Bloggers Note:
This is inevitably going to be the longest post I’ve written, so I’m calling it a “musing”. It may be a little chaotic, but bear with me – you never know, it might be worth it.

Introduction

Now that the madness is over, the winnings are banked and the jet lag is gone I’ve had a chance to digest the 2012 SharePoint Conference in Las Vegas.

Memorable? For sure, but mostly for the wrong reasons.

Inspiring? Yep, but not for the right reasons.

Worth the price? Yes, but again, not for the right reasons.

I’ve broken this post into several sections to keep some structure and make things easier to read and digest:

  • Content
  • SharePoint 2013
  • Negative Feedback
  • Positive Feedback
  • Final Thoughts

I hope you enjoy these musings, please feel free to leave comments or drop me a line if you have something to add.

Content – All In the Cloud

From the content, it is becoming even clearer to see that Microsoft is invested in the Cloud big time and sees the Cloud as its future.

I’ve heard a range of figures between $5BN and $10BN for how much dollar investment Microsoft has actually made in the Cloud (looking all up at Azure, Office 365, etc. but excluding consumer services such as Hotmail) and for that kind of investment, a serious return has to be made in order for the company to remain stable (in the eyes of investors and the markets) and viable (in the eyes of the customer) in the future.

Office 365 is a big bet for Microsoft, with lots of excitement plainly existing internally about the v15 release due anytime. Nobody could give me a clear answer about how many clients of decent size, outside of public sector/education were using Office 365 and how many seats that translated to in total. I asked plenty of times (almost to a point of collaring anybody in a blue event shirt) but could not get a straight answer, I’m not sure if this lack of response represents bad news, good news or no news; but usually, Cloud vendors (look at SalesForce) scream from the hills the number of clients they have on-boarded to a point of nauseating repetitiveness.

What is certain is that Microsoft has clearly decided that they are now a software company that makes software for the Cloud and a services company that provides infrastructure, platform and software as a service from the Cloud.

How long this remains their philosophy is anybody’s guess, but I’ll tell you something; the customer isn’t buying it.

Something I heard more than I should have in and around the conference venue were words to the effect of “what about on-prem?”

A (seemingly) vast percentage of the attendees are heavily invested in their on-premises environments and were not about to offload their day-to-day SharePoint operations to the Cloud, let alone a Cloud with only partial feature parity.

This apparent feedback from the customer further highlights the gamble Microsoft is taking going “all in” the Cloud. They have a finite window of opportunity to convince the

SharePoint 2013 – The Hairiest SharePoint Yet

I guess the conference was the “unofficial” launch of SharePoint 2013. Despite RTM happening some time ago now, the big push around SP2013 really started in the lead up to the conference, I guess with Microsoft looking to leverage the goodwill of the conference to give the baby the best birth possible.

It’s undeniable that SharePoint 2013 is bigger, better and bolder than ever before with some great enhancements to existing features and some great new additional functionality that continues to keep SharePoint fresh and relevant as an information and collaboration platform.

From my perspective, the improvements brought in with SharePoint 2013 continue to drag SharePoint kicking and screaming into the true Enterprise space in many of its functional facets either evolving or being introduced to meet real Enterprise needs and requirements including:

  • Improved WCM support
    • Single inter/intra/extra platform now a reality
  • Social enhancements
    • Content and people intuitively connected
  • App Model
    • Users can consume what they need where they need it
  • RM/eDiscovery enhancements
    • Improved policies and tighter email integration
  • Workflow Server
    • Scalable, high performance offloaded workflow
  • BCS enhancements
    • More options, better usage scenarios
  • BI enhancements
    • Power, Power, Power!
  • Mobile support
    • Rendering enhancements

I, for one, am impressed by SharePoint 2013. There, I said it.

In all honesty, I was fairly impressed by SharePoint 2010 but for the wrong reason. 2010 impressed me because it brought so many improvements over MOSS. Improvements should not be at the core of something being impressive, it should have been done right first time out, but sometimes you just have to play the cards you’re dealt and get on with it.

