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Author's profile photo Jim Spath

The Fifth Element of Conference Planning

I’ve dawdled posting a story about the upcoming ASUG Annual Conference (“co-located with SAP Sapphire/Sapphire Now”) as it’s getting harder to find a new way to spin the tale of how volunteers put together the conference program, all peer-reviewed, peer-to-peer, and totally peerless. This isn’t the fifth year I’ve been involved in planning and running the conference, just the fifth year since I started writing about what goes on behind the scene for an SCN audience.

Those who have now put together a one-day “inside track” with 5 or 10 sessions should have a taste for what it’s like to pull together speakers and audiences. The story linked below for the 2008 conference preparation showed my team had around 200 abstracts to review. This year, not counting those which will be thrown at us on the next several days, the list stands at 341. Once again, we’ve gotten more than 10% of the total number of abstracts in our bucket, ranging from small shops. to SAP Mentors, to SAP VPs and higher trying to get a chance to stand behind our podium.

The biggest change this year, since I’ve been working on ASUG events in 2001 or 2002, is the switch from our venerable “Event Wizard” to a new tool called “Abstract Studio.” This is an adjustment that we knew would be inevitable, and that we also knew was going to have a lot of growing pains. Yes, the old access method was clunky, and sometimes sluggish, but we were used to it. And that’s were a lot of data still exists, including speaker biographies, contact information, and history of submissions, accepted or not.

What made this switch riskier was that the tool was used for one event late in 2011, but few users seemed to have gotten access to it, and whatever they learned didn’t appear to be broadcast to the rest of the volunteers, or to the teams configuring it for the annual conference. It’s a big step from fewer than 10 users, to more than 200. When the deadlines loom, and the learning curve is steep, people tend to fall back to their “old ways”, in this case, chucking spreadsheets around via email. It didn’t seem to occur to most people that with a collaboration management system (or three, or five), copying spreadsheets is just counter productive.

Fast forward to this weekend coming up. We’ll be in hotel conference rooms, with some combination of spreadsheets, wall displays, wiki pages, and “the tool”.  I thik the tool is going to lose, since the shakeout period has been short and not sweet enough. Different ASUG volunteer teams will work the problem differently, as can be expected with most similar work divided up.

Will the Annual Conference Program suffer from the planning tool being cumbersome? No, not really.  We’ll pick the sessions that fit best, as always. We’ll need to leave out some really good topics, due to limited space. And we’ll need to adjust as we find out who can really attend in May, having tried to commit in December to be at the conference.

Previous writings


In 2008, when I first posted here, we met in the SAP offices in Newtown Square.  In that blog, I started talking about Twitter, which I had heard about in TechEd 2007, from James Governor. It’s been that long? Wow.

The next year, 2009, we met in downtown Philadelphia. I’m not sure why, maybe we needed to keep together. get more rooms, and have less travel time. Getting downtown was no big deal for me (under 2 hour drive), but was a hassle for some.

Following that, we switched to Atlanta, another nice town, fairly easy to get to, but with any winter travel, sometimes risky to get out of.  Sounds expensive, though I think we got a good deal.

Last year, 2011, the planning meeting was held in Chicago. There was some debate about that. Since ASUG is headquartered in the Windy City, it meant more of the paid staff could attend. But it also cold as the dickens in January, and the walks around Michigan Avenue after dark were for the hardy souls only.

For 2012, we finally catch a break from dicey weather, and are meeting in San Antonio Texas (“Yee ha?”). Should be fairly easy travel, and will be great to see everyone who can make it. The Annual Conference content, as well as blogs, webcast, podcasts, and other information sharing, are all in the pipeline. Speak up if you don’t hear about what you want.


Date Post
Jan. 22, 2011 How many community volunteers fit into an elevator?
Jan. 18, 2011 It’s January?  I know, let’s meet in Chicago!


Date Post
Jan. 25, 2010 Planning 2010, teamwork, and community building
Jan. 23, 2010 Road warrior en route to ASUG planning meet up


Date Post
Jan. 29, 2009 Short Haul Clue Train – southbound
Jan. 27, 2009 Short Haul Clue Train – Chaos Station
Jan. 25, 2009 Short Haul Clue Train – northbound
Jan. 23, 2009 The short-haul clue train
Dec. 28, 2008 Meet us in Philadelphia


Date Post
Jan. 12, 2008 Conference planning

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