COMMON president, Randy Dufault presented the organization’s dire financial situation at the meeting of members on Tuesday afternoon at the COMMON 2009 Annual Meeting and Exposition.
“If we were to do nothing at this point, at the end of 2009 COMMON would suffer an 800,000 dollar loss,” said Dufault. “Needless to say, an 834,000 loss, even though we have an incredibly healthy reserve… that would put us in a real untenable position.”
He explained that the plan for the 2010 conference would include the following changes:
- 15 session rooms (instead of the 20+ at the conference this year).
- Cut the total days of educational sessions from five to four, which cuts the number of sessions from about 500 to ~320
- Cut Expo from three days to two
- Cut out one evening social event (unless sponsorship is found)
- Reduce the size of the final “main event” (unless sponsorship is found
- Reduce lab rooms down to one
- Suspend subsidies for guest program
- Suspend Communication and Networking volunteer budget
- Suspend Leadership and Advocacy volunteer budget
- Reduce the budget for the volunteer Strategic Education Team
- Create a volunteer registration rate, no more free passes for volunteers
- Speakers with one session will be eligible for volunteer rate, and speakers with two-five sessions would get 25% off registration
- and more…
Dufault shared that even with the cuts that are planned, the projected loss would still be about $582,000 in 2009 and a lost of $139,000 in 2010.
This news was a lot to take for the members, and the feel of the meeting had already been a bit melancholy as Dufault made a gesture of remembrance for Al Barsa Jr. that he was barely able to complete and which left much of the room struggling to keep composure.
Members stepped up to the microphones and asked a host of questions, expressing thanks to the board and the COMMON staff for setting up the meeting and being so honest with them. Some shared suggestions of means to growing the interest in the meeting through college recruitment and expanded outreach efforts. Others clarified the cuts to volunteer perks and asked that the board open up more to get the community involved in coming up with more creative ideas. One Orlando, Fla., resident and COMMON member lambasted the cuts, pointing out that you can’t grow your revenue while making cuts. Some expressed concern that the value of the program would diminish with the cuts to sessions, and thus, less people would attend. All of this left members and myself thinking about what could be done differently to attract more attendance and improve the chances of the organization’s survival.
Earlier in the day I had attended the first-timer’s social meeting, which was a chance for fist-time attendees to give their feedback on the meeting and share their suggestions for improvements to the program. One thing that some people expressed was that some of the technical sessions were too advanced, and they felt lost.
Time for my two-cents: Perhaps COMMON’s education committee could take this advice and work to create specific learning tracks that would be more attractive to first-time attendees. In a coordinated effort between speakers, attendees could start at a introductory level and take classes on a specific topic area through an advanced level. Some speakers taught a series of classes this year that aimed to accomplish this, but because of scheduling and perhaps a lack of emphasis on the marketing side that this was being done, some new attendees may have missed out on this. If COMMON wants to recruit more attendees, perhaps creating these one or two-day mini-courses on a specific topic would be beneficial.
The other thought I have is a question: Is this IBM’s fault? Did their rebranding efforts and lack of effective marketing vision for the platform cause dwindling interest in educational activities around the IBM i? (What do you think?)
The last attendee to step up to the mic was Justin Porter, the cheerleader and representative to the COMMON board from YiPs (and a name you should get used to seeing in the IBM i community). Porter gave an uplifting and passionate short speech about educational outreach, encouraging IBM i professionals around the country to reach out to local colleges and universities and spread the word of i. Not a bad idea.
Scott Klement has been vlogging (that’s video blogging) from the event all week, and his video from yesterday includes the key part of Dufault’s presentation, and his own personal reaction to the announcement.
[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/94zuNoS5Sx0" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]
What do you think? Will you be able to attend COMMON with these changes? If you haven’t attended COMMON, why not? What would make attending worthwhile for you?