IBM Announcements Buzz At COMMON Annual Meeting
May 12, 2014 Dan Burger
The timing of the COMMON Annual Meeting–one week after IBM made Power8 and IBM i 7.2 announcements–provided equal parts of inspiration and jubilation. Those IBM announcements contributed a noticeable buzz that carried throughout the educational sessions and the exposition hall. There was also the venue–a right-sized hotel and conference center–that contributed to the feeling that COMMON was the showcase event and avoided the lost in the crowd feeling that an oversized setting creates.
So much of our lives–at work and at home–are lived online these days it’s difficult to overstate the importance of getting together at a conference and participating on a face-to-face basis with human beings that share a passion. COMMON, with the help of IBM’s announcements, did a good job of integrating people and passion at this event. People want to be engaged and this event was engaging.
At the end of last week, conference attendees were either back at work or taking a few vacation days in Orlando with their families. I was lucky enough to reach in-coming COMMON president Pete Massiello to get his assessment of the largest annual gathering of IBM Power Systems users. (It’s politically correct to say Power Systems users, but, dammit, this organization and this conference continues to be dominated by IBM i advocates.)
Attendance at COMMON was pegged at 1,125, according to the new president, who has led this organization several times in the past. That attendance number includes vendors, speakers, and the registered attendees.
“Year-on-year numbers are up 15 percent,” Massiello told me on the phone as he drove from the airport to his home in Massachusetts. “We have a lot of people who love to go to Orlando.”
COMMON has been to Orlando three times in the past 11 years. And next spring (April 26-29), it returns to Anaheim, California, for the third time in nine years. I’ll leave the connection between IBM i and the Magic Kingdom up to you, but don’t forget the postcard perfect weather as part of the lure as well.
“I heard good things about the hotel and the conference this year,” the perpetually enthusiastic Massiello said. “The energy level and the atmosphere was great; there was lots of interaction; we came close to filling the hotel. Everywhere you looked there were people wearing COMMON badges.”
The IBM announcements were a factor in the energy, he acknowledged, but he also gave credit to topics such as SQL, PowerRuby, PHP, and free-format RPG for creating the buzz. “These are things that open the box to more developers and applications and ISVs,” he says.
The conference put in place more than 300 educational sessions, labs, and all-day workshops, plus a variety of networking-oriented events that promote the community aspect of IBM i, which remains strong and is like no other.
One of the most popular networking events is the Ask the Experts session. This year it was set up differently. All the speakers were invited to participate rather than a select number of experts. It appeared as though around 50 speakers were on hand out of a total of 95 attendees at the event. And instead of having tables set up for specific experts, there were tables set up by topics with one or multiple experts at those tables. That change added to the atmosphere of shared experience and seemed to facilitate the people movement from table to table. Experts such as Mike Pavlak (PHP), Pete Massiello (systems integration), Kevin Mort (hardware), Larry Bolhuis (cloud computing), and Jeff Carey (systems administration) were popular stopping points.
“I know people liked it because they stayed late,” Massiello says. “I’ve always believed that the value from COMMON isn’t all wrapped in the educational sessions. There’s value in networking with your peers. Talking with the speakers goes beyond just getting an answer to a single question.”
The mentor program, absent for a few conferences, was reintroduced this year. Members of the COMMON board and some of the volunteers were matched up with first time attendees to lend a hand with navigating the event and getting the most out of the conference. Massiello deemed it successful and was sure it would be repeated next year.
The first-timers session was packed, with people standing around the perimeter of the room and spilling out into the hallway.
The Young i Professionals (YiPs) organization is undergoing some changes. Most notable is that it will be changing its name to Young IT Professionals and welcoming AIX and other IT professionals to the organization. Justin Porter, one of the original YiPs and one of the go-to guys, is rotating out of a leadership position but will remain as an advisor and provide support. The YiPs will be placing a greater emphasis on working with students and schools with computer science degree programs. It will also have a goal of enhancing its involvement with the COMMON Education Foundation.
There are many awards presented at the COMMON conference each year. Pete Helgren, a member of the IBM i community for almost 25 years and a long-time volunteer for COMMON, received the Al Barsa Memorial Scholarship. Jim Buck, from Gateway Technical College, received the COMMON President’s Award for his contributions to the training of new IBM i professionals. James Lembke, received the John Earl Memorial Scholarship, for excellence in presenting sessions at the conference. And Anan Ayyad, from Moraine Valley Community College, received the Student Innovation Award.
The IT Executive Conference, which runs in parallel with the COMMON Annual Meeting, had 18 attendees. Massiello says COMMON will continue to support that conference and work toward growing attendance to 30 participants.
At the Meeting of the Members, COMMON revealed the organization operated at a deficit of $83,000 at the end of 2013. The financial success of COMMON rides on the back of the Annual Meeting and Exposition, which accounts for approximately 90 percent of the organization’s annual revenue. The 2013 event in Austin, Texas, was a financial disappointment showing a loss of $243,000. Attendance at Austin was recorded as 1,012, about 10 percent less than last week’s conference in Orlando, but that number may have been inflated (my guess) by the number of IBMers from the Austin IBM facility that attended for free. The actual number of paid registrations was unavailable at the deadline for this article.
Looking ahead, COMMON has plans for a Fall Conference in Indianapolis, Indiana, October 27 through 29. This is a two-and-a-half-day conference designed as a less expensive option to the Annual Meeting and Exposition.
There are also two virtual conferences in 2014. The first one is June 10 and the other is December 2. It includes subject matter expert speakers discussing topics of known interest and vendor sessions on products. This is a one-day event available without registration fees or travel expenses. It is a tested entity that shows it has potential, Massiello says. An earlier virtual conference, he noted, attracted more than 600 attendees. Additional information is coming soon on the COMMON website.
COMMON also has webinars on its 2014 agenda for 2014. Some of these are for members only and others will be free to all members of the Power Systems community.
CORRECTION: The original article incorrectly indicated the COMMON Fall Conference would be in Columbus, Ohio. Actually, it will be in Indianapolis, Indiana, October 27 through 29.