Evaluation Form: Convergence 2008 reviewed

Evaluation Form offers feedback and constructive criticism of training and development events of interest to Canadian IT professionals.

Microsoft Convergence 2008 Orlando, March 11–14

What were the most important things you learned from this conference?

This event has evolved from a Great Plains-based conference into a massive Microsoft Dynamics affair, with almost 10,000 attendees from 65 countries who use the Dynamics suite. The products are being branched out into the software-as-a-service area. Outsourcers like EDS continue to be important, with partners an especially key part of the equation when it comes to Microsoft’s SMB-based enterprise resource management and customer relationship management products for small to mid-sized companies. The suite’s integration with others from Microsoft’s enterprise offerings — such as SharePoint — were stressed.

What questions or subject areas did the conference fail to address?

Attendees found that Dynamics NAV content was underrepresented compared to the offerings for other Dynamics products like GP and AX.

The sessions were also, for the most part, extremely technical. Plus, the program didn’t show the customers who would be speaking at them — only the topic and the names of the presenters — making it difficult to choose sessions to attend based on company.

In keeping with the trend towards environmentally responsible computing, the conference organizers included plenty of green tips with the welcome package. While helpful, the message was somewhat dulled by the massive stack of glossy ads included with the conference materials and the usual reams of cheap, disposable swag being doled out by the many vendors on the show floor.

How would you rate the quality of the show?

Attendees liked the Orlando location better than the previous years’ events held in San Diego and Dallas. However, the moving of the conference from the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort to “downtown” Orlando and the Peabody Hotel and the Orange County Convention Centre made it more difficult for attendees to get around to other attractions, and decentralized the event.

The food was hit-or-miss, and there wasn’t any entertainment. Attendees instead were free to network with each other and Dynamics execs in a series of close-together bars and restaurants on the second night.

Steve Ballmer’s keynote was interesting, as usual, although the uber-brief acrobatics shows prior to his and Kirill Tatarinov’s keynote could’ve been done away with, or replaced with something better-quality or longer. Ballmer’s question period at the end could’ve been longer as well, as the unscripted quality of the questions (well, one guesses Ballmer could’ve vetted them beforehand) lent some spice to the usual generalities, albeit ones delivered in Ballmer’s booming baritone.

How might the organizers improve the conference experience for attendees?

As is common at large conferences, there were many complaints about the size of certain sessions. The Interactive Sessions (formerly known as Chalk & Talks) are facilitated, informal group discussions with Microsoft reps and fellow Convergence attendees around specific topics that are restricted to 50 participants. While there were many of these on the schedule, the small number of participants allowed resulted in two-hour line-ups of hundreds of people, many of whom didn’t get into a session. This resulted in thousands flooding the Expo floor at once. Microsoft was able to add some more sessions throughout the conference, but next year, it would be good to schedule more right off the bat. More specific session topics would also have been helpful.

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