offered at our full conferences, and we plan to offer that education for years to come.”
While Gervasi emphasized that the familiar full conference schedule is in place for 2007, the details of which will be announced September 17 at the Opening Session in Miami Beach, he did not expand on what might happen in 2008 and beyond–except to say that COMMON also intends to unveil its “future educational plan” at the same Opening Session.
At any rate, a source at IBM, who for obvious reasons wants to remain anonymous, believes that after next year, COMMON will be moving to a once-a-year spring conference format. The remainder of the educational plan will be an extension of the COMMON-hosted regional events that have already been piloted with some success in late 2005 in areas like Seattle, Houston, Dallas, Northern California, and Minnesota. Gervasi did say that COMMON is planning more of these regional events for this fall.
The prospect of COMMON rolling out events in a variety of geographies has brought its own set of fears on the part of some Local User Groups (LUGS) that COMMON will be encroaching on their turf and stepping on their toes. Gervasi has assured the LUGS that this will not happen: “In all instances, we have worked closely with LUGs and partnered only with groups that were interested in having us come into their region. The volunteers involved with this series are LUG members themselves, and all of us understand that some LUG representatives are very concerned that a COMMON seminar will conflict with their own event. However, this will never happen. The seminars will only be offered when we can either work in conjunction with the nearest LUG or LUGs to schedule it as they see fit, or in an area where the are no LUGs.”
One of the LUGs that was originally concerned about encroachment was OCEAN, the very active, nearly 500-member group in Southern California. Carole Comeau, OCEAN’s vice president, says that the group does quite well on its own. OCEAN had approximately 325 people at its local conference in July, draws about 60 or so attendees to its monthly meetings, and doesn’t believe that regional events hosted by COMMON in its back yard would be a positive. Comeau has been assured, however, that this will not happen. “We don’t want them to come here, and they have said they will not go where they are not needed or asked for.”
Glenn Ericson is a member of the board of directors of the Long Island System Users Group (with membership from New York City area, Connecticut, and New Jersey). He is also on the board of directors for the North East User Groups Conference, which is held in Framingham, Massachusetts, and which represents eight LUGs in seven states, spanning from Maine to New York. Ericson also serves on the COMMON committee that developed the pilot program for the regional events, helping to roll them out last year and plan additional events for this year.
Ericson also emphasizes the process that will allow the LUGs to say “yes” or “no” to the hosting of an event in its area. “The intent is not to interfere with any nearby user group’s event.” Each of these events, Ericson says, will be a full day, including six hours of content around one topic. It is anticipated that each will have an attendance of 25 to 100 people, at a cost in the neighborhood of $300. The cost depends largely on the facility cost, taking advantage of facilities already used by the LUGs, where possible.
Given some rough history from years ago when COMMON held regional events without coordinating well with the LUGs, Ericson can understand that some people may be concerned and lack trust. However, he stresses, “If a user group feels like it’s going to get hurt by a COMMON full-day, local seminar event, it’s not going to happen. We’ll be very cautious about stepping on people’s toes.”
Pete Elliot, director of marketing for Key Information Systems, is a strong believer that COMMON should cut back to one major conference per year “somewhere like Chicago that is centrally located and easy for all to attend.” He is also in favor of seeing more regional events, and believes and hopes that everyone can work together to make these successful. “It’s a diminishing island we all sit on, and we have to support each other. A pox on all our houses if we can’t, because the iSeries is such a great box. We have to find a complementary way to support each other both regionally and nationally. We have like interests, and we don’t want to get into a turf battle.”
How will independent software vendors who fuel the COMMON Expo feel about the possibility of moving to a once-a-year major conference schedule supplemented by regional events? The general consensus will be positive.
“For some time, attendance has been dropping, so I hope that COMMON will announce that it is finally going to cut back to one event a year in the fall/winter so that attendance goes back up, vendor costs drop, and leads increase,” says Lennie Broich, director of international channels for Bytware.
Mark Koszyk, manager of event marketing and telemarketing for Lakeview Technology says, “COMMON should ultimately determine that there is no need for two Expos a year. There has been a diminishing pool of attendees, and it’s more likely to have better attendance if COMMON was once a year.”
“I look forward to them announcing one COMMON per year, or perhaps merging with some other large organization,” says Randy Shaw, director of operations for Goering iSeries Solutions.
Steve Rosen, vice president of marketing for EXTOL is pragmatic: “What would I like to hear from COMMON? Make the one-event-a-year announcement, or put it to bed without hedging about ‘maybe next year.’ We are fine with two events, as long as COMMON can support two, generate interest in attendees at two, and deliver the floor traffic for two events. However, if COMMON cannot be comfortable committing to keeping two events viable, then do one well.”
Many, then, are holding out hope that COMMON will finally end the wishy-washy, tenuous, maybe-we-will-and-maybe-we-won’t vacillations of the last several conferences and finally, as Rosen says, “put it to bed” on the question of one or two conferences a year. A month from now–just in time for people to go home and plan travel, education, and expo budgets for 2007–the tea leaves should be much more readable.
Aside from that, what else is anticipated as new and/or exciting for the upcoming conference? Few people report any major announcements from IBM. But a spokesperson for IBM hints that at the Opening Session on Sunday, we’ll be hearing “one of the most exciting announcements from IBM in a long time.”
While I tried (I really did!) to get more specifics about this, IBM was not willing to release much more at this time than a few hints that it may have to do with the much-anticipated “Project Prometheus,” written about several times recently in this newsletter. Like many of you, I would like the long-sought-after, entry-level, competitively-priced i5 server that can better compete with Wintel platforms. But none of us at IT Jungle have heard anything about such a machine being announced in September.
Also anticipated is an announcement by IBM about the momentum with 3Com and VOIP .