May 8, 2009

Collaborate - Wrapup

Picture of Collaborate boxed lunch, compliments of Eric Helmer.

My apologies to those who were following throughout each day, but this post will suffice to wrap up the conference for me. In case you're wondering why I decided to stop blogging during each day, it's because nothing interesting was happening.

Boring conference. Good or bad? Discuss.

This must be one of the most boring, underattended conferences I've ever seen. Let's start with the boring part. There's no news to be had at this conference. No one is breaking big stories or making huge press releases. Controversy is sorely absent and no one is announcing major decisions. The most interesting pseudo-news story of the conference was the possible creation of a second Solutions conference, but it's really only an idea right now.

For us bloggers looking for interesting topics, there's little to be had. You can only write about the food not being fit to feed pigs (lest the SPCA get upset about cruelty to animals) before you start to feel you've covered it. Charles Phillips said during his keynote that Oracle will start to make some product announcements at Collaborate, so maybe it'll be better in 2010.

Education level dropping to critical levels, Captain.

There are those who come to conferences to learn and being entertained is low on the priority list. For those, I don't know about the other tracks, but the Hyperion track didn't offer great educational opportunities. The number of total presentations on Hyperion was less than 100 (compared to close to 300 in the Solutions days), so even the presentations that weren't infomercials (and there were some annoyingly bad consulting company infomercials) could only cover so much. The number of Essbase presentations (less than 10?) was sadly pitiful considering the number of Essbase users world-wide is into the millions.

Normally, the interRel presentations can be counted on for some detailed training material, but since there were so many Hyperion products to cover and only a handful of slots allocated to each product, even our presenters were forced to go broad but not deep. [Side note: we did have a number of Hyperion-centric attendees who started just going to interRel presentations. I really think this is cool, by the way. interRel fan club in the making?] Simply put, to provide a solid educational opportunity, they need to have a whole lot more sessions (a la, Hyperion Solutions conferences) or only focus on the key products and go really deep (a la, ODTUG Kaleidoscope conferences).

Where have all the people gone?

This may be the only large conference I've ever attended where no one will go on record with the attendance numbers. I'll give you an example. Here's Ray Payne (who's a decently nice guy, by the way, and if he resurrects Solutions will be my hero) responding to a question about attendance numbers from Collaborate:

That's actually a good question. We knew that we were going to be down in attendance. I have traveled over the country in the past four months and attended several other events, saw what was happening, and we were planning for it. The good news is that we saw a last-minute up-tick. I don't have the final numbers, but we actually had, from my understanding, a good number of walk-ons. So we were pleasantly surprised.

Well, it's understandable that OAUG doesn't have any numbers, because this interview was completed well before the conference began... oops, correction, it was done on Wednesday, May 6, the last full day of the conference. Apparently they had difficulty counting all the Orlando residents who were walking by the convention center, saw someone was holding a conference, and decided to come in to buy a last minute pass. When they finish counting all these impulse buyers, we should see final numbers. Until then, I'm forced to go on things people have said unofficially as well as my own impressions. If anyone has official numbers, please send them to me and I will immediately update them here, because I don't want to be the source of any bad information.

The number that I heard unofficially was 2,200 attendees from OAUG, and 2,400 from Quest and IOUG put together. This would give us around 4,600 total attendees, but I heard from others that these numbers were inflated, because these aren't necessarily full conference attendees. Apparently, the scuttlebutt around the conference is that these numbers included attendees who only but majorly reduced price single-day conference passes. Someone told me that the reported number of real full conferencegoers was less than 3,500. Now we also have to wonder if that 3,000 number included exhibitor passes and the real number is even lower than that?

Per the FAQ on the Collaborate website (which also humorously states "and we expect more in 2009"), there were 7,500 attendees at Collaborate 2009. Since this year is 4,600 by the most optimistic counts and a lot of people are claiming the 3,000, attendance has obviously plummeted. That's a drop of 40-60% from last year. But could it really be this severe of a decrease? The Hyperion attendance numbers seem to back it up. Let's assume that the presentations at which I spoke are representative of the overall Hyperion track (I had about 8% of the Hyperion presentations). Here are a couple of things I noticed about attendance at my sessions:

  • The ratio of vendors to customers was about 3 to 1. I've never seen a user conference this skewed.
  • Last year, I gave a presentation that filled the room to the point where they had to have me give the presentation again to handle the overflow people who couldn't get in. There were over 200 people there. This year, I gave the same presentation (it got great ratings in '08). Attendance? 25 people.
  • My highest attended presentation was 80 people. Note that I didn't see any other normal Hyperion presentation (skipping the keynote is basically what I mean here) draw this many.
  • While the 80 people was my highest attended presentation on Monday, my highest on Tuesday was 40, and my highest on Wednesday was 25. By the time Thursday rolled around, one of the Hyperion presentations, per the speaker himself, had four people in it.
  • The daily attendance dops were seen by every one of the Hyperion presenters. One of Tim Tow's presentations had 3 attendees.

