PowerWire (PW): –
Hello Mike, its nice to chat to you again, the last time we spoke was in Spring last year when the pandemic first broke out and i-UG where rearranging their annual conference, International i-Power, to a virtual format. A lot has happened since then, and I think most people have been working from home or remotely very effectively thanks to platforms such as Zoom, Skype, Microsoft Teams etc and last year i-UG met the challenge and moved your event on-line for the first time, which was a big success. I see this year with the lifting of restrictions you (i-UG) have decided to run the event as a hybrid conference (both in-person and on-line), my first question is; How have i-UG members and the IBM I community responded to the event being hybrid?
Mike Ryan (MR): –
We recognised quite early on that delegates thought the virtual one was great, but they missed the physical aspect of an in-person meeting. We looked carefully into the Government guidelines that allowed for the meeting of fellow peers and presenters, if it was educational and worked-based, so it seemed that there was a certain latitude here, and we ran a hybrid event out of Wolverhampton. However, as well as the governmental guidelines, things were also compounded by companies themselves saying ‘No Travel’, ‘we don’t want anybody going somewhere and getting poorly and coming back and spreading the virus’. We only got about 12-people turning up on the day and the rest were virtual. But it proved quite interesting because we succeeded in splitting the broadcasting and the live presentations so people present were watching it as a normal conference whereas people could still engage virtually. Moving that to your question about how do people feel now about coming to a physical event, we put out a doodle to all our members saying “we are really going to push for this (in-person event) and we are going to move the conference from June to July, because in theory restrictions will be released, and given that people will be allowed to attend, we intend to make the conference an in-person event along with on-line too” what is your opinion? We got between 65-70% of members saying if that is available and I’m allowed to attend, I’ll be there. So overwhelming really that most people who would attend the conference would really like it to be physical. they all threw the same caveat in, “providing my boss & company are okay with me attending”, but yes there is a definite need for a physical event. During the early parts of contacting our members, we hadn’t started the main marketing yet, we were getting the same echo back, so I’m hopeful that the rules are sympathetic to us and if so we are budgeting for 60-people being present at the July event. That’s smaller than our normal conference of course and we are aiming high with that number, but it does sound as though people will turn up.
That is a nice number, I think any higher, say touching 200 like your normal attendance figures and I think people might back off just at this moment in time.
Yes indeed, with the speakers some are very keen to come and present locally (at the venue) and they’ll be done in the studio type we’ve developed now for the physical / Hybrid, but then others say by running virtual streams we get North American speakers, who don’t have to fly and travel, but can actually deliver their content too.
Do you see that being part of the future?
I was the nay-sayer on this and not wanting to go down the virtual line, but I’ve got to say how taken aback on how well and how wide the audience was on our first virtual event. I think who am I, who are i-UG, the whole world has taken that step down that virtual line and got very comfortable with it.
That leads into my next question nicely; are you finding Hybrid events a good way to attract new members and delegates?
Well funny enough yes, it is, we are having people who want to take membership now because of some of the advantages they get like access to the presentations, the documentation, the internal stuff we have for our members, and that’s coming from a much wider field now. So the virtual event did help us reach more people and we are concentrating on that now, we have taken on Steve Cast to help us with marketing and get that a little better, and try to figure out whether there is a position for membership outside of the UK.
i-UG is very close to its community, as Chairman, what feedback are you hearing from your members about the ways the pandemic effected them and how have they met those challenges?
It has been quite varied, because some companies have felt it if they working in the entertainment industry for instance and our member is part of their IT department, then those type of guys we have sadly lost, so we have lost some people. But others have said it has never been so busy and have spent lots and lots of time on security because they’re kind of opening now what were enclosed offices, they’re opening to the Web, and if you remember Zoom when the pandemic first started there was worry about the little holes in the security, there were some amusing stories about people ‘bombing in’ on meetings, but they seem to have all gone now so people have spent a lot of time on securing their networks, making big decisions on whether they should be using things like TEAMS, or invest in GoToMeeting, or invest a little more in Zoom, so there’s been a lot of activity down that line.
Yes, security has been a big topic and will continue to be so.
Mike, I see this year’s conference is being held in Wolverhampton, a smaller venue than your usual ones, will there be the same number of sessions as in previous years?
