COMMON Changes Things Up With PowerUp 2018
April 9, 2018 Alex Woodie
We are six weeks away from the first inaugural PowerUp conference, the new name that COMMON has given to its annual meeting and exposition. While the new name has drawn some feedback, the changes that COMMON is making to the conference itself are expected to be the big head turners next month in San Antonio. We check in with the user group’s president, Justin Porter, for the good news.
Let’s start with PowerUp, a name that not only reflects COMMON‘s affiliation with IBM and its Power Systems servers, but also reflects the notion of “up skilling,” the activity most IBM i professionals go to the conference for. By all accounts it’s a good and clever name, but it is one that will take a bit of getting used to, especially for those midrange diehards who associate the name “COMMON” with the Chicago, Illinois-based organization as well as the conferences that it puts on all over the country.
According to Porter, it was past time to disambiguate those two things. “It’s one of those things where it was just time,” Porter tells IT Jungle. “It was time to differentiate the organization from the event the organization throws. And the organization is moving more into to an association-type model, so having the event name the same as the organization basically made people say ‘Okay, I’m going to an event and that’s what the organization is — the event.'”
Over the past five to 10 years, COMMON has evolved beyond being an organization that just holds one or two conferences per year. Specifically, Porter points to the online content – including virtual online conferences, webcasts, webinars, virtual labs, and bootcamps – as being a much bigger part of what COMMON does now.
“Not everybody can make an in-person event, so we’re trying to provide more of a holistic set of curriculum and information, as opposed to just the two conferences year after year,” Porter says. “That’s been the long-range plan for years and years. It’s just taken a long time to get from point A to point B to point C. If you look at the online content that we offer, it’s pretty substantial compared to where we were 10 years ago.”
COMMON hit on a winning formula with its RPG Bootcamp, which it rolled out last year to provide more introductory level training and education than what the group typically holds during the announce conference, where sessions tend to focus on more intermediate and advance IBM i skills.
“RPG Bootcamp has had tremendous uptake,” Porter says. “The commentary on it is that it’s been very solid, and everybody has been very happy with it who’s taken it.” The group is close to rolling out its second bootcamp, this one for admins, by the time the annual conference gets started in south Texas next month.
That brings us to the changes that are in store for PowerUp 2018, which is scheduled to be held at the Marriott Rivercenter from May 20 to 23.
One of the biggest changes is the length of each session. Instead of taking an hour and 15 minutes, each session will be an hour. Shortening the sessions has allowed COMMON to expand the number of session by about 25 to 375 for the four-day show. As of last week, there are 106 speakers, about the same as last year’s show in Orlando, Florida.
“When you look at how long people will sit and listen, an hour is a much better sweet spot,” Porter says. “If you can say it in an hour and 15 minutes, you can say it in an hour. What we’re hoping you’ll see is a whole lot more interactivity.”
The decisions to shrink the sessions is part of an attempt to keep the four-day event lively, and also to free up time in the schedule for attendees to participate in other activities, such as keynote addresses and panel discussions.
Panel discussions are brand new for PowerUp 2018. If you go to the event’s online schedule at powerup18.sched.com, you’ll see that COMMON has scheduled seven panels, each of which feature IBM i experts across a range of pertinent topics and focus areas. All of the panels take place on May 20 at 11:30 local time, so unfortunately you’ll have to pick just one. The good news is that you can submit questions to multiple panels in advance; see this page for more information on how to do that.
Porter is bullish on the potential for the panels to spur some great conversations. Too often, COMMON attendees are hesitant to ask questions during a session out of fear that the presenter won’t be able to cover all of her material (which perhaps will be a greater fear with the shorter sessions lengths).
COMMON board members wanted to create another way they could ask those questions without interrupting the flow of the session. At first, the group considered letting attendees ask questions in an online manner, but it rejected that idea because it didn’t take advantage of fact that the attendees are at a physical event.
“Years ago we used to have Ask the Experts, but that ended up being a difficult sell for a number of reasons,” Porter says. “So we said, ‘Okay what if we had a hybrid approach to this. What if we gave attendees an opportunity to put questions in ahead of time, which is what we’re doing now, and also to have a moderator-led discussions with a collection of the experts on a given topic.”
COMMON tried keynote addresses before, and is bringing them back with PowerUp 2018. While the specific keynote speakers and topics have not yet been announced, Porter promises that they will be compelling. They’ll also help attendees break up a long day of intense IBM i education.
“We want to change things up in the middle of the day,” the IBM i consultant from California’s San Joaquin Valley says. “I know the first couple of conferences I came to, I was almost overwhelmed. My eyes kind of glazed over. So this gives people the opportunity to lighten it up a little bit.”
Shrinking the sessions to an hour let COMMON re-arrange the four-day schedule so that the keynotes won’t compete with technical sessions. Those technical sessions are COMMON’s bread-and-butter – and the main reason companies pay thousands of dollars to send their developers, administrators, and architects to the conference – but the group is adamant about helping PowerUp 2018 attendees get a balanced diet.
“You’re still getting the technical content. You’re still getting education. But it’s in a very different format,” Porter says. “It’s not nearly as intense. It’s not ‘I’ve got an hour to push as much knowledge into you as I possibly can.’ It’s more laid back, listen to the talk.”
The IT Executive Conference, the “conference within the conference” for executives who work in IBM i shops, returns for another year. The biggest change this year is the addition of sessions where ITEC attendees get to have discussions with influential IBM executives, such as Steve Sibley. “There is the opportunity to spend time with IBM executives in a very small group setting, to talk about where Power Systems and IBM i is going in the future,” Porter says.
But don’t get your hopes up about possibly crashing these sessions if you’re a rank-and-file soldier in the IBM i army. “That is very specific to the executive conference,” Porter says. “It’s not part of the regular conference.”
Early bird registration for PowerUp ends, which gets you a pass to the four-day show for $1,895 (for COMMON members staying in the hotel), ends on April 27. After that the price goes up.