The future of IBM Connect

Disclaimer – I have no insider knowledge on this topic, these are just my personal thoughts

There has been a fair bit of discussion regarding what might happen to IBM Connect (the conference previously known as ‘Lotusphere’) in the near future…

IBM announced in 2008 that they had signed a contract with the Swan and Dolphin hotels to host the conference in Orlando until 2015, and as far as has been publicly stated, no extension has been signed.  Therefore the consensus seems to be that there will need to be a decision made by IBM as to what they might do with the conference beyond the next event.  Here’s my thoughts on what might happen next…

1) At Connect 2014, IBM announced that Connect 2015 will take place from 25-29 January 2015.  Given that this was such a public proclamation, I cannot believe that IBM would change this plan now.  Therefore we are looking at what might happen post-January 2015.

IBM Connect 2015 dates
Connect 2015 dates (image courtesy of Chris Miller)

2) The audience for IBM Connect is clearly shrinking over time.  Efforts such as the rename from Lotusphere and the consolidation with Kenexa World haven’t made a significant difference to this trend, at least as far as I can see.  In broad and probably over-simplistic terms, as new business-level attendees have been added, loyal technical-level folks have departed.  That’s not to criticise any decision that’s been made, it’s just the state of the union – whether as a result of changes in the product lines, competitive positioning, loss of market share, marketing focus, cost of travel etc, the sad fact is that Connect doesn’t sell 10,000 tickets as it once did.

3) Let’s look at other similar IBM conferences:

a) IBM seems to be consolidating its software conferences across brands.  We have seen Impact (the Websphere conference), Innovate (Rational) and Pulse (Tivoli) all announce that they will merge for 2015 for a very large conference in Las Vegas:

Mark your calendar for February 22 – 26, 2015. We’ll meet at the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino and the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. Next year’s expanded conference, with 20,000 attendees, will deliver even more compelling sessions, deeper insights from industry thought leaders, more meaningful networking opportunities and our biggest EXPO ever!

b) Amongst the SWG ‘pillars’ (to use an old phrase), just IBM Insight (the DB2/Information On Demand conference) still stands alone, though it is also based in Las Vegas.  It is scheduled for 26-30 October 2014.

c) Also, IBM Edge (Enterprise Infrastructure) is based in Las Vegas, scheduled for 11-15 May 2015.  The IBM Partnerworld Leadership Conference is lined up for February 9-12 in Las Vegas.

d) Given the above, the primary location for all large IBM global conferences is clearly now Las Vegas, and in many cases, bigger is better.

4) The Lotus IBM Collaboration Solutions brand no longer exists as a standalone entity.  Under Craig Hayman it was made part of Software-as-a-service and Industry Solutions (or Industry and Cloud Solutions to keep the ICS moniker), but with Craig departing, there are suggestions that this will change once again.  Either way, when was the last time we saw specific marketing for the collaboration product line from IBM? This means that the distinct brand and following are no longer reasons to have a separate conference with all the effort and cost that this entails.

5) The shift to the cloud.  IBM’s ‘cloud first’ policy and the general direction in the marketplace is toward pre-packaged software-as-a-service offerings rather than on-premise ‘middleware’.  This changes both the audience and the technical content of conferences as a result – I would posit that attendees are more likely to be line-of-business rather than IT-focused, and the emphasis will be on solutions and ISVs that can plumb multiple SaaS offerings together rather than the nuts and bolts of installation or application development.  In the future, it could be suggested that there will be more commonality between say SoftLayer, IBM SmartCloud Connections and a Tivoli product for SaaS monitoring than there is between multiple ICS solutions today. Therefore larger conferences that bridge the gaps between the different brands that exist right now makes sense as we go forward.

Given all the above, it is relatively easy to predict that IBM Connect as we know it (January in the Swan and Dolphin in Florida) will no longer exist after the previously announced event in 2015.

This would be deeply sad in a lot of ways – so many of us have returned there on a regular basis over the last couple of decades, built business relationships, been exposed to new technologies, gained knowledge that has helped us build careers and perhaps more importantly, we’ve made and spent time with true friends around the world.

However, it would also bring to a natural close the process that started perhaps five years ago, with the shift away from the Lotus brand.  The name has gone, many of the people have moved on, the products and technologies have changed, and really the only physical thing that remains of the ‘glory days’ is the conference date and location.  Shifting to Las Vegas as part of a packed global conference would be different for sure, but could offer real opportunities to customers and partners to make connections and gain knowledge and insight way beyond the traditional confines of the Connect event.

Once again, I don’t know what IBM will do – I have no inside track.  However, as I gaze into my virtual crystal ball, that’s what I expect will happen.

However, I do have one major concern.  All that I hear from the IBM financial results suggests that the USA is at best a static market for IBM – all the growth is taking place in Asia Pacific and in the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China).  Therefore I wonder why all the major conferences look as though they will be located in one USA city.  Surely as a global brand operating worldwide, it seems odd (to me at least) that customers and partners in all areas of the world should be asked to pay to travel to a bizarrely located party-city in the Mojave desert to collaborate and associate with their peers.  I do realise that many of the key IBMers that would attend are US-based, but even then, many of the R&D and support teams are being shifted to locations in other areas of the world.  It would make more sense for these global conferences to be either located in Asia on a full time basis, or ideally, to be shifted around the world so that other sets of customers get the chance to attend.

So that’s my 2c – IBM Connect 2015 will be the grand goodbye to Orlando, and we’ll be invited to attend a new conference in Las Vegas.

However, what do you think?  Is this the plan as you see it?  Will you be sad to say goodbye to the memories made at the Swan and Dolphin in the past? Or will you look forward to new opportunities at a different event in the future? Might you change your plans and attend just to be at the last one? I’d love to hear from you!

Stuart McIntyre is a Senior Strategist at Fostering Community Limited. He curates a number of product-focused news sites, is a lapsed podcaster, founded the Social Connections user group and regularly speaks at conferences and events. This blog represents his own slightly-eccentric and usually-controversial opinions!