Microsoft Ignite Back in Chicago for 2016

Microsoft Ignite Back in Chicago for 2016

If you attended Microsoft Ignite during its inaugural year, you were probably hoping that Microsoft would pick a different city for 2016. Chicago is a great city, but the conference, according to many, was poorly executed for a number of reasons.

Don Jones, speaker and scripting aficionado, delivered a couple blog posts over the past couple days that adequately explained what the majority of Ignite attendees experienced this week:

If anything, Don’s report helped those that couldn’t attend Ignite this year feel a bit better about their situation. But, probably more so, it gives Microsoft a list of ways to improve next year. But, being back in Chicago, there’s a few of those issues that are almost impossible to resolve, like long taxi lines (attendees generally left the conference early each day) with limited taxis, hotels that are too far away from the conference center, and shuttles that are overcrowded and take up to 40 minutes to deliver passengers to the event.

Prior to Ignite this year, Microsoft and Channel 9 spent an enormous amount of time extolling the excitement and value of local Chicago eateries and bars, but shutdown shuttle service during the day to keep attendees from leaving McCormick Place, the host event center for Ignite. That would have been fine if the conference food service had been better. Because of this, Ignite unintentionally bolstered revenue for the city’s taxi services. I racked up some significant taxi fees myself.

But, really, food and transportation are not what makes a great IT Pro conference. A valuable event boils down to the quality and technical level of the sessions. This year, to properly support the keynote announcements, Microsoft produced the content themselves and then hand-selected the speakers they knew would be able to deliver the content that would be favorable to the messaging. Ignite is an IT generalists conference with varying levels of experience and expertise. For some, the session levels were spot on and technical enough, but for those that are refugees from the other conferences that were merged into Ignite this year – those conferences that provided deep-dive, highly technical content – the content was lacking and sometimes mislabeled. Some sessions that were promoted as level 400 (deep-dive) actually came in around level 100 or 200, leaving attendees wondering how they’d explain to their managers why they came back to work with little more than a list of future product announcements.

And, to top that off, all 23,000 attendees had to fight to get a session seat despite schedules being personally created weeks ago. Over Twitter, you would regularly see someone comment on how they walked all the way across the massive event center only to find that they were too late and the session was full.

Microsoft employed a panel of customers to help make decisions for this year’s Ignite, but made some last minute changes the panel wasn’t aware of which led to some of the glaring issues. And, from what I’ve heard, there was a tug-of-war among the merged conference owners, each trying to negotiate better exposure at the event for their specific products. So, some of the issues with content, session room locations, and placement of product-specific features stem from that.

Still, according to reports, Microsoft is obligated to host Ignite in Chicago for up to four years. Yesterday, I confirmed that Ignite 2016 will be back in the windy city (which isn’t all that windy, btw) and today that information has become public.

For me, the conference was valuable, but I don’t provide day-to-day IT services anymore, I’m just a press person today. But, I remember what it was like to attend a conference and come away with techniques to make my current environment work better. Back to work after a brain grueling week, I’d take my pages of notes and apply each new thing I learned. The conferences I attended were much smaller and more intimate, allowing me to network and glean some of my best take-aways in the hallways and during events designed for community participation. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but it’ll be tough to bring that same value to an event this large and with this many attendees.

Full sessions are becoming available online. The keynotes were streamed live. And, those stuck back in the office this week are probably considering they made the right decision to skip the long lines and crowded venues. If all they wanted was technical content, it’s at their fingertips.

Microsoft has a lot of work to do. Let’s hope that attendees voice their concerns using the supplied mechanisms and the company can deliver improvements next year.

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