Collaborate Canada 2017 Follow Up

After the Collaborate Canada Toronto 2017 event, I had posted a poll on the GPUG Toronto Chapter forum to attempt to gauge, via an informal (& unofficial) poll, why the attendance was so low in Toronto that day. The premise of my poll was to attempt to reach some of the 480+ members listed in this chapter to determine why only 30 or so people attended the GP portion of the Toronto event.

A couple of people pointed out that many of the “members” in that 480+ number are not in the GTA. Some join because it’s one of the few chapters in Canada to get and post Canadian content. There appears to be an issue with chapter registration itself as others mentioned that several on the Toronto forum are actually in Montreal but cannot seem to save their default chapter to Montreal. Several on the list are members of many forums and don’t even live in Canada and some are Dynamics Communities people themselves. I suspect though, the vast majority of those on the list still should fit in my criteria generally of “customers within driving distance of an event in Toronto”.

Toronto Chapter Struggles?

From an outsider’s perspective, the Toronto chapter appears to be struggling to maintain a regular quarterly meeting cadence. From the chapter forum history, the last regular Toronto meeting was in May 2016. Collaborate Canada 2016 was originally scheduled for Sept 2016 but was moved to Nov 2016, which I am not counting as a chapter meeting since it has a different format. Since then, I don’t see any records indicating any planned meetings in 2017, until this year’s Collaborate Canada came up again.

If I were to guess, some of the things that are preventing the Toronto chapter from being a vibrant and successful one may be the same reasons why the attendance at Collaborate Canada wasn’t as high as I would have thought it would be. I was interested in finding out what those reasons may be, to be able to provide feedback to the chapter leaders and GPUG itself. I have my guesses, but I didn’t want it to be based on my guess!

Poll Method

The polling method I used was a poll created in Microsoft Forms, with the link posted on the GPUG Toronto chapter forum only. I chose to offer the poll only to members on the GPUG Toronto forum because I knew that would limit the results to verified GPUG members. My feeling was if I had  posted it on Twitter, here on my blog, or on the Open Forum, it would have resulted in a wider audience & larger response rate, but no guarantee of quality results.

Poll failure #1: assuming people would see and respond to the poll in the first place.

I suspect even if there were lots of people in the potential poll audience on the members list, they may not be subscribed to the forum digests to have read the poll request, or they saw it and just chose not to respond.

I realize that Collaborate Canada was open to anyone, you did not need to be a GPUG member to attend. However, realistically, if you are already in GPUG, there should be a higher likelihood that you may attend an event like this vs. a non-GPUG member. At least that is what makes sense to me.

Poll Results

I finally have had a chance to review the poll results and what I’ve learned is there are several other reasons why my poll may have been flawed. Cue the sad trombone…

I think the results may be somewhat meaningless as (a) too few responded to glean enough data from it and (b) those who did were mostly not in the area remotely likely to attend a Toronto based event.

Poll failure #2: not properly limiting the survey to those in areas most likely to attend a Toronto event.

Overall, 8 people responded. I’m working on the assumption that the 8 responses are in fact 8 distinct people. The poll was anonymous so it wasn’t capturing anything other than time of day and date of response.

  • 2 of the 8 registered and attended so I am excluding those responses from here
  • 2 of the 8 said they registered but were unable to attend
  • The rest were aware of it but never registered or attended

For my purposes, it’s people in that last group are who I was most interested in hearing from. Registering and having a last minute conflict didn’t help what I was aiming for.

So, of the 4 who didn’t register, none of the 4 were in geographic areas remotely close to Toronto. One poll question was listing what region the respondee was in, within Ontario or outside, specifically listing only regions for which I felt there was a reasonable drive distance (<2 hrs) to get to a special event like this. One person indicated not even being in Ontario (Montreal, per their comment) and the other 3 were not in the regions I listed but did live in Ontario. One of those mentions northern Ontario. So, right away, none of the 4 even meet my basic criteria of someone most likely to attend. Yes, people will travel to events, but I sense they would be in the minority.

Why focus on Toronto?

