Conversations and opportunities – the American way

Tim Banks
Faculty IT Manager
University of Leeds

Reflections on Day 1 at Educause 2015

Observation 1: This conference is big…really big. Over 7,300 delegates are attending this year’s Educause conference, which is being held in the Indianapolis Convention Centre. The venue is mind-bogglingly big, covering an area of 120,000m2 (1.3m square feet), including 50,000m2 (566,000 square feet) of open exhibition space across six blocks. IMG_8891There are 71 separate meeting rooms, which have been used by over 30,000 Star Wars fans during the two Star Wars Conventions that have been held here in recent years.

The exhibition hall is vast, with stands from over 250 suppliers, from small start-ups to global IT giants. There are up to 30 parallel sessions at any one time, making selection of the right one based on a short text description quite daunting.

Observation 2: The conference is very well organised (and sponsored). Despite the huge numbers of people and enormous scale of the venue, everything runs very smoothly, with few or no queues. The venue and organisers seem to have struck the right balance between the number of people attending and quantity of essential facilities on offer (catering, toilets, drinks stations etc.). Sessions start and end on time (by and large), and there is enough time built into the programme for the 10 minute walk between rooms.

Observation 3: The quality of the parallel sessions is variable. Some parallel sessions are most definitely better than others, although I have not found one today which I would class as truly ‘excellent’. This situation is helped by the fact that if you are really not getting on with a particular session, then nobody bats an eyelid if you stand up in the middle of it and walk out; it seems to be quite normal practice, and something which I have put to good use today on more than one occasion.

Observation 4: The people are very friendly and approachable. Conference delegates are happy to just talk to you if you approach them. I spent lunchtime sat on a table with attendees with varying degrees of hearing impairment, and we had a very interesting (sign-language interpreted) conversation about delivery of IT services and optimisation of hearing aids for listening to music. I was fondly referred to as ‘UK Guy’ by another attendee in the one of the sessions, so am thinking of a requesting a new conference badge proudly displaying my new pseudonym.

Observation 5: We are not going to starve or go thirsty. Cans of Coke, Sprite and other hot and cold drinks appear at regular intervals throughout the day; at lunchtime, enough food to feed several armies appeared from nowhere; cakes, pastries and chocolates were provided during the mid-afternoon break, and then during the early evening canapes, mini burgers, pasta and nachos were being served…

IMG_8898Observation 6: The suppliers’ fair is very useful. Due to the size of the conference, anybody who is anybody in the world of IT delivery is represented here with their top sales and marketing teams. I have had many extremely useful conversations with major global IT suppliers that just wouldn’t be possible if I tried to make contact by phone or e-mail. The quality of the freebies seems to be significantly better than previous conferences I have attended.

Observation 7: The US Universities are quite some way behind the UK in several key areas of IT service delivery. It is clear from listening to both speakers and delegates from the USA that they are several years behind the UK in areas such as Information Security, IT Service Management, implementation of the ITIL framework, and splitting budgets into ‘business as usual’ delivery and project work. This came as quite a surprise to me, as I had assumed that US institutions were at the same level of maturity or better than the UK sector.

It has been an exhausting, but very productive day. My next blog post will give a detailed overview of today’s sessions.

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