Saturday, November 10, 2007

Oracle OpenWorld 2007 Part 2

Now that I am on the plane, I have a bit more time to write about my pre-conference experiences and compare/contrast them with how it worked back in the Hyperion days.

My general impression is that everything is on a much larger scale. My first Arbor Dimensions conference in 1996 was at the Hyatt in Santa Clara, California. Ironically, it is about 2 blocks south of the building that Hyperion moved to a couple of years ago. That conference was entirely contained within the hotel and had a total of about 3 presentation rooms. I would guess the attendence was somewhere in the range of 500 people. The next year the conference grew significantly and moved to the Dolphin and Swan in Orlando and, I believe, had more than 1000 attendees. The 'Tuesday Night Party' put on at that conference was at one of the amusement parks in Orlando (Disney MGM Studios I *think*); it was great to go on all of the roller coasters with absolutely no lines..

Over the years, the conference continued to grow and eventually hosted somewhere in the neighborhood of 5,000 people. The locations varied between Orlando, Las Vegas, Chicago and even (pre-Katrina) New Orleans. There were many great sessions, great networking and great 'Tuesday Night Parties'. For entertainment, we again had amusement parks, museum trips and comedians. I even snuck backstage after an event in Vegas and met Howie Mandel. That is where I learned to 'knock knuckles' instead of shake hands. Howie doesn't shake hands; he is a germ-phobe. Of course, he did hug my beautiful wife but hey, I can't blame him for that! My wife now hates that I 'knock knuckles' with my teenager instead of hugging him; I think both he and I feel more comfortable that way)..

For me, those were some very busy conferences. I often did multiple presentations and, in fact, a couple of years I did up to 5 presentations during the 2 1/2 days. We also had a booth that was always jam-packed with people. On top of that, there was the networking with Hyperion people be it working deals with the sales people or talking with the dev people in 'R&D Central'. I don't know yet how this conference will compare 'busy-wise' to the Hyperion conferences but I do have a bunch on my schedule.

When we first looked at going to the conference, we had to make a fundamental decision. We had to decide if we were going to have a booth this year. We had a booth at every conference since 1999 but in all of those years we were one of about 50 to 75 partners with displays. At Open World, they have over 600 vendors with booths and apparently there is no single concentration of 'Hyperion' vendor booths. We felt as though we may be buried among vendors concentrating on Oracle relational, Siebel, JD Edwards, Peoplesoft and the scads of other Oracle technologies, so we declined to get a booth. One positive note is that the booth as *much* less expensive at OpenWorld than they were at Solutions.

This year, I may actually have time to walk around and see what other vendors are doing with the technology, and perhaps even more important for me, learn how they are marketing their products. We think we have the 'cats meow' in our Dodeca product but we don't emphasize the marketing aspect too much. It is so cool, in fact, that one of our customers made a comment to me just yesterday that I think it golden. That customer had a webcast recently with about 100 users in their company. It created quite a buzz and since then they have done a dozen or so followup webcasts with different groups. In the 'golden' comment, they compared their old solution (using a competitor's product) to their new solution (using Dodeca).. They said "it is like comparing a '63 VW Bug to a 2007 Porsche". I hope we get official permission from their legal department to use that quote, properly attributed, in our marketing literature!

OK, enough of that marketing stuff, back to the pre-conference discussion.. Once we decided not to have a booth, I had to decide if I wanted to spend the money to go. Frankly, I don't think I ever paid for a conference admission before as I was always a speaker. So, I started looking to see where I could dig up a free admission. It ended up that I had 3 opportunities to get in for free. First, as an Oracle ACE, I qualified for a free OpenWord pass (and an invitation to the Oracle ACE dinner on Sunday night). Second, as I spent a bunch of time working on the new Smart Space product, both as a consultant during the design phase and as a gadget builder before Solutions and during the beta phase, I was asked by my friends on the Smart Space team to co-present with them. Interestingly, in the last few years of the Hyperion conference, only the primary speaker got a free pass to the conference. By contrast, virtually all Oracle speakers get a free pass to the conference (I think there is an exception for speakers from the public sector who get a pass only for the day they are speaking). Finally, I saw a page that said anyone who wants to blog about the conference is entitled to a 'press' pass to the conference.

