IASA 2007 Annual Conference took place in Minneapolis, MN last week. The show was interesting and fun on several levels. I had the advantage of attending as an exhibitor and a speaker so I got to see the event from different viewpoints. Here, in no specific order, are some images and impressions:
· Key Note Speaker – Colin Powell
Powell is a retired four star general, former head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, National Security Advisor to Ronald Reagan and former Secretary of State for George W. Bush. The term “heavy hitter” seems inadequate to describe this great American. Refreshingly, Powell didn’t accord himself the import that others do, telling some funny stories about his adjustment from military to civilian life and then into his current “retirement”. The later cost him amongst other things, his personal, government issue Boeing 747 (“Condi took it and I haven’t seen it since”). Another attractive feature of Powell’s approach was that he clearly had a sense of his audience and actually related his speech to both insurance, and learning and leadership, which was the theme of the show. This stands in contrast to so many national figures who hit the speaker circuit and parrot the same lines from venue to venue with no attempt at relevance. There is a strong voyeuristic kick in hearing someone talk about incidents between the most famous and powerful people on the planet. One gem which the audience enjoyed was the retelling of Powell and President Bush’s first encounters with Russian President Vladimir Putin. As Powell recalled it after the meeting he and Bush were reviewing events and comparing notes and seemingly they disagreed. At one point Bush looked at his Secretary of State and said (with a suitable Texas twang) “Powell, I looked into Putin’s eyes and I saw his soul” to which Powell replied: “Mr. President, I looked into President Putin’s eyes and I saw the KGB”.
· Does Hyland Software Have Liquor Liability?
So, one of the events which takes place each year it the “best booth” competition which is a popularity poll to choose the most elaborate and pleasing vendor booth. I confess I don’t know who won this year but I hope it was Hyland Software who returned with their popular mobile sports bar complete with sports tv, bar staff and real alcohol. So those interested in Hyland’s products, and indeed those in search of a free bevy and a sit down can bully up to the bar, order a drink and hear the sales pitch in attractive surroundings. For two IASAs in a row I have cast covetous eyes on the Hyland's bar without actually venturing in but folks always seem to be having a good time in there. Maybe they are even buying some software. I just hope the vendor has Liquor Liability insurance.
· Who Were those Weird Dudes on the Segway?
I’ve never been that sold on “marketing” and yet I found myself reacting as negatively to another vendor’s attempts to gain attention as I reacted positively to Hyland. Paragon Strategic Solutions had some young and presumably attractive people with faces painted blue riding around on a Segway (one at a time). The face paint would have fit right in across town at a Vikings game. But these mute and expressionless Segway-ers looked like a cross between Blue Man Group-ees and Brave Heart extras with no lines and no weapons to brandish threateningly. As one attendee put it: “Who are the weird dudes on the Segway?” I have heard the saying “There is no such thing as bad publicity”, but I have to wonder.
· Changing Sausage Machines in Flight
A major part of the show is the education sessions which can look a bit like American Idol on occasion with everything from the polished professional presentation to the first night nerves of a new comer. One of the features of these sessions is the linguistic violence done to various metaphors and similes as we speakers strain to make our point. Certainly the best example I witnessed of an analogy in need of strangulation was my own attempt to describe the trials of replacing a policy administration system. I asked the audience to picture changing the engines on an airplane in flight, as in you have to bring up the new system and continue to run the old one to process in force business. That was probably OK until immediately following, a fellow panelist told the audience that I had appropriately characterized policy management software as the “sausage machine of the industry”. I gazed out into the auditorium and I could see the attendees attempting but failing to put these two riveting images into the same frame of reference. It was a shame really because I also wanted to lay my version of the “altitude analogy” on the attendees. This basically goes as follows: “From the implementers viewpoint changing core systems is like hacking down large trees in a forest. From the nose bleed altitude of the “C” level executives who sponsored the project those large trees look like small pieces of broccoli”. Unfortunately the mention of sausages somehow made the whole broccoli thing seem like overkill.
Anyway, the home of Garrison Keiller and a Prairie Home Companion turned out to be welcoming, relaxed and most enjoyable. Next stop will be New Orleans for Isotech. Hope to see you there.