Friday, June 20, 2008

BI for the Virtual Guy

Yeah, I know I'm stretching for the title of this post, but my allergies are killing me today and this is really the best I can do at the moment.

So what's this "Virtual" bit all about. It's about the first-ever SSWUG Virtual Business Intelligence Conference, coming this September to a computer near you. I'm in the process of helping to organize the conference and I've been having a blast. We have quite a few great BI speakers lined up and are in the process of finalizing the lists of speakers and sessions.[1]

But why do I mention this today?

SSWUG is about to kick off its second SQL Server Virtual Conference next week - it's being held from June 24 to June 26. And I'm excited that I get to attend. The reason I'm excited about attending is the very cool format of the conference - check this out:

The virtual conference format pulls together the best of "real" in-person conferences, along with the best of an online learning experience. The video on the page above shows footage from the first SQL Server Virtual Conference[2] and although the video has catchier music than you're likely to get during the actual sessions, it gives you a great taste of what the virtual conference format has to offer, such as :

  • High-definition video
  • High-quality audio
  • Real-life views of the speaker, the slides and the demos
  • Everything delivered online - no need to leave your desk

And there are some things that don't come through in the sample video, but you also get:

  • Interactive online chats and Q&A with the speakers
  • Downloadable PowerPoint slide decks
  • Downloadable demo files

But what is most exciting to me is that on top of all of these things, the virtual conference is flexible. The conference is three days long, and there are three sessions going on at any given time. At a traditional conference you would need to decide which session to attend, and the other two would be unavailable. Here, each day's content is repeated three times throughout the day, so if you don't catch a session the first time around, you can go back and view it later, so you have the flexibility you normally only get with online content and the interactivity (remember the Q&A with the speakers?) that you normally only get with an in-person conference. And to make things even better, if none of the primary times work for you (or if you get called into emergency meetings, as is often the case in IT) you also have the option to view any of the conference sessions on demand for the two weeks following the conference.

When I was first contacted about participating in the Virtual Business Intelligence Conference, I was more than a little skeptical. I pictured something like a ReadyTalk or Go To Meeting, with poor quality audio and video, and few options for interacting with the speakers and with other attendees. Instead, I found a platform that really seems to bring together the best of the physical and virtual formats, and I was delighted to get involved.

If this sounds interesting to you too, please stay tuned. I'll post more information over the weeks ahead, as we move closer to the conference dates from September 24 to September 26. So if you have any questions, please let me know, and please spread the word as well. There are a lot of people out there who can benefit from this content, and not everyone can make the trip to Orlando for TechEd or to Seattle for the Microsoft BI conference, so please help let them know that there is another option out there.

UPDATE 24 June, 2008:

It always weirds me out when I learn that people actually read my blog. I get enough information from Google Analytics to know that I get a decent number of hits each day, but that's not the same as getting an email from a real person about a post.

Like the email that I got today.

This morning I received an email from the account manager responsible for the conferencing solution that I use for work, wanting to know how she could work with me to resolve those problems. (How's that for great customer service? ;-) Reading back through this post I can see how it could be interpreted as "these conferencing systems are bad" as opposed to the "these conferencing systems are not ideal for the virtual conference format" message that I had intended. Here is the relevant part of my response to her, hopefully to eliminate the negativity that slipped into the post.

I didn’t mean to imply that I had any issues with ReadyTalk, LiveMeeting or GoTo Meeting for their stated purposes; simply that I don’t believe that they are ideal for the virtual conference format. The issues that I see are:

· Attendee join/leave – Most conferencing systems will announce each attendee by name and/or with a beep when the attendee joins or leaves the conference. For a conference call this functionality makes sense, but for a virtual conference this would be very disruptive.
· Audio Quality – The quality of the presenter audio in a conference call is dependent on the quality of the presenter’s phone line and the background noise in the presenter’s location, usually a home or office. Obviously this isn’t a problem with the conferencing system, but for a virtual conference it would negatively impact the attendee experience when compared to audio recorded with a professional microphone in a studio and then tweaked as needed before broadcast.
· Time-bound interaction – In a conference call, the only time that attendees can chat is during the session itself, and because the presenter is running the slides and/or demos, the attendees are limited to asking questions to (and getting answers from) helpers other than the presenter. Although the video may be recorded and made available for on-demand viewing, this is a unidirectional viewing; there are no options available for participants to interact. Again, this makes sense for a conference call, but for a virtual conference, it would be ideal to have the core presentation (slides, demos and presenter) and the attendee interaction/chat available independently, enabling the speaker to answer questions while the recorded session is being viewed.

I hope this helps clear up any confusion I may have caused!

[1] I know that quite a few strong BI speakers read this blog - if you're interested in being considered as a speaker, feel free to post a comment or send me an email over the next few days.

[2] Which was a huge success, which is why SSWUG is organizing another one and branching out to cover BI, SharePoint and .NET as well.


Unknown said...

I'd be interested in doing an Analysis Services/MDX session. You can find my contact details at

MikeM said...

Thanks for the post. It is certainly very interesting the way these new virtual seminars are popping up. As a marketer, I am very interested in these new types of online activities. I am looking forward to a follow-up post and how the experience was.

On a side note, I was wondering why you considered Readytalk and GoTo poor audio quality? We use ReadyTalk and have had nothing but great success.

Obviously, if you are talking about software for virtual conferences, neither one of these softwares fit the bill but no web conferencing software is meant to be used to conduct virtual seminars to the degree you are relating.

Matthew Roche said...

Thanks for the feedback and interest, Mike. Although I have had great success running meetings with both ReadyTalk and GoTo Meeting, I have also seen many occasions when the presenter audio has been problematic, especially when there are many attendees. I don't claim to be an expert with either system, so I can't propose a root cause, but it's something I've seen often enough to be leery. Perhaps I'm just doing something wrong...