It’s January? I know, let’s meet in Chicago!
I’ve written about conference planning meetings before. Several times here on SCN, and a few times on ASUG.com, and probably tweets, facebook pictures, youtube videos, and who knows what else. In order that I don’t repeat myself, of my learned colleagues, I’ve re-read what I wrote, and some of what they wrote.
In 2008, we met at the SAP building in Newtown Square, in 2009 we met in downtown Philadelphia, and in 2010 we met in Atlanta, at least I think that’s where we were. The photos all seem to be of meeting rooms or watering holes, other than a couple near the Liberty Bell (which is why I pin that year to the city of Philadelphia). This year, as the blog subject portrays, we’re going to Chicago. We’ve had other ASUG volunteer meetings near our headquarters building, but a few were in June, and one even coincided with Jazz Festival. No such luck this year, though I understand from checking out the sports news page there will be a football game there this Sunday.
When we arrive Friday night, the lows are projected to be in single digits (Fahrenheit). I’ll need to pack a sweater I guess.
Looking back to the 2008 conference planning session, 1400 abstracts were submitted, and my team had over 200 of those, This year, the total is over 2,000, and the BITI (Business Integration Technology and Infrastructure) group has over 350. That’s the good news, if you’re looking for a wide range of content at the Annual Conference. The bad news is that meeting site costs continue to climb, meaning both the admission fee will probably be higher, and the number of rooms and sessions can’t be expanded to handle every possible topic and category potential speakers have proposed.
Since we can’t pick every abstract, one of the side-bar conversations at the planning meeting will be who are the alternates (asked to show up, maybe at the last minute, if the main selection can’t go on), and also who are candidates for webcasts throughout the year. While we’ve had, and continue to schedule, awesome webcasts, the incentive choice between free conference admission, or talking to your PC for an hour, don’t quite balance.
Naturally, I can’t reveal the “winners” yet, though I can share a few perspectives on the content and speakers we are considering. Several hot topics for 2010, 2011 and beyond are the Sybase merger, SAP mobility, and HANA. Sybase is mentioned in 19 abstracts, “mobile” in 251 (“mobility” in 22), and HANA in 27.
Friday, we travel from around the U.S. and Canada to Chicago. And when I say “we” I mean primarily volunteers who run SAP at their companies, or are consultants, have been one or the other, or both (over 200 people right there), and the staff who mainly live in the Chicago area (don’t know how many get to work through the weekend), plus as many of our SAP points of contact as we can roust out of their homes for the weekend (over 30 I think). It will be great to see everyone.
The process we follow is to sift through the abstracts, trying to ensure that the right content is available for each track or theme. Sometimes, when we set up the tracks, either people may not know their topic by that name, or they’ve got a topic that we don’t have a specific area for (such as “using Jive for content management”). We shuffle the abstracts among our various groups, trying to generate a cohesive list to choose from, and in the meantime deciding which are strong candidates, talking to the potential speakers on how they might fit, and shaping up the program based on what we have.
At the planning meeting, we take those preliminary choices, talk them through with our peers to make sure the sequencing and communications are clear, verify that we don’t have speakers planned to be in 2 (or more) places at once, and we have a good mixture of customer experience stories, SAP inside information, and top notch consulting viewpoints.
Once the initial picks are entered into our scheduling tool, we go back over what wasn’t picked, to make sure everyone who submitted an abstract is notified, one way or the other. It might not be pleasant to hear bad news (“sorry …”), but I’m sure people prefer that over lingering without news. With so many abstracts submitted, it is inevitable that some can’t be chosen.
After the selections are communicated, we need to hear from each speaker, confirming that they are willing and able to attend. With career changes and project schedules, sometimes plans even a few weeks old need to alter.
As we progress to the Annual Conference date, speakers will be drafting their presentations; we’ll send them tips, often in a webcast setting, and we’ll review their content for legibility and messaging. The advance program will be shared online, and we’ll have the presentations uploaded before you get your boarding pass.
(gratuitous picture of myself heading to a previous conference planning meeting)