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Former Member
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As a global BI conference junkie (being a speaker makes this unavoidable), I get the same question at the beginning of the year from folks in the BI community:

“Hi Mico, do you mind recommending the top BI conferences I should attend this year?”

While I always respond with my top three conference picks, I never actually reveal how I derive those rankings… until now that is. I measure all conferences using five criteria, most based on the ‘Who’.  For the sake of ‘analytics’ let’s call them my five KPIs.  They each carry a score of 0-5, 0 being the lowest (do not attend) and 5 being the highest (you can’t miss it even if the world freezes over!).

With the excitement around the upcoming BI2014 / HANA2014 conference in Orlando on March 24-27, 2014, I figured it might be helpful to provide some honest feedback and advice to those considering attending and the first timers.

Disclaimer:  My honest feedback and ratings below, are 100% my opinion. It is intended in no way to disregard the sweat and labor it takes to put on these monster events, or discredit the highly underrated staff at SAP Insider who pull them off.

#1. WHO ATTENDS MY SESSIONS (Rating = 5.0)

This may not make sense, but hear me out.  With the amount of work and energy it takes to produce a ‘life changing’ presentation for a big conference such as BI2014, one has to be a bit picky in deciding where to present. As a speaker, I can judge the quality of a conference based on who attends my sessions.

PROS: When it comes to BI2014, I’ve never had the ‘wrong audience’ problem, which is why I rated it a 5.0. In Vegas at BI2013 last year, my session not only had a record 250+ people, but it also had a bunch of familiar faces (a good sign of quality) and lines of attendees who brought their questions.

CONS: Rooms need to be bigger! I hate to turn away folks. Space is always an issue.

ADVICE: Create your agenda using the BI2014 website (login req) beforehand. Reach early to your favorite sessions to avoid standing or sitting on the floor.

This year I’ll be doing a repeat of my most popular session along with a new one that has been requested for some time:


Coming from the BusinessObjects world, I was one of the first visible thought leaders from the BOBJ side to embrace the SAP Insider BI conference. I admittedly went there four years ago on a whim thinking ‘K Mico, you’ll have to adapt sooner or later to this new SAP thing, better start with the BW side.’ I honestly didn’t expect to see a lot of BusinessObjects content… and boy was I wrong!

PROS: This event is always full of BOBJ/BW customers, who are eager to learn more about BusinessObjects. It is truly the best of both worlds.  It also attracts some of the top BI speakers from the BOBJ world as well. There are a number of scheduled networking sessions you can take part in!

Having fun with SAP Analytics Social Media crew!

CONS: Unlike some of other global BI events that I attend that have mobile apps that allow attendees to connect before and during the event, the SAP Insider events lack this type of visibility. You’ll need to do some homework to figure who is coming. (3/11 update) SAP Insider provide a link to this site where attendees can use their social media accounts to login and network: BI 2014 attendee directory.

ADVICE: Make a list of the top 10 persons and vendors you want to meet and try to set up meetings at the event before hand.  With all the sessions and over 1,000 attendees, time flies!

Talking about networking… I’m hosting my first private Data Visualization Mastermind meetup. You can RSVP by clicking here. Location details will only be provided at our booth (see below for location). A free copy of my book will be provided to the first ten attendees who RSVP.

#3 WHO’S TEACHING WHAT?! (Rating = 4.6)

Don’t you hate to be sold? Ugh. I’ve stopped attending a few conferences (I won’t name here) because I absolutely HATE to attend sales presentations that are masked as educational sessions. 

PROS: In attending SAP Insider’s BI sessions, I've always enjoyed their great variety of hands on sessions, coupled with live presentations and workshops.  BI2014 is really a ‘who is who’ in SAP BI events. With some of the best known speakers, authors, customers, and thought leaders in the BI world such as: Joerg Boeke, Dr. Bjarne Berg, Timo Elliott, Christopher Hickman and Andrew Joo, to name a few.

Learn from the best.. here with fellow speakers Martin Gillet, Luke Marson and Jason Rose!

CONS: No conference is perfect! I’ve probably ran into two ‘salesy’ sessions in the last four years.  The good news is that I did not see either vendor return. :smile:

ADVICE: Pre-conference day is cheap and packed with great hands on workshop. Book it before it sells out! Once you’ve set up your agenda, make a list of what you expect to get out of each session along with questions you want the speaker to answer. This one tip alone will at least double your ROI.  They say ‘Preparation is the mother of Success!’


#4 WHO’S KEYNOTING?! (Rating = 4.3)

Being the first major SAP BI conference of each year, SAP uses this event to make big announcements in their SAP Analytics portfolio. For those who are in a decision making and planning role, this is a critical component.  This year, it is co-located with HANA2014 as well, showing how the event is evolving in the SAP ecosystem.

PROS: This year will feature keynotes from dynamic speakers like Steve Lucas and Jason Rose.  I know both of these guys personally. I was told we should be in for some exciting demos. Last year they had a DJ and Steve’s keynote turned into a nightclub with dancing analytics on the screen! (not joking)

CONS: I did deducted a few points only because I wish that SAP Insider would have non-SAP or big vendor keynote speakers to balance the event. 

ADVICE:  To get the most of both keynotes, be sure to come with an understanding of your organizations current state of technologies like BI and/or HANA, being sure to note the challenges and future goals. As SAP outlines their plans, write down your questions to take back to your account rep to ensure you are aligned.

#5 WHERE IS IT LOCATED?! (Rating = 3.5)

Let’s be honest.  While Las Vegas (where the event was traditionally held) is an acquired taste, Orlando is child’s play, literally. 

PROS: If you’re a family person and can couple this with a vacation then you should be ecstatic! I’ve attended a few events in the lovely Dolphin and Swan hotel, I must say that Todd’s downstairs is delicious (though usually packed) and with a short walk you can get across the boardwalk to a few small shops

CONS: If you’re here primarily for business, Orlando is not exactly the most adult environment.  Also, if the event is in the basement of the hotel, forget having a phone signal. Better bring a mifi.

ADVICE: Book any dinner reservations right now.  If you’re a family person, turn the trip into a vacation. If not, consider driving down to Miami or Key West for the weekend if you're addicted to the ocean like me.

You may want to start using my conference grading system to ensure your conference dollars stretch as far as they can in 2014.  To get maximum bang for your buck, do follow my words of advice.

See you there!  Be sure to follow me online for my next post where I discuss in detail what I’m presenting and why, as well provide live updates from the conference.

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