by Natalie Miller • @natalieatWIS

Big Blue turns up the volume on its 2015 events with mega-conference

IBM InterConnect puts the spotlight on cloud, mobile, DevOps, and rock band Aerosmith

Published November 11, 2014


IBM’s event strategy has always reached high. Now, with one extravagant show, Big Blue aims to outdo the rest of IT with its grandest show ever.

With IBM Insight, Big Blue’s big data and analytics conference, in the rear-view mirror, momentum is building for the 2015 IBM mega-conference that rolls three previous events—Pulse, Impact, and Innovate—into one conference that the tech giant hopes will be the event of the year.

“We are creating IBM's largest IT conference,” says Colleen Bisconti, Vice President, Global Conferences & Events, IBM Software Group.

To further cement its place among the industry’s elite and most lively events, IBM just announced that legendary rock band Aerosmith has been booked to perform at this mega event, called IBM InterConnect2015, which will be held February 22-26 at both the MGM Grand and Mandalay Bay hotels in Las Vegas.

“They are one of the only bands that transcends generations,” says Scott Hebner, Vice President, Marketing & Demand Systems, IBM Software Group. And IBM is making moves to become the same.

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A convergence of technologies is a catalyst for change
Over the last year, IBM has beefed up its portfolios around mobile, cloud, social, and big data and analytics, while downplaying brands and making significant decisions that help to shed its stodgy image. Acquisitions and partnerships, such as those recently with Apple and Twitter, show how IBM can be more current and relevant. The company carries the energy from these recent successes into a fresh take on its events.

“More and more of these tech conferences are promoting it as a half rock concert, half tech. It’s a cultural thing. Not just a tech … ‘watch numbers across a screen’ kind of an event like it was many years ago. It’s a party,” says Hebner. “We’ll be doing a lot of new things to get new people here to the event.”

The changes may support this fresher image, but customer research supports the convergence of the previous three events.

“We did a lot of analysis around attendees,” explains Bisconti. “We noticed that while the topic matters were beginning to merge around cloud, mobile and social, the attendees weren’t. We saw very little overlap of attendees through most of the conferences. We looked at three conferences where the messages were converging so much that it made sense to pull them together.”

The nexus of these technologies breaks down silos that previously existed: not just for the technologies themselves, but also for roles, such as the IT manager, business leader, and developer, explains Hebner. “There is no such thing as a cloud person, because they are doing mobile too and tapping into analytics. It all fuses together.”

“The name InterConnect is a play on interconnecting the roles, the technologies, interconnecting past technology investments with the future; interconnecting with experts and peers,” he says.

IBM expects 20,000 people to attend IBM InterConnect in February. So far, according to IBM, clients, speakers, and partners are all responding positively to the new approach. A record number of speakers submitted session proposals (call for papers closed in early November) and registrations are already on the books. Clients and sponsoring partners are also excited, reports Bisconti.

We noticed that while the topic matters were beginning to merge around cloud, mobile and social, the attendees weren’t ... We looked at three conferences where the messages were converging so much that it made sense to pull them together.

Colleen Bisconti, Vice President, Global Conferences & Events, IBM Software Group

“[Partners] were feeling we had a disjointed strategy and didn’t know where to go,” she says. With the technologies merging, partners can’t sponsor all of the conferences and some found it difficult to decide on which to attend. “Now they can make a single sponsor investment and reach a bigger number of clients.”

This may ring true for the partners that have varied, category-based offerings, but for those who are more specified in their participation in Pulse, Impact, and Innovate and target specific audiences, the breadth of the InterConnect conference may make it more difficult for potential customers to find them.

For companies like Avada Software, creator of Infrared360®, an integrated Web Management Portal that has its roots with the IBM WebSphere MQ product, trade shows are their bread and butter. “Combining the conferences takes away the focus for what you're trying to do,” says Sarah Brush, Sales Enablement and Marketing Manager for Avada Software, an IBM Business Partner and past sponsor at IBM Impact. She explains that combining the conferences will bring together more competitors and bury vendors in a sea of exhibitors.

“As of right now, we aren’t going to sponsor,” she says of IBM InterConnect. “If it goes well, we will consider sponsoring the next year.”

IBM Business Partner GenesisSolutions is set to exhibit, sponsor, and speak at the event. Despite the broadened scope of the conference, Bill Thompson, Director, APO Marketing Communications at GenesisSolutions, says they are confident their customers will be able to find them. There are other smaller events throughout the year that will allow the company to reach customers on a more personal level, he explains. However for GenesisSolutions, InterConnect will be a good chance for reach more people and bring out their development team to work with clients.

“I’ve been involved on the IBM Maximo side for 20 years,” he says. “The experience gets better and better. The larger it gets the more breadth of companies and people attend. It’s more people to talk to.”

Navigating InterConnect2015
Sessions and activities for IBM InterConnect will take place in two different Vegas hotels that are not in easy walking distance from each other. Bisconti says there will be shuttles between the two hotels and that event producers are taking this distance into consideration when planning where sessions and activities will be.

For those focused on a specific brand, InterConnect will continue to follow the same formula of the preceding conferences and offer strategic messaging and keynotes for each brand with corresponding tracks and sessions that relate to each.

“Certain personas will never have to leave Mandalay Bay,” she says. “We’ll be simulcasting general sessions across two properties and doing a lot of things to try to say, ‘if you are this [persona], you go here. There will be busing for those who don’t fit in certain categories and need to navigate between the two hotels.”