The on-line registration site for the conference was pretty easy to use. It was a single site where you sign up, get your conference id and choose your hotel. My first idea of the scale of Open World came when I picked a hotel. There was one outrageously priced hotel near the venue and a number of other choices much further away. My best hotel choice was at a hotel south of SFO airport about 11 miles from the Moscone Center. Although I wasn't pleased with that arrangement, they do have shuttles that run often between the distant hotels and the conference. My first big lesson learned: keep trying if you don't like your original hotel choice. A week later, I checked the site and there were several 'reasonably' priced hotels available; I ended up a couple of blocks away for $239/night which is very reasonable for San Francisco. I would guess that when you have 60,000 hotels rooms reserved for a conference, there are occasionally some cancellations. That's right, they have a block of 60,000 hotel rooms reserved.. Wow.. As for the rate being reasonable, I was in San Francisco just a couple of weeks ago and the hotel I used to stay at nearly every week, a Holiday Inn at that time, was priced at $599/night.. Needless to say, I stayed elsewhere.

Next, I got an email invitation from Oracle to speak with instructions on how to confirm your speaker status, etc using an on-line tool. Essentially, I had to confirm I had agreed to do the session, that I understood the firm A/V setup they have, slide presentation upload due dates, etc. Hyperion always communicated with speakers directly via email and didn't have an on-line system accessible to manage the speakers. It also had much earlier deadlines for the presentations. Hyperion required presentations be turned in about 60 days before the conference started. The deadline for Oracle was yesterday. Oracle also had a formal speakers meeting via webcast with a formal presentation on the general rules for the presentations, dress code, etc. That was a first for me.

When I first signed up, I took a quick glance at the schedule and found that during some time slots, there are literally a hundred (or maybe hundreds) of sessions scheduled at that time. Over the next couple of weeks I managed to pick most of the sessions I wanted to attend. There are many different types of sessions and there appear to be a good number of deeply technical sessions along with bunch of hands-on lab type of sessions. There is a specific Hyperion session track and those sessions are concentrated on Monday and Tuesday. There is, however, a Hyperion "Meet the Experts" on Thursday and a few other Hyperion sessions on Wednesday and Thursday. I don't remember seeing as many technical Hyperion sessions and I don't remember seeing any hands-on lab sessions relating to Hyperion technology. I will check again and will certainly book at least one hands-on lab so I can report if they are useful or not. One thing to note is that a large number of the sessions do not repeat which is unfortunate. One particular session I want to go to, on the Java Persistance API, directly conflicts with a session I have to go to.

Finally, the parties are legendary. On my schedule this year is the Oracle ACE dinner, the Oracle Technology Network (OTN) night party (which I believe has a Linux 'install-fest'; perfect for us geeks), the 'Appreciation Night' featuring Billy Joel, Stevie Nicks/Mick Fleetwood and Lenny Kravitz. There is also a closing 'It's a Wrap' party where one attendee will win a new car.. There is also a website for 'AfterDark' gatherings that are informal. I know I will probably visit my favorite restaurant in the city at least a couple of times this week. It is 'La Gondola' on Columbus near the Transamerica Tower. I was there just a couple of weeks ago. I had the Caprese (mozzarella and tomotoes) and angelhair pasta with rosa sauce with mozzarella (not on the menu but recommended). I also sat and drank wine with the owner, Gino, for a couple of hours. If you are lucky, perhaps Gino's wife will be there as well. She is one of the world's best flamenco dancers. Great people and great food..

To wrap up, some of the differences I have noted so far are that it is *far* larger with many more sessions to choose from (in many, many more topics than available at the old Solutions conferences). The conference takes over all of the Moscone Center, some of the local hotels and they even close some of the streets near the Moscone and put up tents. The location for OpenWorld does not change so get used to visiting San Francisco every fall. The parties and entertainment are also more numerous and far larger. On the downside, it is harder to get a hotel so I would advise booking in advance.

So long for now. I have to spend some time on this flight working on a patent application. Sounds like fun, right?

No comments: