Enterprise Software Conferences: Why Bother?

If you did not get the chance to read the article about the 2009 APICS Conference, I thought I should share with you some of the things we (Khudsiya and I) did or learned there.

I thought I would start by imagining a conversation about imaginary analysts, between two imaginary people, in an imaginary kitchen of an imaginary company:

Imaginary man (IM): “Where did G the analyst go? I haven’t seen him around for at least a couple of days!”
Imaginary woman (IW): “Oh, he’s gone to a conference in Toronto. I wonder what they do there.”
IM: “Well, you know, I guess they have fun, eat and drink, maybe attend some seminars, and that’s about it.”
IW: “Yeah—and they also get away from the office—no need to be on time in the morning, the boss is not around…”

Getting back to the real world, let’s analyze the imaginary conversation and see how real the imaginary arguments are:

Fun—My idea of fun is going to a rock concert or to the opera, and—trust me—the APICS Conference was nothing like that. We did have fun, though, because we met some very interesting vendors (IBM was my favorite, because of its “Smart Market” initiative—follow our up-coming blog to learn more) and we attended some very great sessions and workshops. However, it wasn’t much fun when a vendor told us it doesn’t want to fill in a request for information (RFI) because its competitors will steal the information from TEC’s IT Advisor. The plant tour was also fun—we got to see how the kilometers of conveyors in a huge distribution center work, all controlled by a computer. However, it wasn’t so much fun when we got there and no one was expecting us (and the bus left).

Food and drinks—It is true that in Toronto I found the best mousse au chocolat I’ve ever had in Canada, but that was after the conference. During the conference, the food was OK, but since we were networking during our lunch breaks, we did not get the chance to enjoy it. This is how networking at lunch works: first, you ask the guy next to you if his company has an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system and if it doesn’t, you recommend our services. If the company does have an ERP system, you ask if the employees are happy with it—and if the answer is “no,” you recommend our services. If the employees are happy with the ERP they’re using… but how often does that ever happen? We did enjoy the “food-for-thought,” though, especially during the learning sessions or the World Café (again, see the article).

Relax and get away—Frankly, I think we spent ten hours a day each day at the conference. But I admit that talking to intelligent people and listening to presenters from Intel, IBM, JDA, and other vendors was relaxing for me. On the other hand, it was quite infuriating to see that in 2009, there were lots of people attending workshops on how to use Excel to improve inventory management. Also, standing in line for Internet access was not very pleasant.

All that being said, I’d like to share with you the most important things we learned from the 2009 APICS Conference:

1. People are the most important asset a company has. They can make things work (or not) and they can make change happen (or resist it).
2. Strategy is important, but it’s worthless without proper execution—and it has to be transparent. Successful companies need well-defined strategies for the future and they should share those with everyone (employees, customers, partners, and even competitors).

And finally, the most beneficial part of the conference was that we met real people, with real problems (users) and answers to those problems (vendors). Working in the office, having online meetings with vendors, and doing research is great, but sometimes the real world is just different and I find it very important for an analyst to get out into it, at least once in a while.

Have you attended any conferences lately? Did you have fun, enjoy the food, or relax? What did you learn? I welcome your comments and thoughts.
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