Mastering SAP shows the way user conferences should be run

Mastering SAP sets a new benchmark for developer user conferences. Here's my initial take.
Written by Dennis Howlett, Contributor

Mastering SAP is a unique event. It's like a get together with a few hundred of your best mates. It's not an informal event yet has a loosely coupled feel that beats the pants off any user conference I've attended the last 10 years. It edges out Convergence, which, as Paul Greenberg says was the best he attended. Heck, I liked that event as well. There are only two drawbacks I'll get off the table up front:

  • Australia seems insanely expensive compared to the US and EU. A reasonable pizza comes in at A$24 and the Sofitel Wentworth tax for internet use was A$27.50 for 100MB per day. I chewed 197MB in three hours. Ho hum.
  • It is one heck of a journey to Sydney, racking up anywhere between 22 and 29 hours flying time depending on your starting location.

Once here, the event content is second to none. Every session included a demo track, some of which crashed, there was open and frank discussion from the stage by customers about what works and what doesn't. The moment when Shane McCauley from Royal New Zealand Airforce stood up and said that his functional counterpart kicked off thinking he was 'an arse' is a classic that lives in the memory. This is the kind of thing that while apparently crude, lends full credibility to presentations.

Then there was the community aspect. Nine SAP Mentors gave presentations, some gave multiple presentations. Gregor Wolf aka @wolf_gregor dragged himself from Germany to speak. Thomas Jung aka @thomas_jung came over from Kentucky. And then there were the home grown Mentors, all doing their bit to share genuine innovation. Nigel James' aka @njames session about how open source technology built by SAP community members is being used in place of paid for SAP components was a revelation (video to follow.) Finally in this section I should mention Graham Robinson aka @grahamrobbo. He was everywhere, helping others find solutions, exhorting developers to get creative and making sure I didn't miss meeting anyone who is doing cool 'stuff.'

I was most struck by the way in which this conference mined the collective knowledge and wisdom from the Mentor group to showcase the best of what can be achieved by SAP technologies. That in turn elicited a closed session between the Mentors and Sanjay Poonen, President, SAP, Global Solutions & Go-to-Market, Mark Yolton who has led the sometimes troubled SAP SCN revamp and Chip Rodgers who has overall responsibility for SCN content. It was a brutally frank but extraordinarily valuable hour for the developers. You'll hear more about that content in a special report on 10th April.

All conferences include a sales pitch element and this was no exception but it felt low key and was played to a packed house. As I said to Poonen, I was impressed by the lack of BS in his product and technical strategy session.

The real evidence of success comes from attendee drop out. This was a small gig of perhaps 400 people. I only counted four unclaimed conference badges. That is well below the average of 20-30%.

Finally, we should not forget the wonderfully friendly and helpful event staff. Nothing was too much trouble. Then of course there is Sydney itself. I saw almost none of what the city offers but enough to make me want to come back at some point.

How was all this achieved? This is an event that is brought together by the users and for the users, albeit with the help of a professional event organisation. It is that simple. It is not a flogathon where there is an expectation that mega deals will be closed although there were plenty of sponsors on hand. There is no big name rock band or artist to entertain the crowd. You make your own entertainment which, in turn provides an environment where you make new acquaintances and learn new things but at your pace. But it also means fun. Where else might you find a toy helicopter being controlled by SAP ABAP? Why? Because it can and because one crazy developer thought it might be a good idea.

It is, in the end, a conference for developers who are the kingmakers for the 21st century IT environment. If that floats your boat and you are deep in the weeds of SAP, then Mastering SAP is an event you should not miss in 2013. It is well worth the trek.

In the meantime I shot a stack of video which I'll be posting here and elsewhere over the coming days and weeks.

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