Greetings from the International SharePoint Conference in London! Unlike many events at which I present sessions, this time I met one-on-one with SharePoint teams from enterprises across the United Kingdom in business, academics, and government. AvePoint invited organizations to register for and win an hour with me in a "fish bowl" office on the expo floor. We discussed the organizations' SharePoint challenges, which ranged from the technical to the strategic, but focused heavily on strategic alignment, ROI, governance, and adoption.
I really enjoy the opportunity to meet with individual enterprises, to dig into their problems, and to contribute whatever value I can from my experience. And I get huge value out of the discussions as well, thanks to their real-world perspectives and input. I'll use my discussions with these diverse organizations to drive columns over the next few weeks.
This week has been all about London and challenges. The London Marathon was run on Sunday. The city passed the 100-day mark until the opening ceremonies of the Olympics. I had a meeting with NBC Olympics to define the priorities and challenges we'll face in preparing for the broadcast. But the week was especially challenging for Steve Smith of Combined Knowledge, who organized the International SharePoint Conference (ISC). The event-the third iteration of the UK Best Practices and Evolution event-attracted more than 600 delegates from all corners of the UK, Europe, and the rest of globe, along with more than 200 exhibitors from 24 top SharePoint ISVs, system integrators, and service providers.
While many events are shrinking, the ISC has been growing each year. It has a reputation for high-quality content, excellent networking opportunities, and amazing social activities-topped off this year by a Parisian-themed extravaganza last night, the photos of which will hopefully not make it online.
But simply growing the event wasn't enough for Steve. This year, he wanted to really push the envelope of what a SharePoint event could teach, deliver, and share. He set out to do something novel and extraordinary.
Most technology events feature dozens of individual sessions covering a variety of topics. Sometimes, there are sessions that extend over several time slots. Sometimes, there are "tracks" of focused or related topics. This year at the ISC, Steve set out an impossible challenge for the speakers: to create a real-world experience for delegates that would start with a complex real-world business scenario, define requirements, build and deploy solutions that met requirements, drive adoption, and manage real-time, real-world changes and mistakes along the way. By the end of the event, delegates will have spent three days seeing exactly how it works in the real world, where SharePoint has to fight for resources, align leadership with users and developers, and deliver on time and in budget.
Each session built upon previous sessions. Speakers actually used a common set of virtual machines, so sessions were literally building on the results of the previous session, mistakes and all. And sessions were provided for audiences in IT pro, developer, business leadership, and information worker tracks, each following along and participating in the development of the story.
Having organized events myself, I was blown away when I heard what Steve was attempting. I managed to get a few minutes of Steve's time to find out how this crazy idea was playing out.
Dan: First, Steve, I have to say I'm impressed that you're still alive and breathing, after what you've done this week and particularly after the wild party at Café de Paris last night.
Steve: Pure adrenaline. In Zoe Watson's words, "I will go missing next week."
Dan: Tell me why you decided to approach the event as a journey for devs, IT pros, business and information workers.
Steve: It's the accumulation of three years of conferences. It's that simple. You can't rinse and repeat each year-a mistake, I think, all conferences are making. Having said that, most conferences can't do what we do, because they're run by event companies as opposed to SharePoint experts, so how could they do it?
Dan: What did speakers say when you proposed this? It has to be a lot more work for them!
Steve: Oh yes! Initially, they were very enthusiastic: "Awesome idea!" Then the reality of what they had to do dawned on them. They started to have disagreements about the right way to do it. Eventually, consensus was reached. Then, after doing the initial run-throughs before the conference, they realized that this was going to work-that's when the excitement really kicked in. They were elated.
Dan: Most importantly, what feedback are you getting from delegates?
Steve: Phenomenal. I've not had anybody tell me they've not enjoyed it.
Dan: I've certainly been hearing great things from delegates and speakers alike! So what was most surprising for you about the way the event has unfolded?
Steve: The business track. I knew we had the guys that could do the technical stuff-we had people who could fix anything that went wrong and recover. I knew what I wanted the business track to be, but I didn't know if the audience knew what I wanted it to be. Andrew Woodward and I knew it would be an awesome track if the audience participated. As soon as we saw 150 people in the business track, we knew it would work. The Scribe [electronic whiteboard] was a great finale.
Dan: After this event, do you ever want to try this again?
Steve: Yes! For sure. I always think the first one is the hardest, so we'll take a lot from it in terms of lessons learned and how we'd add to it, but definitely! Some speakers may disagree. [laughing]
Dan: What's next for you?
Steve: Next week, sleep. Over the next few months, my main area of concentration is writing-getting on with writing for the next version of SharePoint-and planning the Evolution Conference next year.
Dan: And who are some of the folks who helped you make this year's event a reality?
Steve: I've got to mention Andrew Woodward, Spence Harbar, and Mirjam, and thank them for their awesome work leading those tracks and teams. And, of course, all of the vendors and attendees. As I said in the keynote, it takes 1,000 people to make this event happen. Finally, Zoe Watson, my right arm of organizing all of this stuff-without her, none of this would happen. She turns my visions into reality!
And what a vision it was!