BPM Conferences in Trouble?

Scott Francis
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The Process Maverick (aka Theo Priestley) wrote a pretty interesting blog titled “Calling time on the BPM Conferences“.  In it, he points out:
In the last 6 months there’s a growing trend towards offering massive discounting or 2-for-1 deals (is this a professional meeting or a team huddle at Wal-mart ?!!) to try and attract the numbers. And it’s not working. Lombardi pulled its famous Driven events from being physically located to purely Online now following a call from its members stating they could no longer warrant traveling and the expenses that incurred. Rumblings from the recent Spring Gartner BPM conference suggested that there was nothing new to warrant actually going. And more worryingly, a recent european conference had only 20 attendees….including the speakers ! It would seem the majority attending came from the Middle East and they understood a little about BPM and process initiatives but did they need to come all that way to learn ?
In fact, I’ve been hearing these rumblings about conferences in general, not just BPM conferences.  And there is reasonable evidence to show that BPM conferences are generally doing better than non-BPM-themed conferences (if you believe Gartner’s attendance numbers, their spring events were quite well attended). Still, Theo’s criticisms are well-noted.  I think there is some consensus among those who regularly attend such conferences that there is not enough net-new content for a Gartner BPM Conference every 6 months, for example.  The beauty of a “Lombardi Driven” conference in past years was that it had a pull on different audiences for different reasons, and could satisfy their interests:
  • Technical practitioners looking for practical help, tools, shared experiences
  • Technologists looking at the road ahead, from a technical perspective, and for best practices from a technology perspective
  • Business Process specialists at firms using Lombardi’s software, who wanted to get a little better understanding of the company and the products they would be employing
  • Process owners looking for ideas for improvement, and inspiration and motivation to go get the budget they need to invest in their processes
  • Executives looking for partners to help them expand from project to program.
  • Implementation and ISV Partners looking for business opportunities
  • Customers looking for help
I think what made Driven interesting was its focus on the practical. In a multi-vendor conference, not all the conversations can cross-pollinate as easily. Speakers at the more general conferences will tend to be more business centric, but perhaps at the expense of really drawing the right audience.  The format tends to be more presentation oriented than discussion (in fact, Driven was heading down that presentation/podium-focus as well, and the video-only version of Driven was completely devoid of the normal discussion that makes these events so worthy of attending). But the real criticism of Theo’s that sticks:
“Isn’t it time the conference organisers woke up and realised that CONTENT is king and not the turnstiles?”
Yes, it is.  I propose a more barcamp-oriented solution (dare I say, crowdsourced).  Topics should be proposed by the community of attendees and presenters and voted on with feet (and web browsers).  The emphasis should be less about turning a profit from the conference, and more about breaking even, and creating value for everyone who attends, sponsors, speaks, or reads the notes later.  We have a tradition of this kind of conference in Austin, with Mr. Hurley being the driving force behind it.  I think there are some lessons to learn from this approach, that could result in a really effective BPM conference.
  • Interesting post at Fred Wilson’s blog on conferences.

    He takes a pretty dim view of them as well – and I certainly wouldn’t try to change his mind about attending conferences himself – for exactly the reasons he states. However, keep in mind the perspective he’s approaching it with – that of investor or deal-maker. If you’re looking for some fresh perspective in your business or in the way you personally operate, you’re likely to find some value in conferences. If you’re looking to share common experiences with people in similar situations – and you DON’T have geographic centralization as VC’s tend to in silicon valley and in NYC – then a conference can be a great way to make connections. They can even be inspiring at times (depending on the speakers or the nature of the conversations).

  • Interesting post at Fred Wilson’s blog on conferences.

    He takes a pretty dim view of them as well – and I certainly wouldn’t try to change his mind about attending conferences himself – for exactly the reasons he states. However, keep in mind the perspective he’s approaching it with – that of investor or deal-maker. If you’re looking for some fresh perspective in your business or in the way you personally operate, you’re likely to find some value in conferences. If you’re looking to share common experiences with people in similar situations – and you DON’T have geographic centralization as VC’s tend to in silicon valley and in NYC – then a conference can be a great way to make connections. They can even be inspiring at times (depending on the speakers or the nature of the conversations).

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  • I think that while I have no expectations that companies in the conference business will take my advice, I believe that focusing on content will actually get those turnstiles moving again. Its a crazy concept, but I think quality drives quantity in certain businesses, conferences included.

  • I think that while I have no expectations that companies in the conference business will take my advice, I believe that focusing on content will actually get those turnstiles moving again. Its a crazy concept, but I think quality drives quantity in certain businesses, conferences included.