Let’s wait and see what the likes of Gartner have to say with their Magic Quadrant analyst material, if Microsoft move even more top-right then SharePoint 2013 is clearly a viable evolution of the platform that will meet the needs of Enterprise clients in increasingly sophisticated ways.

But enough of SharePoint 2013, this isn’t a 2013 post.

Onwards.

Negative Feedback

The general mood of the attendees seemed to be one of frustration. A real desire existed for people to be 100% delighted with their conference experience, but it just wasn’t happening for many reasons.

Although informal and highly unscientific, I “socially polled” as many people as I could on their general feeling about the conference and several opinions floated to the top as common viewpoints.

  • Session Content
  • SWAG
  • Amenities

Session Misfire

A sense of malaise settled in in respect of the sessions relatively early on in the week. Folks just seemed generally miffed with the sessions from many perspectives.

The general quality of sessions I attended was poor. Information was repeated, demos failed, presenters lacked the solid presentation skills you would expect at an event of the scale, cost and audience of SPC.
I thought maybe I had just been unlucky, I went to a couple of sessions where some (fairly) complex demos were being tried, but again my social polling proved poor preparation to be a common theme.

For me, the biggest complaint around session content was that it was all retch and no vomit – lots of fluffy stuff, more slides than I remember at previous conferences and many more sessions in the 100/200 space than there should be. I want to see vomit! I want deep, invigorating, inspiring session content that challenges me – that way I don’t get time to ponder how I could have delivered the session more effectively as I am mesmerised by the lyrics of the song not the voice of the singer.

I recognise that I am spoilt for great presentations given the community events I am involved in, getting to see enthusiastic, competent, knowledgeable presenters week in and week out, but gosh darn it, it would be nice if SPC lived up to its billing as the biggest and best.

The SWAG Debate

A good buddy of mine in the SharePoint community was overheard loudly asking “Where the f&%k is my Surface?” [sic] after he registered on the Sunday. “They better be handing them out at the Keynote!” he continued.

Let’s face it, it was unreasonable for attendees to expect a Surface or a Nokia Lumia 920 or something else fresh and gadgety, but heck, those bastards at Build got ‘em, right?

For sure, it’s nice to get pricey tech swag (I got a slatey, tablety thing at Build ’11 after all) at conferences, but Microsoft giving out 10,000 devices with a retail of $600+ per unit was never going to happen, made even less likely by the fact that 10,000 units probably represented a good chunk of the entire worldwide available stock at the time, right?

I’m not going to beat about the bush; an out-of-date backpack (filled with flammable materials!) and a water bottle is a poor showing by any standards, but hey, I get it. Microsoft re-branded a short while before the conference and these things take time to filter through (anybody visit the Company Store? It was an “old logo fire sale” in there!) and offering up 10,000 of anything worthy would be a pricey endeavour.

But…

Here is some advice for Microsoft for SPC13 – if you don’t want to spring for an XBOX 720 or something surfacey then throw a wireless Arc Mouse in the backpack – not too expensive and people love them (folks constantly comment on mine) so a nice halfway house bit of tech swag there.

Feeding, watering and connecting the 10,000

Food is another issue that I understand. Feeding 10,000 people is hard, very hard. I’m not too fussed by it, but plenty of people were. In my humble opinion it’s noise, but hungry conference attendees aren’t happy conference attendees, are they?

Coffee is emotive in modern times. We’re spoiled by freshly prepared, bean-to-cup this and that and so when faced with a stewing urn, we get antsy. Again, I get this problem, and ultimately its trivia, if you need chemical stimulation, chug on the copious quantities of Mountain Dew that Microsoft always provide at conferences.

