COMMON Turning Up the Value
March 19, 2012 Dan Burger
Whenever you think about the community of IBM i users who are not only advocates of the IBM midrange platform, but are also advocating training and education that keeps up with technology, the COMMON user group comes to mind. COMMON has had its ups and downs and has had to make adjustments, just like the individuals and the companies in the community have to. In about six weeks COMMON will host its annual conference. The organization’s president, Pete Massiello, promises it will once again showcase the positive turnaround.
Registrations are exceeding what was on the books for the 2011 conference at this point, Massiello told me last week on the phone. That was expected, he said, because Anaheim in particular and Southern California in general is a magnet for people wanting to combine business and pleasure. The host hotel and conference headquarters is The Disneyland Resort, so the family vacation opportunity may well add to the registration numbers.
Another entertainment feature, this one of a much more limited nature, is a tour of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NASA’s main facility for robotic exploration of the solar system. JPL also manages the worldwide Deep Space Network, which communicates with spacecraft and conducts scientific investigations. This is a rare opportunity for a behind-the-scenes tour of one of the premier science and technology centers in the world. It costs $75 and half a day of conference time. Click this NASA JPL link to get more details and to register. I’d recommend doing this sooner rather than later because there will only be one tour and it will likely sell out quickly.
As enticing as the NASA JPL and Disneyland are, the real focus of the COMMON 2012 Annual Meeting and Exposition is to create an educational experience, which means sessions presented by subject matter experts, plenty of networking opportunities with IT professionals from around the world, a vendor expo area, panel discussions, and a morning-to-night IBM Power Systems power trip.
It begins on Saturday, May 5, with three all-day workshops. RPG programmers looking to gain modern skills have experts Jon Paris and Susan Gantner getting into the details of Remote System Explorer and Rational Developer for Power Systems. System administrators with minds set on maximizing IBM i efficiencies can spend the day with Larry Bolhuis, one of the most knowledgeable guys in that area. And, Scott Klement, another leader in the RPG development area is leading a workshop titled Web Services and XML for RPGers. These in-depth workshops are priced separately from the conference. You can gather more information on them by following this link.
The four-day conference officially opens Sunday, May 6. It is predominately IBM i- and RPG-oriented lessons and labs, but also includes an increasing number of sessions on AIX, Linux, and open source topics. The curriculum includes all levels of user experience from beginner through intermediate to advanced. Massiello says the number of first-time attendees is on an upward trend, but COMMON has a great tradition and many participants are repeat attenders. The same can be said of the speaker corps. This is an experienced staff of experts covering every imaginable category. Many of them have received awards for educational excellence. More than 300 sessions will be presented. To preview what’s available, check out this handy online session grid and pay particular attention to the sessions that are noted as “award winning.”
Registering early for the conference will save a few hundred dollars. The cutoff date for this is April 6.
For those unable to attend, COMMON LiveTrack is available to bring the conference to you. Each day of the conference there will be selected sessions streamed over the Internet and available on a pay-per-view basis. A total of 13 sessions are available over three days. Details on those sessions and the associated registration fees are available on the COMMON website.
The conference opening session on Sunday, May 6, from 3 to 5 p.m. (Pacific) will be streamed across the Web at no cost. Massiello, who is finishing up his second and final year as president of COMMON, will give the state of the union address that recaps the organization’s past year and previews what is on the horizon. Colin Parris, vice president and business line manager for IBM i, will also take the stage to minister a review/preview from the Big Blue perspective. The Disney Institute, the professional development arm of The Walt Disney Company, will also send a representative who will be speaking on the topic of business lessons that can changes in corporate culture with a goal of higher achievements.
Certification Program Progress
According to Massiello, the COMMON certification program will be expanding with a new RPG certification ready for COMMON 2012.
“We had a lot of our members, plus members of the Large User Group and members of local user groups asking about this certification,” Massiello says. There was an RPG certification in the past, but it was dropped. It’s on the comeback trail now, having passed through a committee of subject matter experts who have provided input.
COMMON’s certification program, which is set up to recognize individuals that have achieved the knowledge, skill, and experience in specific subjects, is getting increased emphasis, Massiello says. It is designed to measure, through exams and other requirements, individual attributes of technology professionals. Continual improvement and mastery of skills is paramount to career development.
COMMON Working With LUGs
Massiello says COMMON has taken steps with local user groups to make the certification process more accessible to members. For instance, it is being offered at more of the local user group technical conferences than in the past.
Working more closely with local user groups has been a priority for Massiello during his two-year presidency. He claims closer cooperation now exists and sites a program that offers LUGs up to two 50 percent discounts on COMMON conference registrations as rewards for volunteers who are the most valuable asset to LUG success. In exchange, COMMON wants to attain a higher profile on LUG web sites and increased communication on COMMON educational opportunities, particularly its webinar series, but ultimately the annual conference plays a big part in who and what COMMON is.
“I always talk about the value of COMMON,” Massiello says. “People shouldn’t be looking at the cost of attending COMMON. They should be looking at the costs of not attending COMMON. It’s not only education based on attending sessions. It’s also about networking opportunities with peers and subject matter experts, industry experts, talking with vendors about what they are doing and what their future plans are. This helps people make their own decisions on budgets and longer-term roadmaps. There is a lot of value in all this.”
The Executive Conference
Another avenue that COMMON has gone down is its Executive Conference that is held in conjunction with the annual conference. It typically brings together three or four dozen IT managers and chief information officers for several days of sessions, briefings, discussions, and networking, some of which are shared with the traditional COMMON conference. At the upcoming Executive Conference the guest speaker list includes IBM i innovator Roxanne Reynolds-Lair, who heads up the IT department at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising; Colin Parris, IBM Power Systems vice president and business line executive; Zarina Stanford, vice president of Power Systems marketing; COMMON president Pete Massiello, UNIT4 CODA CEO Steve Pugh, Unicom president and CEO Cory Hong, and IBM executives Bruce Bading and Mark Wulf.
“These are IT directors and CIOs interacting with their peers,” Massiello says. “The set up is different than the sessions at COMMON. The format is a speaker as a facilitator of discussion with a lot of participation and different points of view. The talk is more along the lines of strategic initiatives and they are getting good information from IBM and this helps IT managers plan for the long term. It’s interaction with peers, education enhancement. We get a lot of people coming back year after year and I think that says a lot.”