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Dinosaur Tech Vendor Conferences in the Non-Linear Digital World


September 24, 2013

Doug Hadden, VP Products

I've been watching a bit of on-line hyper-marketing content and following some of the tweet stream from #OOW13. Big Enterprise Software conferences are becoming more and more irrelevant. These firms are resorting to hyperbole that is well beyond reasonable.

I dare say that having to explain big conferences to young people 20 years from now will be difficult. (As difficult as explaining radio – "you don't pick what you listen to". TV – "you had to wait until your program came on".) These conferences are an expensive anachronism in the non-linear digital age.

What are these conferences all about?

Advertising. Marketing. Selling.

The characteristics are:

  • One-upmanship on competitors (who cares?)
  • Holding back on product announcement until the event (announcing everything from vaporware "pre-beta" to shipping products)
  • Tech focused geek speak (NoSql, key-value pairs, map reduce…. for example)
  • Rolling out customers to brag about something to promote the customer in the glow of the ERP vendor
  • Senior executives keynoting, talking to the press and analysts, avoiding the difficult questions
  • Telling you what you are going to get and when you're going to get it – and you should just accept that (this is what enterprise software vendors consider "leadership" or "thought leadership")

There's a lot of misdirection at these events. What seems to be wholly missing is any connection to what is driving business. Cloud, social media, big data, mobile, internet of things, collaborative economy are possible solutions to challenges and opportunities faced in the real world. These companies seem to focus on presenting features and advantages without translating this into the benefit that customers will receive. So what if you can do a query 100x faster on an engineered system if you don't need it that fast? What if the costs are too high to justify?

Vendors who fail to smarten up and pivot to customer-centric conferences where they learn about the real world – where they hear the voices of customers – the faster that the circus will come to an end. (Some might say that there are more people at OOW13 than OOW12. Don't be fooled by the uptick in activity thanks to social media marketing – it's at the inflection point where buyers are making more decisions by researching on the web.)

I have yet to hear any executive at any enterprise software company speak with any authority or with any insight about:

  • Effects of globalization on business (other than suggest that the cloud, or a single system of record, or CRM is needed)
  • Demographic changes (other than millennials use social media)
  • Organizational flattening and agility (other than use predominantly monolithic and hard-to-change software)
  • Changing role of business and government to society (other than governments should think like business)

User Group Conferences

I'm not a huge fan of the conference sponsored by independent user groups.  User groups can be more business oriented, but are often problem-oriented.These seem to take on the air of therapy sessions where everyone is trying to overcome the problem of what they bought. There are optimists who have found clever ways to get around limitations. Most realize that they are all "in it together." 

Software company executives sometimes attend user groups conferences. Rarely the most senior management. In other words, the vendor doesn't need to commit to anything.

Steering Committees

FreeBalance uses a different method known as a Steering Committee. The characteristics are a bit different:

  • Government oriented where 3rd party speakers provide value to governments on the challenges of the day
  • Governments send qualified people to participate – and this is covered by maintenance revenue
  • The product roadmap is presented and then customers change it, re-prioritize
  • Every customer presents lessons learned in public financial management that may or may not have anything to do with our software
  • Round-table discussions are facilitated (this is work for customers who come)
  • The FreeBalance International Steering Committee owns 20% of our R+D revenue
  • Executives are there the entire time, and there is no escape (except for illness) and fully accessible to customers
  • No press, a little hype, and confidentiality so that customers can speak (we do tweet, storify and blog but with no mention of what a specific customer said)

The point is: if you are going to spend the time to go to a conference so vendors sell to you – surely they should be paying you. And, you should expect commitment for the vendor to try to give you what you need when you need it.

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Doug Hadden

Doug Hadden

Executive Vice President, Innovation at FreeBalance
Doug is responsible for identifying new global markets, new technologies and trends, and new and enhanced internal processes. Doug leads a cross-functional international team that is responsible for developing product prototypes and innovative go-to-market strategies.

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