The experience gets better and better. The larger it gets the more breadth of companies and people attend. It’s more people to talk to.

Bill Thompson, Director, APO Marketing Communications at GenesisSolutions

The main Solution Expo will be in Mandalay Bay, along with the majority of sessions, while the MGM Grand will host the dev@ program, the Executive Center, and IBM University.

At IBM Insight 2014—held the last week in October—attendees used conference app to more efficiently navigate the program. For InterConnect, IBM again hopes this app will change the way attendees build their agenda.

The app allows attendees to create roadmaps based on roles, interest areas, and keywords. “So a person doesn’t have to decipher 2,000 sessions; they just need to identify who they are and what they care about and are interested in and a roadmap to their personalized conference experience will be built [such as] sessions to attend and places to go in the expo,” says Bisconti. “The roadmaps will be very focused to help people pick their experience and build a path.”

Attendees will have the choice of eight streams of content—from cloud business applications and cloud infrastructure to decision management and mobile enterprises. Each stream will have a keynote and related sub-tracks, totaling 44 tracks comprised of 1,500 business and technical sessions.

IBM InterConnect core technical and business content streams>>


IBM InterConnect will feature over 1,500 sessions organized into eight streams and 42 tracks, according to Bisconti. The eight streams are:

    • Security Intelligence
    • Mobile Enterprise
    • Cloud Infrastructure & IT Optimization
    • Asset Management & Internet of Things
    • DevOps & Continuous Engineering
    • Application Infrastructure & Integration
    • Business Process & Decision Management
    • Cloud Business Applications

    There will also be six customized cross-stream experience roadmaps:

      • The Growth Engines of Hybrid Clouds
      • Fast IT and Rapid Innovation
      • New Systems of Engagement
      • Infrastructure Matters
      • Big Data & Analytics
      • Watson, Cognitive Analytics

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      The mobile app will build a specified roadmap based on how attendees answer a series of questions, and then the agenda can be manually adjusted from there. “Instead of picking from 1,500 sessions, you’re picking from 100,” she continues.

      Hebner adds that the app will also include some gamification that will turn roadmap building and conference attendance into a game where attendees can earn points and win prizes.

      “We are taking great pains to say, if you were a Pulse attendee or an Innovate attendee or an Impact attendee, that you can still see yourself,” continues Bisconti. “When you look at the curriculum and when you look at the emails we send out about the conference, you don’t feel it’s not your conference anymore, but that you actually see yourself.”

      InterConnect will be the same experience as the three individual conferences, and more, Henber adds. “We aren’t subtracting content, we aren’t subtracting focus, we aren’t subtracting experts or peers or IBM technical leaders.”

      InterConnectGO: For those who can’t attend
      Customers that can’t make it to IBM InterConnect will be able to watch select content remotely. A pilot at IBM Insight called InsightGO offered offsite attendees access to replays of general sessions and keynotes, as well as interviews and product demos. Over 2,000 people registered for InsightGO and IBM hopes to have an even bigger online crowd for InterConnectGO.

      “We are not only live streaming general sessions, but we are delivering true content through virtual means,” says Bisconti. “We take all the content and put it in consumable ways and offer it digitally. There is an appetite for people who want to know what's going on but can’t make it [to Vegas].”

      The name InterConnect is a play on interconnecting the roles, the technologies, interconnecting past technology investments with the future; interconnecting with experts and peers.

      Scott Hebner, Vice President, Marketing & Demand Systems, IBM Software Group

      InterConnectGO is an opportunity for IBM to connect and create an experience with people unable to attend the event, however Bisconti adds that there is no substitution for being in actual attendance.

      “Now this is the biggest conference that we have and those opportunities [to network with IBM executives, subject matter experts, and peers] are just exponential,” she says.

      “Hanging out and meeting new colleagues, that you can’t replicate on digital,” adds Hebner. “Plus the depth of the content; the digital is more ramped down. It’s highlights; snackable content. It’s not [just] sitting down and learning how to program a cloud application using Watson Analytics.”

      When asked why clients should attend InterConnect 2015, Hebner shares that over the last year IBM has worked to get away from dominating its conferences with IBM messaging and instead focuses on customer stories and highlights client speakers. “The entire future of your business is how well you leverage this technology,” says Hebner. “If you see what’s going on in the business world … it’s all technology driven. It’s increasingly data driven, high flexibility, continuous innovation, and all the things that cloud and these technologies bring to the table.

      Today’s competitive advantage and the speed of technology deployment only further necessitate the importance of IT education and training. “It’s more important than ever to make an investment to get your business up to speed,” he says. “No better way to do it than to go to these tech conferences.”

      “It’s all about attendee experience,” says Bisconti about the changes to their strategy, and cites examples including changing the executive one-on-one meeting center to make it more of an experience and adjusting the dev@ program to better align with how developers want to consume information, learn, and network. Entertainment choices will also be more diverse, she says, with more options for those not into a rock concert. That will “allow us to provide networking opportunities in a broader way,” she says.

      IBM’s technology conferences have continued to grow in attendance over the years and, Hebner explains, this less fragmented event strategy will be cost effective for clients and partners. “It really is the premiere skill-building opportunity, coupled with the networking with your peers and experts,” he says. “That alone creates a lot of value.”

      For more information about IBM InterConnect2015, visit IBM’s event page. Early bird registration ends December 31.

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