If you are an IT professional who’s been around a while, you probably remember when the big trade shows were industry events, not single-vendor conferences. COMDEX and CeBIT drew hundreds of thousands of people to Las Vegas and Hannover, Germany, respectively. Every vendor large enough to fill a booth exhibited at these events, and customers got a chance to learn about a lot of different options to keep their IT departments at the forefront of innovation and efficiency.
This began to change when the dominant IT vendors started hosting their own user conferences. IBM, DEC, HP, Oracle and Cisco could attract tens of thousands of their own customers to spend a few days as a captive audience, listening to one company executive after another on stage extolling the virtues of their products.
Today, many of the largest events are thrown by single vendors: Microsoft Ignite, AWS Summit, Dell Technologies World, VMworld, Oracle OpenWorld, Dreamforce, Sapphire Now, Cisco Live, IBM Think, HPE Discover, Red Hat Summit . . . the list goes on. They all include numerous complementary partners, so the experience doesn’t seem quite as evangelical or one-sided.
Still, to many customers, the parade of executive presentations from the host vendor can be annoying. Users want to hear from other users, CIOs from other CIOs. In the decades I have spent in the technology industry, I’ve found that customers believe most in their own experiences with vendors and products and services – followed by their peers’ experiences, and then independent third-party research and reporting from analysts and media. Until a vendor has established a real track record inside a customer’s organization, that vendor’s own words and marketing efforts are typically less credible than these other sources of information.
If you are a product or services company selling to IT departments, this truth can be painful. After all, most vendors spend a lot more money tooting their own horn than they do trying to impact those other sources of influence.
When our company, Actifio, decided to host our first global user conference, we wanted to avoid the self-serving parade of our own leaders dominating the stage. If our customers were willing to travel and take a few days from their offices to learn more about how Actifio and our partners can help their organizations be more successful with a data-as-a-service approach as they evolve, we were fairly certain they would want to hear more from their peers than from us.
So we filled the agenda with our customers and partners, talking about their own experiences and participating in panel discussions of the challenges they face, from security and compliance to multi-cloud evolution to speeding up DevOps. We did, of course, present updates on our own product road map and priorities. But that wasn’t the dominant topic.
The idea that seemed to hit home with everyone at our Data Driven event is that data is a weapon of mass disruption. It is imperative that innovators and practitioners understand how to harness its power and use it to drive their respective businesses forward. It was Actifio’s honor to witness so many like-minded companies and individuals come together to share their best practices in data management and explain how they are leveraging data as a competitive advantage. Actifio is proud to be a platform that helps to facilitate this emerging data-driven economy.
Soon after our conference ended, veteran Evaluator Group analyst John Webster published a report about the Data Driven Conference. “What was notable about this event that differentiated it from other vendor-sponsored events we’ve attended in the past was its customer- and partner-centric orientation,” Webster wrote. “All the keynotes, panels and technical sessions featured customers and partners. The message: An event for customers should be led by customers. The typical chest-thumping “we’re the greatest” spectacles weren’t on display . . . Rather, Data Driven was all about enterprise data management and Actifio use cases as seen from customers’ perspectives.” One of our customers said, “It was refreshing and unlike most conferences, which are just glorified marketing exercises.”
This lesson may not be absorbed too widely among most companies as they plan their events to be platforms to broadcast their message. As a customer-centric company we plan to keep forging our own path and let our users share their experiences with us and other users. Next year we plan to fill the agenda with our customers and partners again, and hopefully provide an experience that really justifies the valuable time they spend with us.
Data Driven Keynote Delivered by Brian Shield, Boston Red Sox CIO
“Building a Data Driven Culture: How the Boston Red Sox Use Data to Win On & Off the Field”