We had a hotel booked in Northampton for this year, the size of venue we would normally use in the past, but we had many discussions with them and eventually decided to move the booking to next year. So we started to look for a venue that wouldn’t cost a fortune, that could house a smaller audience but have enough rooms to cover our sessions, and Wolverhampton fitted our needs. It’s favourable to be in that area too because the technicians that run our studios and mixing desks etc are local so that works nicely for them.
We decided that Wolverhampton would be a good space, you’re right, its smaller, you’re right it has limitations’ … but if we run out of space that would be a happy day!
To come back to your question, the number of sessions will be the same. At the moment we have four streams on day-2 in the conference mode, like we’ve done in the past, and we have four educational streams on day-1. We are finding delivering good quality education, which is one of our hallmarks, difficult to deliver remotely and keep control of a class of 20-25 people.
So to confirm we’ve got four streams doing conference type streams (45-minute sessions) on day-2 like we normally would have, and we have four educational workshops on day-1, two of those are hands-on, in-person but will also be broadcast, the other two are a mixture of experimenting with hands-on remotely and lecture format.
System i Developer (SiD) are with us again this year but they are embedded in the main programme instead of having a dedicated stream.
What hot topics are you focusing on for this year’s event?
There is quite a lot of AI but looking at how you would practically use this stuff. Watson’s been around for a long time but getting real use out of it is sometimes difficult to visualise. In July, we’ll be presenting a great ‘real use case’ about it. There is also a load of new hardware being promoted by IBM now, like the Flash Storage systems, which are offering two things; one is phenomenal capabilities, the second is the price! This brings it really down into the realms of to the kind of members we have, easily being able to afford it. So there will be some announcements around that, and we have people coming in to just talk about that topic.
We have our usual things, Modernisation and the tools, and of course Security comes in there too. Open Source has been requested, more and more people want to know how to get started and where to see the benefits, so we’ve a stream that all most dedicated to it. And SQL, the ability to integrate the machine with SQL is phenomenal, so we have a couple of sessions on that too, presented by Brigita Houser.
You kind of answered this already in a way, but keeping on-line visitors attention is challenging, as you know its quite easy for them to be distracted, will there be the ability for visitors to interact with the speakers, and ask questions etc?
We are leaving that to the speaker themselves and give them that option. We’ve got quite slick and using the chat room now, we do post that up straight away and say ‘if you do want to interact, or you have something to say, put it in the chat room’, the moderator on that session will pick up that chat and make the decision whether to interrupt the speaker or save it to the end. And that’s the speakers choice, whether they want to be interrupted as they go along or leave the questions till the end of the session.
We are also finding with the studio type sessions, this is were the cameras are on recording a speaker live and being broadcast, we get a lot more interactive requests, people seem to stay stuck with that a lot easier, rather than Zoom fatigue were people just watch and listen to a presentation.
Are you helping sponsors/vendors to engage with delegates? Are you doing anything different this year?
We are trying to soup up the event website, we do have the vendor booth were they can show there products and solutions but this year we’ve given them the capability to open up a Zoom session, where people can sit (in theory) in their booth and click and ask a member of the vendor a live question, just like they would at an in-person conference.
Oh nice, so attendees can have a private one-2-one chat with the vendors, and be in control!
For those attendees that will attend in-person, are you organising anything for them?
Yes, we are hosting an evening meal and reception, it might not be the full Gala Dinner type we’ve run over the couple of years, but we are looking for the chance for people to mingle with each other and the speakers who are attending locally. As we know our members like to chat and discuss what issues they may have come across in their working life, and its amazing what knowledge and advice they will swap with each other.
What is the cost to attend in-person and/or on-line? And do attendees get to access the speaker slides?
If you are member of i-UG you get access to the speakers slides as part of your membership privileges, they are published in the member section of the i-UG website.
This 2 Day educational conference for IBM i professionals will take place on
Tuesday 6th & Wednesday 7th July at The Mount Hotel in Wolverhampton, UK.
You can choose to attend the conference either in person or alternatively you can join us virtually via Zoom.
Day 1 will comprise a series of half day and full day technical workshops.
The workshops are FREE for i-UG members but non members can attend for a small charge of just £50 GBP.
Day 2 will comprise multiple streams of 45 minute sessions and attendance on this day is completely FREE for all delegates.
Thank you for your time Mike, it has been nice to talk to you and learn what charges you have planned for this years conference.
Full details of the conference, including the current agenda and registration links can be found by clicking here