HP user groups will continue independent conferences

Two Hewlett-Packard Co. user groups, Interex, its largest, and OpenView Forum, said this week that they will continue to hold independent user conferences despite HP’s plans to create its own conference beginning next year.

“We’re going to go ahead and continue producing our conferences — the way we have done it for the last 30 years,” said Denys Beauchemin, president of Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Interex, which is co-producing this month’s HP World conference.

“It will be a user-driven conference, as it’s always been,” said Beauchemin, “as opposed to what HP was proposing with their conference, which would be driven by HP.”

Beginning in September 2005, HP plans to hold a technical conference that will cover the technologies addressed by HP’s four user groups. In a statement released late this afternoon, Interex (The International Association of Hewlett-Packard Computing Professionals), said it would hold its 2005 conference in San Francisco beginning Aug. 15.

HP’s move represents a competitive challenge to the user group conferences, which will now be vying for attendance from users. HP officials said the idea of a single conference is in response to requests by HP customers for comprehensive information about hardware and software technologies.

But some user group members argued that a vendor-sponsored conference would be marketing-driven, as well as a threat to their independence. Conference revenue, through vendor sponsorships, trade floor space rental, advertising and conference fees, is the chief source of revenue for the user groups.

Interex is expecting HP to reduce its presence at its 2005 conference, but Beauchemin said HP isn’t the main source of revenue needed for its US$7 million to US$8 million annual budget. Interex is expecting about 140 vendors at its conference, and more than 7,000 are expected at its conference in Chicago beginning Aug.16.

Beauchemin said giving attendees access to a variety of vendors, as well as user-focused panels and content, will continue to draw attendees to this annual event. In making its decision, Beauchemin said Interex looked at what would be best for the membership. “And we just simply believed that being fully independent, yet loyal to our vendor of choice, would be best for everyone involved.”

Open View Forum International will also conduct its own conference again, in June 2005 in Denver, and plans to provide content for the fall HP Technical User Conference as well, said Forum president Henry Wojcik.

Wojcik said his board decided to work with HP on content after talking to HP officials about the unified technical user conference. He said it’s unclear what level of financial support HP will provide for its Software Forum conference, but he is more concerned with the financial fortunes of the 2006 conference.

“HP’s involvement in our 2005 conference is not a real major impact so far, ” he said. “We’ve decided as a group we will work with HP for the technical user group conference in the fall. As for 2006, it remains to be seen what the impact on us is.”

Wojcik said the Open View Forum “is a little bit concerned about our future, but if we plan our 2005 conference right, (HP’s actions) might not be a significant impact on us. In 2006, the success of their 2005 conference dictates what happens to us.”

“We have a friendly relationship with HP that we’d like to continue,” he said, but added “our membership likes our independence as a group and our openness.”

The OpenView Forum has an annual budget of about $1 million, about 70 percent of which comes from HP and other vendors paying for sponsorships and kiosk space at its conference, with the remainder from advertising in its publications. Membership in the Open View Forum, now at about 8,000, is free.

The Chicago-based user group Encompass, which has 10,000 members and is a co-sponsor of HP World 2004, agreed to back HP’s plans and will rely on that conference for revenue. An official of that group said HP’s conference meets its charter mission of providing technical training.

An official of ITUG, the former Tandem user group, had previously expressed interest in continuing to run an independent conference.

“Contrary to other flagging industry events, our paid full-conference registration numbers for HP World 2004 are running about 10 per cent ahead of last year,” said Ronald W. Evans, executive director and CEO of Interex, in a statement. “We anticipate a great event in Chicago this year and will keep the momentum going when we join with HP to return to San Francisco — the 1999 site of one of the most well-attended HP World customer events in our 30-year history.”

Evans also said that Interex will work closely with HP and partners to develop the conference content for HP World 2005.

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