PowerWire talks to Mike Ryan, Chairman of i-UG, the organisers of International i-Power conference.
PowerWire: Hello Mike, thank you for joining us on a call, it seems strange us meeting over a conference call instead of face-to-face.
Mike Ryan (MR): Indeed, the current situation with COVID-19 has changed everybody’s way of life, whether that is personally or professionally, but I believe we’ll get through it, but how we work will be changed for quite a while!
PowerWire: I agree, but let’s hope the change isn’t for too long.
So, what can you tell me about i-UG’s annual flagship conference, International i-Power, I understand you have news for us and the IBM i Community?
MR: Yes, well it probably comes as no surprise that International i-Power won’t be going ahead as an in-person conference this year, but it will be in a LIVE virtual format, free to attend, but with a goal whereby all who participate can benefit. Not only that but we can support those who are looking after us in the COVID-19 frontline just now – our very own NHS!
PowerWire. Wow, okay, that’s a big decision, especially since the date of the in-person conference was scheduled for June, tell me what made you decide to do a live virtual event and how you will help the NHS.
MR. Needless to say that i-UG had already put in a lot of work to bring the original conference to life, in fact we started back in July 2018, and the council and the committee of i-UG thought it would be a crying shame for that to go to waste. There is still a great deal of work to be done to change it to a Virtual Event Format but this has already begun and the board has raced ahead with a new, high quality platform and registration system of our own, where we can showcase what we need to deliver and at the same time be in control.
As I referred to earlier, we already had a format of the conference in place with the agenda being near complete, speakers had started to fabricate their presentations etc. In fact hosting a live virtual event has opened a few opportunities for us, for example, because speakers are not having to travel to present, we are able to include some experts that were not able to participate before, due to work commitments and travel restrictions, so being able to invite them to present is a positive slant on the situation.
Obviously we can’t replicate the in-person event like-for-like in the virtual format and we won’t be delivering the deep-dive education workshops we normally run on the first day, but we are confident that the live educational sessions will be of great interest to the IBM i community.
In fact, being a virtual event may open up the audience. By that I mean the attendees can join us from anywhere, were as in the past our audience has mainly consisted of people from the UK and Western Europe.
All in all, we are looking to potentially in-prove on some of the benefits of a physical conference – apart from the direct, personal contact that is.
PowerWire: When is it taking place and what will be the format?
MR: It will take place on 10th and 11th June, just one day later than the planned in-person conference.
We wanted to keep the same dates because June is a good month in general and possibly a great month as it looks like it will coincide with the timing of a slacking of the Lock-Down we are struggling with just now.
The event will start at midday on the 10th June, the format will consist of two sessions running simultaneously, each for a different audience, for example a developer session and the other a technical session, these will be 45-minutes in length, afterwards there will be a 15-minute break, so people can do what they need to do, or can attend a chat-room, they’ll be available on the site, where they can talk to fellow peers, presenters and of course our valued solution providers.
PowerWire: Over the last few years System i-Developers (SiD) have been part of your agenda, are they taking part in the live virtual event?
MR: Yes they are, they will be presenting 45-minute developer sessions throughout the 2-days. One of the reasons why the event starts at midday is so that they (SID) can join in, Jon and Susan are based in Canada and I don’t think they’d appreciate having to wake up at 4am and present.
The agenda isn’t complete yet, it is planned to be announced in the next few days once the i-UG council have put the final pieces together, but we will be presenting live keynotes and education sessions to a wide base of delegates.
PowerWire: I’ve stopped you taking about the NHS, describe how they will benefit from this?
MR: As you may be aware i-UG are no strangers to raising funds for charities, with NSPCC and Royal Airforce Cadets benefiting from us in the past, and what with the NHS workforce being on the frontline right now, we wanted to raise funds to help them.
PowerWire: How are you be raising funds if it’s free to attend?
MR: The cost to host the virtual event is cheaper than an in-person event, as you can imagine, so i-UG are donating the left-over profits to the NHS.
It is free for delegates to attend but delegates can also donate to the NHS via the fund-raising page i-UG have constructed, it isn’t compulsory to donate but we hope that attendees will donate what they can. The link to the fund-raising page will hosted within the registration system.
Sponsorship monies that normally go towards paying for the in-person event, the venue costs etc, will go towards the NHS. And I’d like to extend a BIG thank you to all the sponsors and vendor members of i-UG who have given us much support and encouragement as we strive to make something out of this situation, they really have spurred us on. Oh and its not too late to sponsor the event, just contact us if you’d like more information.
We hope to raise thousands for the good valiant people of the NHS, they deserve it.
PowerWire: I like the concept of the event and love the idea of fund raising for the NHS, PowerWire will be contributing for sure.
Will live virtual events be replacing your in-person events in the future?
MR: Not at all for a couple of reasons;
Firstly, we will continue to organise our hands-on, in-depth workshops as part of our annual conference, and we do not intend them to be held virtually.
Secondly, i-UG have always valued bringing the IBM i community together at our conferences, as well as the learning aspect, people can network, discuss latest topics, while enjoying a meal together at our social evenings, and we don’t want to stop hosting them in the future. However, there is nothing to stop us hosting small live virtual events again, they just won’t be replacing the in-person events.
PowerWire: When will registration open?
MR: Next week (week commencing the 4th May), we are just putting the final touches to the fund-raising page, checking that the registration system works correctly and then we will be throwing the on-switch.
We had already done a lot of marketing for the in-person event and didn’t want to waste that coverage, so we will be continuing our efforts announcing the change to the live virtual format through social media channels, media outlets like yourself and of course via ‘word of mouth’ through our speakers, user group members and council.
I’m really looking forward to it, you could say we are ‘virtually there!’
PowerWire: So the COVID-19 situation has forced you to take a different path and develop a new way to present your educational sessions.
MR. Like a phoenix rising out of the ashes; we have rescued the conference from a bad situation and worked tirelessly to be able to deliver it to our members and non-members alike.
And I quote Richard Frank (1658) ‘Necessity is the mother of invention’
PowerWire: What a great quotation, and you are right, it is times like this when innovation comes to the front. It’s good to hear that you (i-UG) have been active and innovative, well done on turning the conference around to a virtual format so quickly.
As always it been a pleasure to talk to you, I hope next time we will be doing so face-to-face.
MR: You’re welcome, and I look forward to talking again soon.
Since this interview took place, registration to International i-Power (V) has opened and you can register via i-UG’s website here: – https://www.i-ug.co.uk/
Don’t forget, if you can, PLEASE make a donation to the NHS