Information Technology Management with a Purpose

Oct 17 2011   8:26PM GMT

Conferences can be more effective

S R Balasubramanian Profile: S R Balasubramanian

I attended another conference last week, one of the many that dot our cities every week. Friday evenings are usually preferred for events by the vendors, media companies, and other event management organizations as that ensures better attendance. Nothing wrong with that; in fact, this keeps all the constituents happy. But let me discuss this specific conference that I attended the last.

This was a a full day conference in one of the 5-star hotels in the NCR area and it focused on ‘Data Center Strategies’. The event was to have several sessions during the day with a few of them running on parallel tracks. The topics covered included the setting up of datacenters, cabling solutions, air conditioning options, infrastructure optimization, server virtualization, cloud computing, etc. The audience consisted of CIOs from various companies in the NCR area though a few came from outside the region as well. I was invited to be a speaker in one of the sessions and so were a few other CIOs. The organizers had with them quite a few sponsors and some of them put up stalls to display their products or expertise. There was also an entertainment program set up for the evening followed by cocktails and dinner. In short, the event was planned to be a big affair and with right partners as sponsors, and they thought they had everything well worked out.

The event started off in the morning at the appointed time though the count of people was a much lower than what was planned. As the morning progressed a few others walked in but the number was still a bit on the sorry side. Some members preferred to step outside the room during the sessions to network with other fellow CIOs. The scene in the post lunch period however turned a bit healthy and the evening tea break saw the number building up to a decent scale. The exhibitors may have had a tough time as very few made their way to their stalls and the stalls exhibited a deserted look. As the sessions ended, a lot many arrived from nowhere and the people were in full flow to be a part of the entertainment show in the evening and the networking cocktails and dinner thereafter.

I am not sure if the organizers, sponsors, exhibitors, the speakers or the audience were really happy with the way the event went; however, I do not think the purpose of the conference was really served. As I set out to think about the conference and reasons for it falling short of a success, a few points emerged:

1. Did not clearly identify the target audience: The subject of datacenter strategies did not go down well with the CIOs. It was clear that most CIOs are increasingly moving towards outsourcing of their computing facilities. A lot many of them have hosted their servers externally and a few of them have already moved their applications to run as a PaaS or a SaaS service. Cloud computing model is also being seriously looked at by CIOs and so the direction is clear. In short, CIOs are moving away from fortifying their datacenters. The audience targeted therefore was not very appropriate and the seminar would have been better served if they had targeted service providers and staff of large datacenters.

2. The conference was stretched: A full day seminar was perhaps a stretch and CIOs obviously did not find it easy to take off a full day to attend. That perhaps explains why audience really swelled in the second half. I usually find the attention span of the audience wane after half a day of closed room presentation and discussions.

3. Need to understand the mood of CIOs: In all events it is important to understand the need of the audience and programs should be designed accordingly. Organizers, however, under pressure from sponsors, usually subject CIOs to long sessions including vendor presentations. Seminars nowadays happen by the dozen and CIOs attend only those where they find value; in other cases they come to network with their fellow professionals. Friday evenings are usually relaxed and a short seminar followed by entertainment and dinner is well accepted.

These were a few of my observations and I feel that such seminars would succeed if they identify the right target audience and design their programs to address their needs. Seminars these days are one too many and every seminar has to bring in something different to be able to attract audience.

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