I focused on Toronto primarily because that is the geographic area where I have spent the majority of my consultant career working and I know for a fact that Dynamics GP is alive and well in the GTA as well as all of the surrounding areas. I would guess that 80% of my consulting work has been done in Ontario, and a high proportion of that would be within the geographic areas that are candidates for events like this. The work I did that wasn’t in Ontario, apart from one client in Montreal, was in the US or Caribbean, so I don’t have a sense at all of how strong GP is in other major markets across Canada.

There are several medium to large VARs operating in the area which means no shortage of clients using the product that could benefit from events like this. I have heard indirectly that at least one of those resellers has specifically recommended to their clients that they don’t join GPUG or go to GPUG events. Fear of losing clients perhaps? I don’t know but they clearly don’t have their clients’ best interests in mind by doing this, in my opinion.

Results & Reasons

Even though I said none of the 4 respondees may be my initial target audience, the feedback is still worth pointing out. It’s just impossible to extract these results out to determine if they represent what the majority of non-attendees would also indicate as why they didn’t attend.

Inconvenient Time/Date

Two respondees indicated this and a 3rd indicated a scheduling conflict, which is going to happen. One attended GPUG Summit in Nashville so justifying travel twice in a short time span didn’t make sense.

Lesson learned #1: Time the event so it’s not around the other major GPUG events

Poor choice of location

Two of the four indicated this as a factor and I would agree. From a “west of the GTA” perspective, the location was horrible. It was in the far east end of Toronto, 30km from the airport. Based purely on who I talked to at the Toronto event and those I knew who attended, the vast majority of us came from west of Toronto, few from the GTA itself actually. Niagara, Hamilton/Burlington/Oakville, K-W/Cambridge/Guelph, Georgetown were all represented, all of us likely had 2 hour commutes into this location due to it being on the other side of Toronto. Had it been near the airport, most of us would have had half the commute time. I didn’t personally speak to anyone who lived east of the GTA, which still would have a large population base. That in itself is surprising since this location was a lot better for those coming in from Pickering, Ajax, Whitby etc.

Lesson learned #2: Work with local people on location before choosing a venue. Near the airport for those who are travelling in from other places is ideal; otherwise it should be in a place where public transit is an option (i.e. GO Train, TTC).

Event Content

The third and last bucket was a comment around content. Every respondent mentioned location/date as the primary factor for not registering but I put in a question around “what would entice you to attend an event like this?”. One comment back was “more Dynamics GP, everything seemed to be Dynamics 365”.

That strikes a chord with me, obviously, if you have read my event recaps. I struggle with the contrasting goals of Microsoft with their continued push and branding messages around Dynamics 365 vs. Dynamics GP who clearly is getting far less focus from Microsoft investment dollars these days. That is what it is, and the community around Dynamics GP is still tremendously strong, even though it very much feels like we are fighting with Microsoft itself to get attention at times.

I think in fairness, more of the Collaborate Canada event site design could be around allowing users to filter content better. The Dynamics 365 seems so prevalent because all of the products except GP on the topics list have or touch D365 in some way. Filtering out to just GP was not a built-in option on the agendas without an explicit search because the filtering was on product + track.

That being said, part of what attracts users to events like this is great content and one thing I had hoped to get out of the poll was an indication if the content was relevant, exciting, meaningful or useful! If it’s not, there needs to be a way for organizers to get feedback to change content in future years to adapt.

Closing Thoughts

My final thoughts are these:

  • I believe more work needs to be done with the big resellers in a given geographic area to encourage their participation and marketing to their clients.
  • Since that isn’t likely to change any time soon, we need to figure out how to reach clients that use Dynamics GP who are not already involved in or aware of GPUG and following its news and announcements.
  • More Dynamics GP customers need to speak up if they want events like this, be willing to assist in whatever way they can, and offer feedback on content, timing, location etc. GPUG is all about customer to customer interaction, not Microsoft or Partner to customer interaction. The 4 events were heavily Microsoft or Partner led, and more variety is needed in order to grow the events over time.
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