Supposedly, there were around 1,000 Hyperion attendees at Collaborate 2008. This year, the numbers I heard ranged from 500-600, but I really don't believe there were this many unless you also lump in the BI/DW guys. If the number really was 500-600, though, then this is right in the 40-50% dropoff range that the numbers above reflect.

While I really hope that these numbers are inaccurate, I'd love to hear your opinions on the attendance. Again, if anyone has accurate counts, let me know (or point me to the right press release or source on the web) and I'll update it here immediately.

High points

Lest I seem like a non-stop flow of criticism, there were some things I really liked about this year's conference:

  • Plenty of space to walk around without being bothered! Just kidding, Collaborate board members. I'm sure this is a sore enough point that I will ease up.
  • Better food. Yes, I know I complained about the food earlier on in this very same post, I was mostly talking about the lunches. The evening offerings (Monday's and Tuesday's at the exhibit hall as well as Wednesday at Islands of Adventure) were very, very good. The evening desert offerings were very impressive. While alcoholic drinks weren't free on Wednesday night this year, I frankly prefer that over the rationing ticket method, so kudos there too. The food is definitely quite an improvement over last year, and I will give credit where credit is due. Fix the luncheon fare next year, and I promise to tell the world using as many creative compliments as I previously did snarky criticisms.
  • Rooms were together. While the EPM content in total was spread over 11 rooms all across the massive OCCC, most of the good quality content (i.e., that put together by the OAUG Hyperion SIG) was confined to 3 main rooms. Even better, all three of the rooms were right next to each other. If you ignored the Quest sessions, IOUG sessions, and the couple of scattered OAUG sessions, you could go to all the sessions without walking more than 100 feet between rooms.
  • Better product coverage. Last year, a lot of Hyperion products didn't get a single presentation devoted to them. This year, the good folks on the OAUG Hyperion SIG board made sure that all products got covered. I wish they had more presentations to allot, but they did get a good mix from what they were allowed to do. I know how hard it is to prepare one of these schedules, and my compliments go out to Ed Delise, Kristin Newman, and Doreen Fox-Dwyer.
  • Location, location, location. Sorry, folks in Denver, but I prefer Orlando in May to Denver in April (it snowed one day during last year's Collaborate). I know some people hate when conferences get into rotating between Las Vegas and Orlando annually, but those cities do know how to handle a convention.

In conclusion...

They really did work to make this year's conference better than last year and a lot of those changes seem to be coming from the OAUG leadership. Aside from the fact that no one really got to see them, the improvements were noticeable. I hope that Collaborate continues to get better. The problem is that it may be too late. With half the Hyperion attendees in 2009 of 2008 (and no one from Hyperion really knew about it in 2008), there may be no Hyperion/EPM people left in Las Vegas at Collaborate 2010.


Ray Payne said...

Hello Ed,

Just a quick note to let you know that OAUG is committed to providing the Hyperion Community an outlet that concentrates on this special interest area. As you know, there are a lot of logistics to consider, and quite frankly, since our announcement, there has been a lot of comment on all the blogs and other outposts. I will say this ... our announcement has definitely indicated to us that there is a great deal of pent up demand for the material, and we intend to provide an outlet for it. There are also a lot of partnering opportunities under consideration. I apologize for the aggressive November timeframe comments, but I do think we should be able to pull something off in the next 12 months. There is a lot of interest, so I am confident there will be a conference ... now we just need to get the users there! Please feel free to check out our web site or my blog for updates as they become available.

Ray Payne
2009 OAUG President

Anonymous said...

Why are you so surprised about this years low attendance? Do you not realize that not just our country but the entire world is going through the most severe recession since the Great Depression? Many companies have laid off hundreds, if not thousands, of people and most companies have cut back dramatically on expenses. I would think that as CEO of a consulting firm that works with companies from various industries you would know that one of the first expenses to be cut is travel.

Edward Roske said...

What I'm surprised about is just how much attendance is down (40-60%?). While you are correct that companies have been cutting travel budgets, most are not slashing training. It all depends on if they view the conference as a junket or as a training opportunity. There are other conferences that are actually up since last year (though moderately) so it really does come down to perception, I guess.

Anonymous said...


Training is actually one of the line items that IS CUT when a company is in survival mode.

Any overhead expense such as travel or training (no matter how important to the bottom line strategically) are looked at by firms when it is time to trim expenses.

Although Collaborate, OpenWorld, Sapphire are great networking venues, the world has changed in the last 5 years due to technology.

Gone are the days when companies feel that the only way to get employees trained is by sending to an annual conference.

Also, conferences are a POOR venue to train employees. No one is going to obtain the skillsets they need to administer or fully utilize Hyperion Planning or Essbase for example in a 1 hour slide show half dominated by vendor slides.

So there are many reason why attendance was off 40% to 60% this year but you will more than likely see this as a trend going forward and companies (like Interrel) will have to find other venues (in terms of marketing and lead generation) to get prospects in the future.