Wi-Fi bemuses me. I’m a network guy at heart (I was a Cisco Kid before I was a ‘softie) and totally understand how simple it is in principle for 10,000 people to be wired up effortlessly with plenty of bandwidth for all to surf, tweet and email to our hearts content. I also get that actually providing this as a service to the attendees is actually a major undertaking and much more complex than most folks will appreciate.

Look at the math.

The average attendee probably has 3 devices that seek Wi-Fi so actually the network is probably trying to cater for 30,000+ simultaneous connections, an undertaking to say the least – but not really a major challenge for latest generation networking technology, right? To be fair network hardware probably isn’t the problem, it’s more than likely a DHCP thing, dare I say it, a Microsoft DHCP thing? Who knows, but with all the tech capability at Microsoft’s disposal, crappy Wi-Fi should be consigned to the 90’s.

Positive Feedback

People make the conference

On a personal note, I always derive the greatest benefit from über conferences in one way and one way only – networking.

This year, the sheer scale of the conference afforded more opportunity to meet with folks known, unknown and “on the list” than ever before. Everybody was at the conference, and for the partner, vendor and consultant community even the most introvert of folks had a great chance to forge new relationships, rekindle old ones or simply absorb and revel in the atmosphere.

I had targeted a few folk that I wanted to meet and used the social events to maximum effect to ensure that introductions were made, but for me the major networking opportunity was in how I could strengthen existing relationships with folks that I was acquainted with but could not count in a close circle of colleagues or, dare I say it, friends.

Nearly all the people that I knew that I polled about the conference commented on what a great networking event the SPC had become, especially in Vegas; the environment and melting pot of people new and old made for a perfect storm for networking; people, shared subject matter and restricted daylight!

Exhibitionism and not a booth babe in sight!

I don’t say this lightly, but this year the exhibit hall was excellent.

The layout really worked and the hall was large enough so that the booths were not on top of each other allowing plenty of space for discussion, demos and folks to just stroll on by.

The community lounge was excellent with representation from many of the community initiatives including SharePoint Saturday, Women in SharePoint and others.

I think almost without exception the exhibitors outdid themselves this year. I had vendors that I wanted to learn more from and to a man, they were all staffed with folks that knew their company and their products, I like this approach.

Well done to all involved in the exhibit hall.

Extra Curricular – a.k.a “All night frenzy”

Like all big conferences, there were many après ski events at SPC, vendors and partners alike are, after all trying to woo the attendees to buy their products and services, no?

I was lucky enough to be invited to many of the events (I was even hosting one on the Sunday before the conference; the Passport Party) and as an “active member of the community” it was, of course, my duty to attend.

AvePoint continued their trend with the slick “Red Party”, a well-executed affair over at Hard Rock. Axceler pulled off a great evening at Tryst topped with an appearance by Pamela Anderson handing out “Lifeguard” awards (no red swim suit though) while Microsoft rolled out the big bucks and (presumably) a helicopter for Jon Bon Jovi (forever known by me now as #jukeboxjovi) to rock the official conference party at Mandalay Beach.

Numerous other smaller events all blurred into one long Vegas week, but as nearly always the informal meet-ups in the resort bars tended to produce the most fun and games.

Seb’s Final Thought

Many folks have been bashing the conference describing it as a waste of time and money and letting it be known for the record that they won’t be attending again.

I think that this attitude is a little short-sighted. Conferences are all alike; you get from then what you put into them.

I suspected, once I had seen the session lists that many of the sessions would be of poor quality and scheduled around this.

Meetings with vendors, partners and my peers took precedence over sessions working my schedule around people as opposed to around the fixed schedule of sessions. I avoided the rock star sessions as I have been lucky enough over the years to see many of these guys and gals in action before and wanted to be community spirited letting somebody else take my seat; after all I have the after conference video downloads to catch-up on the content, so no loss to me.

For me the conference was awesome. I learnt things, I met new people, I partied with friends old and new, oh and I won a little in the Casinos. All in all, a great trip.

Until next time, take care of yourselves and each other.

More to follow…