Collaborate Canada 2017 Montreal

This was the first day of a 4 city “Collaborate Canada” tour across Canada, and the event was hosted in Montreal, Quebec. The expected audiences would be users of Dynamics AX, CRM, NAV, GP or 365.

Although I enjoyed the day and the experience, I can honestly describe the day as having some “good, bad and ugly” to it.

Dynamics Communities (DCI), who organizes the conferences, expected 150 attendees and through the rumour mill yesterday, it sounds like the attendance was around that.

Organization

The event organization was amazing, as always. DCI does this very well, at every event. Attendees received an email the day before reminding them of the event and their schedule. The check-in area was easy to navigate and get your badge and a paper schedule of what rooms had which sessions so you were set to go.

Breakfast, lunch, and the reception later in the day were in the same area and right outside the room where the primary morning session was held.

I have 4 pieces of feedback on this part of the conference, but in fairness, the limitations of the rooms had a lot to do with what I describe.

1. Sponsors Area / People Flow

I didn’t realize there was a mini-expo where sponsors had set up, until lunch time, as it was set up around the corner from where the registration and food was. The room was an “L” shape and the way the primary things were organized, there was no reason to go that far and thus, I suspect the sponsors may have been underwhelmed at the “eyeballs” on the expo section.

Suggestion? In a room of that shape, if they had put the expo first so you walk through it on your way to registration (at the corner of the L) and then put the food where the expo was. People would have had to walk through the sponsor area 3 times at least, to get to registration, lunch, and the post-event reception.

2. Lunch on 2 Floors

This was a limitation due to the venue setup, with rooms being on two levels. The food was in the main area where reception was on one floor, but the beverages were on the floor above, where many presentations were. There was no place to eat (that we were allowed to eat in) on the floor where the food was. Getting your food and taking elevator or a walk to the escalator up a floor to get a drink isn’t ideal.

3. Room Session Lists

There was some confusion as to what is in each room, particularly during the lunch and learns. I gather there was a mix up in what rooms things were in, resulting in people sitting in the wrong presentation? I’m not 100% sure, as I didn’t pay close attention at the time to the schedule.

Recommendation? Print off a list of what is in each room at each time slot – topic, presenter, start time. Then, tape them to the doors (if you don’t have proper room signs or placards). It could be printed near the last minute and doesn’t have to be fancy!

4. Room Setup for Presenters

Room setup for presenters was not great. If you needed to use your keyboard or mouse, you were forced to sit down to present, which (in my opinion) is not something I want to do when presenting. There should be podiums, if possible, in the rooms for presenters to use.

General (Microsoft) Session

This was mostly ugly, in my opinion, speaking purely as a Dynamics GP consultant and MVP. I arrived after it had started, delayed due to traffic from the airport getting to the hotel. I caught part of Heather William’s user group (UG) specific part, so I can’t speak about that much at all. It was appropriate for the audience, being an UG event, to talk about what the user groups can do for you, tips and tricks around navigating their websites etc. Completely appropriate for the session and the audience.

The next part was the Microsoft portion and once again, same as last year, it was nearly all Dynamics 365 focused content, useful for some in the room but not all. The only mention of Dynamics GP was completely out of context and I suspect some customers may have been confused, if they were paying attention at all. What irked me was the poorly articulated, uninformed comment about how there was some confusion around the future of NAV and GP and that there was an announcement at Summit in Nashville to clarify things. Umm, not quite. There was a cluster**** of bad marketing messages around the future of NAV from Directions North America onwards and, yes, there may have been an announcement at Summit to clarify that product’s direction. I have no idea.

Mentioning GP in this context is completely misleading. There is no confusion around GP’s future. The roadmap is clear, GP Next was always announced for Dec 1, 2018 and that has never wavered, and recent news out of Fargo is all about GP Next Next, meaning what’s in the pipeline for GP 2019 and beyond now that GP 2018 is nearly ready to ship.

Implying the product direction was perhaps “fuzzy” (& including both when it was an issue around only one of them) was completely inappropriate. Besides, if you’ve just gone through a series of bad marketing messages around NAV and came out the other side in a relatively good spot, why on earth would you voluntarily bring that up again? If you are a NAV customer and knew about those things already, you know the new message now. If, by chance, you never heard about it in the first place, it only would lead to confusion and doubt now, for no good reason.

It seems like the speaker needs reminding that the people in the room are already invested in their products and however great you think Dynamics 365 is, perhaps attempting to make a more inclusive message would be a good idea.

My suggestion: get the audience hyped. “Look at how strong our Dynamics product lines are! Dynamics GP and Dynamics NAV are both introducing their next major releases on December 1st! And Dynamics 365 has had a fantastic first year, let’s look at where we’ve come since introducing that year…” and then morph into whatever your D365-loving heart desires. At least then the customers in the room will feel like they’re in the message somehow, however slight.

Individual Sessions (by Product)

The rest of the day was devoted to 2 tracks per product line of content, so attendees of a product would have 2 choices of sessions to attend in each time slot. For Dynamics GP, the split was deemed to be Reporting and Functional.

Jodi Christiansen came from Fargo to present the GP specific overview session, in the first time slot. The demo was purely around GP 2018. The frustrating part? Low attendance. Those in the crowd were great, attentive and asked good questions. However, I don’t think there were even 20 people there on the GP side, which is disappointing.

I presented 2 of the sessions on the Functional side, and I feel they went well, although now with the sessions split and people having 2 options, the crowds were even smaller so I don’t think I even had 10 people in either of my sessions. It’s a long way to come and a lot of preparation time to put in, for a small crowd, speaking from a presenter’s point of view. The attendees had great questions and the small size meant everyone questions got answered and some questions unrelated to the topics presented were discussed as well, which you can do in a smaller, more intimate setting like that. So, that is always good.

The bad part was having to jump in to assist another presenter on a presentation where (with all due respect) the presenter was not prepared to cover the material. That was on the border between bad and ugly for me. I don’t ever want to have to put up my hand and correct or assist a presenter once, let alone multiple times in the any presentation. That doesn’t do the presenter any favours but at the same time, if material is inaccurately presented due to lack of knowledge or lack or preparation, that shows very poorly on the part of the conference and choice of presenters.

Presenters are chosen  based on expertise and ability to deliver a set of content, and (as someone on the planning side of things), we have to trust that if you say you can present “x”, that you are, in fact, able to deliver that content. If you don’t know enough to be able to present that content, decline the presentation opportunity! The audience is paying to hear your expertise so when you are not prepared or not up to speed on the things in the presentation, you should do the professional thing and decline to speak on that particular topic, before that happens.

Reception

The last section of the day was a reception for all of the attendees and presenters to mix and mingle. I was able to meet someone who has been a “Twitter friend” for a while that I’ve never had a chance to meet, Adriana Di Vito, and we had a couple of great chats throughout the day, getting to know each other “in real life”! That’s my favourite part of conferences, meeting those I feel I “know” but have never met in person.

I also had the opportunity to briefly say hi to some other MVPs throughout the day most of whom I rarely see in person! Rod O’Connor (who I shared a cab with on the way in), Beat Bucher, Daniel Cai, Kelly Kane, and Rick McCutcheon. Many of those same folks will be in Toronto presenting tomorrow and the Toronto edition of the tour.

If you’re reading this and you’re near Toronto, Calgary or Vancouver, check out the site and sign up, it’s not too late!

 

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