There’s one fixture in the software reseller’s calendar that can’t yet be handled remotely – the software conference. We can sell, install, and implement software without leaving the comfort and sobriety of our offices or homes, but once a year we must stir ourselves to press the flesh, down the drinks, and endure the evangelism of our software partners at the annual software jamboree. It’s a festival of PowerPoint presentations, Keynote addresses, teas, coffees, drinks, chit-chat, and endless, seemingly limitless, canapés.
I’ve just returned from Inforum EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa), an event attended by customers and resellers of the dozens of software packages that Infor has acquired over the last decade or so. It’s a chance for Infor to present it’s ‘roadmap’ and its vision of the future of business software. And before I carp, let me say that it was useful, and encouraging.
In days of yore, gatherings such as these involved the demonstration of software, but today, the senior Infor executives who present to us breathe a freer air, unpolluted by detail, by bugs, functional shortfalls, misunderstandings, and the nitty-gritty of integrating business software. Indeed, their presentations, and vision, are sometimes unpolluted by the software itself and you wonder, from time to time, what they’re talking about. These days all you get to see is pictures on PowerPoint, and very often pictures of what the software systems will look like, rather than how they look now. Presenters used to talk about what the software does. Now the talk is high-altitude marketing speak, and you long to put up a hand and ask, ‘Yes, but what does it actually do?’
This year there’s been lots of talk about the Cloud, just like last year. If you gave me a Euro for every time I heard the word I’d be a rich man. It’s been a cloudburst of Cloud, and, indeed, why not? At least I know what the Cloud is all about. It’s a place of immense safety but unknown location where you can put your software so that organisations all over the world can use it without installing it on their own premises. I like the idea, on the whole. It gives software authors and resellers more control over what’s going on, saves money for customers and allows them to concentrate on what they do best. But of course it’s not quite as simple as it sounds. How do you modify the software or integrate it tightly and safely with other Cloud systems or your own software?
‘Cloud’ is an acceptable word. Indeed it’s a nice metaphor. So I don’t cringe every time I hear the word, as I do when I hear ‘architected’, or ‘methodology’ (I stick to the word ‘method’, but I fear I am alone in that). Neologisms abound at a software conference, and many are coined there. It’s all part of forging a new world, however incomprehensible.
There’s also a new fashion for putting full stops in the middle of software names or methods. There’s Ming.le, which isn’t new, and now local.ly. Try pronouncing the dot. The former is a splendid ‘platform’ for presenting data and providing workflow on dashboards and mobile devices, but I didn’t understand what the latter is, and I’m not sure the speaker did. It’s something like a global catalogue of statutory requirements.
I’ve attended so many of these conferences that I’ve developed the following code of conduct, all essential guidelines for survival:
- Don’t attend too many presentations (I attended only two). They’re often mind numbingly dull, and you’ll get the gist of them simply by asking others. (For the very same reason, I never wear a watch. You can always ask someone else what the time is.) If you’ve missed too many, then sidle up to someone and pretend you’ve been in the audience. Ask some carefully general questions such as ‘What did you make of the roadmap they’ve just presented?’ You’ll be safe with a word like ‘roadmap’. But be aware that you may be talking to someone who wasn’t there either, and you’ll end up having an entertaining conversation about nothing at all, both of you bluffing.
- I preached the other day on the Death of the Business Card. But I make an exception for software conferences and you must have plenty of them to hand.
- Wear your identification label, even if you don’t like feeling like a parcel. You know how awful it is when you meet someone you know and don’t know the name. Find a way of casting an eye at someone’s label (for that reason wear your glasses) without appearing to be assessing the circumference of their stomach.
- Don’t drink at lunchtime. Don’t eat too many canapés.
- Make time for some extra-curricula activities. Visit a gallery, or a museum, a church, a temple, a synagogue or a mosque (even if not for religious purposes). Do some shopping. Do something naughty if you’ve got the time and still possess the energy. You’ll return with new impetus to the fray, and possibly with something interesting to say.
- Don’t go to the conference dinners unless they’re sit-down affairs. There’s nothing more dispiriting than yet more canapés, and more stand-up chit-chat after a whole day of the same.
- Above all don’t drink too much at the bar, and don’t stay up too late. You’ll be sorry. But I know you’ll ignore this, as I do, even after years of regretful mornings.