IBM i Groups Cautiously Adding In-Person Events To Schedules
February 8, 2021 Alex Woodie
Nearly one year after the novel coronavirus reared its nasty head in the United States, shutting down large swaths of the economy and forcing hundreds of millions of people to shelter at home, there is the hint of a glimpse of a ray of sunshine: The possible return of in-person events in the IBM i community. Maybe, anyway. Or maybe not.
While nothing is certain in these unprecedented, topsy-turvy times, it appears that several IBM i groups are planning to host physical events where actual humans will be allowed to congregate with other humans for the purpose of learning about the platform, furthering their careers, and partaking of the general camaraderie that often occurs at the intersection of work and play. Or, at least they’re hoping to host them.
For example, COMMON is currently planning to hold “hybrid” conferences later this year, including NAViGATE 2021 in Columbus, Ohio, in May and the POWERUp 2021 in Virginia Beach, Virginia, in October. These events are scheduled to have both online and in-person components, allowing folks who are ready to venture out into the real world to do so, but also accommodating those who would prefer to participate via the Internet.
The idea is to serve both types of members: those who want to meet in person and those who want to stay online, according to COMMON president Gordon Leary.
“We know a portion of our membership wants to only attend in-person, and we know that a portion of our membership wants to attend only virtually,” Leary says. “So we are doing what we can to meet the needs of both those audiences.”
Last year, COMMON was forced to cancel its POWERUP2020 conference — twice, in fact — and had to quickly pivot to online events. That “trial by fire” gave the Chicago, Illinois, organization hard-won insight and experience into how to craft a compelling online event. Just the same, there’s a certain degree of “Zoom fatigue” setting in, and folks are itching to get back to some semblance of normalcy.
With its new hybrid format, COMMON is once again venturing into unknown territory, but the group is confident that it can pull it off.
“The hybrid conference experience will bring together our virtual audience and our in-person audience together in a cohesive event,” Leary says. “This will mean that sessions that are being presented live and in-person will be simulcast to a virtual audience so that everyone is watching, interacting, and consuming the content at the same time. We are building in specific events for specific audiences so that everyone gets to network, continue to learn from each other, and ask questions of our expert speakers.”
Several other groups are planning in-person events. The Northeast User Groups Conference (NEUGC) is planning to hold its 2020 conference June 1 through June 3 in Framingham, Massachusetts. The Vermont Midrange User Group (VTMUG) is planning to hold its Sixteenth Annual Technical Conference on October 7 in Burlington, Vermont.
MAGiC (also known as the Mid-Atlantic Group of IBM i Collaborators) is also planning to host an in-person event at some point this year. The group actually held its annual meet-up in last October by observing strict health protocols and limiting attendance at the Virginia Beach hotel where it was held. MAGiC president Laura Hamway is confident that the group will be able to hold another conference this year (although it might not be this fall, due to a conflict with the POWERUp conference).
“Our November conference went very well,” Hamway says. “The open-source focus and our small breakouts and seeing the same application in three languages was very well received. We may not do our November conference. We are looking at possibly doing something early June, focusing on the same format as last time.”
Southern California’s IBM i user group, OCEAN, is currently planning to hold its annual summer conference as a virtual event. However, there’s a possibility that TechCon21, scheduled for July, could have an in-person component, says Margaret Matthews, OCEAN’s conference chair.
“If it’s possible to add an in-person component, we definitely will,” Matthews says. “I’m optimistic that we will be able to have a monthly meeting or special event by the end of the year.”
Across the pond, Common Europe and other European user groups have also been moving forward with scheduling events for 2021.
According to the Common Europe website, the group appeared to be planning to hold its annual Common Europe Congress (CEC) 2021 as an in-person event this June at the Legoland Billund Resort in Denmark. But according to Shrirang “Ranga” Deshpande, the president of Common Europe, CEC 2021 will not take place as an in-person event.
“Our event will fully take place and alas, it will not be in person,” Deshpande tells IT Jungle via email. “The speed, or do I say the slowness, of vaccinations the world over is not at all in phase with the pressing needs of businesses.”
The June event will go forward as an online event, according to Deshpande. He also added that the CEC 2021 event will be delayed until this autumn, and that it will take place as a hybrid event, with both online and physical components.
In-person events are the “crux of our community,” Deshpande says, and Common Europe is eager to host them again. “That’s where they exchange their concerns and issues with their peers and obtain tried and true answers.”
However, the dangers that large gatherings of people pose will prevent Common Europe from holding in-person meetings for now. The good news is that, like COMMON, the European user group has found success with virtual events. Last year’s vCEC, Deshpande says, was very well attended, with 700 registration and 550 actual attendees, who provided detailed feedback as to their interest.
“We are now concentrating on these topics in our vCEC on-line 2021 in June and the hybrid event in autumn,” Deshpande says. “The virtual event will have short sessions of ‘practical education of immediate use’ and big interactivity, in continuation with our 2020 vCEC.”
There are other in-person events currently planned in Europe, including the i-POWER Midlands 2021 conference. i-UG, which is the UK’s largest IBM i user group, is currently planning to hold this event on March 18 in Wolverhampton, the UK, as a hybrid event that’s half in-person and half on-line. i-UG is also gearing up for an in-person only event, its International i-POWER 2021 conference, which is scheduled to take place June 8 and June 9 in Northampton.
It is one thing to plan an event, but it is something else entirely to actually pull it off. If 2020 taught us nothing else, it taught us the need to maintain flexibility, especially in scheduling events. Despite the breathing room that COVID-19 vaccines are giving us and the possibility that large segments of the population could be vaccinated by the second half of 2021, it remains just that: a possibility.
COMMON’s Leary is cognizant of the need to maintain flexibility in the face of continued uncertainty.
“We are closely monitoring all the factors that may affect the event, including vaccine rollout, local restrictions on large gatherings, and any travel restrictions that our attendees might face, and adjusting accordingly,” he says. “Beyond local restrictions, the attendance of the events will also be constrained by company policies on whether or not their employees can travel. This affects not only attendees, but also speakers and our vendor partners. So, there’s a lot of variables in play, and we’re planning, monitoring and will continue to adjust as needed.”
If you have an update for your local user group, you can let the IT Jungle team know by dropping us a line.