At the beginning of February of 2016 I was lucky enough to attend the TDWI World Conference in Las Vegas, NV. This was my 4th world conference with the last one being in 2013. At my last world conference there was a buzz and excitement, which brought me back over the course of three years. Sessions were well attended, there we tons of vendors showing off their latest offerings and there were lots and lots of attendees which made for great networking opportunities.
Fast forward three years and what I saw was troubling.
First; there appears to be a huge drop off in attendance levels. At the key note addresses, TDWI use to fill the one of the largest of the conference rooms at Caesars. In comparison, over the span of the two keynote addresses this year TDWI barely filled a room that was a third of the size that it use to fill. The first key note was pretty flat in it’s content and didn’t really go anywhere. The second, presented by Russel Glass (LinkedIn), was great, but there was barely anyone in the room.
Second; every session I attended was sparsely populated, to the count of less then half full in most cases. Rooms were set for 40 -50 people in my sessions and the largest was 35. The draw to that one was Wayne Eckerson, and what he was talking about was a book he wrote 3 years ago.
Third; the sessions I attended were a bit dated, and basic. Maybe it was poor choices on my part, but this was my experience. Data Integration featured nothing new… ELT, Master Data Management, and Data Virtualization. The innovation sessions I attended were okay, but they need refined. They tried to cover a lot of content at a high level, but it needed to be a deeper dive on one or two methods. Most of us left feeling unfulfilled and the content got repetitive. Wayne Eckerson’s class was a discussion about the book he wrote three years ago. To prove the point of how dated that was, none of the people profiled in the book still worked in that role or that company any longer.
Lastly, the vendor situation was abysmal; 2 partners of TDWI were in attendance out of a possible 15. The vendors that are here are all just entering the market and trying to make a name for themselves. It’s great those small vendors are here, but without the major vendors and players there is a lack of excitement. When you have the major vendors skipping your conference it sends a very clear message that the relevancy for them was no longer present and there was no value in their attendance.
On a side note, TDWI tried to get people engaged via social media with a hashtag and twitter giveaway, but the population of tweets came from about 20 people where weren’t associated with TDWI or the vendors who were present. It’s worth noting that at a glance the average attendee at TDWI is over 45 (with a few exceptions) and active social media activity and engagement may be beyond the average attendee’s generation.
One of the major themes of the TDWI World Conference was “Innovation” and I’m thinking TDWI needs to put some innovation in to practice.
So how does TDWI, a subsidiary of 1105 Media, evolve to get data professional engaged again? How do they reengage the vendors to make them see the value in the conferences? How do they remain relevant in a rapidly changing landscape that is all about the data? There are more data professionals than ever before, both technical and business people alike, so how does TDWI tap in to that pumping vein of data passionate people?
TDWI was and is known for their educational content, but it seems to be a bit of “retread” now. Same instructors, with the same classes, with the same technologies. I realize that TDWI prides itself on being agnostic when it comes to vendors and platforms, but one possible solution would be providing vendor slanted walk-through or hands on sessions with these platforms. The trick with these would be to force the vendors to not sell the product, just walk use through use cases and teach us the ins and outs of the product. I liked the Short Sessions concept, but the instructors kept running over. They have to tighten up the content and stop on-time. The injection of some new blood in the instructor ranks wouldn’t hurt either. Let’s get some of the leaders in the industry TODAY in the rooms. Get the folks who are blazing the trail in Big Data, Cloud, Data Visualization and Predictive Analytics and have them build a curriculum around their successes and pitfalls.
The receptions and lunch formats needs to change. I think the “Sticker Grand Prix” needs to end. I realize it’s to encourage people to mingle with the vendors, but let’s face it; if people want to talk to vendors they will, if they don’t they won’t. The other problem was with so few vendors it was a lot of “hello again, give me a sticker” by the third vendor session. I did appreciate the lack of drink tickets in favor of an open bar. If the vendors and TDWI want to give things away, give them away; but you must be present to win. There needs to be more focus on the networking and social aspect of the receptions; that’s really what they are for… but people didn’t attend.
Perhaps on the night of the vendor reception the vendors should set up “hospitality rooms” and get people moving around like they did in previous years. Maybe some live entertainment to encourage people to attend the reception. In years past Microsoft set up a few Xbox 360’s with Kinect and people came in and played games and socialized.
Maybe it’s time to flip the script and TDWI should have a booth at vendor conferences and events to advertise and reach a new audience. But if they are going to make that investment, they need to be ready to meet the needs of the new data professionals, not the old guard still arguing Kimball vs Inmon.
With that said, the bottom line is people aren’t going to come back to a conference that isn’t evolving and valuable, regardless of age. In a day and age where budgets are tight an expensive conference that is showing me the same stuff I’ve seen previously isn’t a high value proposition.
I did share this feedback with TDWI shortly after the conference, but I wanted to share my thoughts publicly now that some time has passed.