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Attendees give COMMON high marks, exhibitors not so pleased

AS/400 users are a tough crowd to please, but for the most part, those attending this year's COMMON conference gave COMMON high marks for the educational sessions. Exhibitors, unfortunately, weren't exactly dishing out praise.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Despite all the attempts to pull off a better conference -- from more organized sessions to better signage to extended exhibit hours -- attendees and exhibitors here are saying the Spring COMMON and Expo hasn't been much of an improvement over previous conferences.

The conference, held at the Opryland Hotel and Conference center here, had nearly 2,500 attendees according to COMMON officials, down from the previous year.

However, there were improvements in some areas and attendees, as always, had only high marks for the educational sessions, which the conference is noted for.

But, the number of sessions were overwhelming for some. With nearly 800 concurrent sessions throughout the week, some users had a difficult time deciding which sessions to try to fit into the four days of the conference.

Lynn Dickison, a Web support systems programmer with Southwest Missouri State, a Springfield, Mo.-based university, said that this was his first time attending COMMON. He said that he attended the first timers' session and was glad he did because he found the conference a little overwhelming the first time around. "It's really hard to decide which session to attend when there are so many good ones available," he said.

According to some attendees, the choices of session topics were very good, as were the speakers. And, the expanded "open labs" were a real bonus, attendees said.

At last year's COMMON there was some frustration among the attendees because many sessions were overcrowded, often with standing room only. According to one attendee, COMMON must have listened to complaints from last year's conference because the problem of overcrowding wasn't so apparent in Nashville.

Barbara Granger, a programmer/analyst with MDT, a Texas-based design company, said the last two times at COMMON she was unable to get into the sessions she wanted.

"I thought I was really organized," she said. "I put the time into mapping out the sessions I wanted and ran from one session to another to find that by the time I arrived, the session was already packed."

She felt that this year's conference was better planned out. "I'm not sure whether it's the layout of the conference area or the organizers had a better idea of which sessions would be most popular, but so far I've been able to get into the sessions I've wanted."

Despite all of COMMON's efforts to make changes that would keep the attendees and exhibitors happy, many here said there still needs to be a lot of changes in regards to the exhibit floor.

Due to poor user attendance on the exhibit floor last year, many vendors contemplated not attending this year's conference. However, COMMON board member Peter Masiello said that vendor participation was up 20%. He also said that COMMON organizers are making an attempt to make the necessary changes to rectify this problem. But, some exhibitors haven't noticed much improvement.

Janet Rutkowski-Davis, a senior accountant executive with elite, a Lake Forest, Calif.--based electronic document management solutions company, said that this was the fourth year elite has attended the conference and exhibit traffic just seems to keep getting worse.

"COMMON doesn't do a good enough job of letting the attendees know ahead of time that the expo has limited hours," she said. "We're not getting enough for our money. If COMMON doesn't wake up soon we're going to have to start attending more vertical shows."

John Keyes, president of Computer Keyes, an iSeries e-mail software company, said he felt that the exhibit floor was busier at this conference, but was very disappointed because the badge readers never showed up.

"At the fall conference the scan code was printed on the wrong side of the badge, so we had to remove the badge each time and turn it over before we could scan it," he said. "This year COMMON got it right by putting the scan code in the correct place, but the badge readers never made it to the conference."

This caused a great deal of frustration among the exhibitors and left them scrambling to write down the users information for future contact.


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