After attending various keynotes by more enthusiastic and committed Microsoft executives, I attended my first forums. My one and only real complaint about this year's forums is how could I get to them all! I had to carefully choose the ones that would be of MOST value to my organisation.
The forums were an opportunity for a very concentrated inspection of a part of Microsoft's business model. All those I attended were presented by an executive committed to listening to the partners and all forums were presented very professionally with good content. Most importantly, the forums were conducted in groups small enough that questions were encouraged and the presenter would always remain in the room at the end for the super-shy folk to come forward and discuss topics further.
Again my well-constructed plans went awry when I was invited to an SMB market discussion by a Microsoft Australia executive. Although this meeting tended to involve discussions that applied to a different space than the one that I work in, some valuable contacts were nonetheless made. Microsoft was scoring well at every opportunity here and kept demonstrating a willingness to talk at all levels.
Saturday night was probably the most valuable night of the conference. The Australians present at Fusion along with some of the Europeans (mainly Brits) were taken to Malibu beach for dinner. Again this was a no-expenses-spared dinner from Microsoft, literally on the beach. We sat in the sand and were served food and drinks to the satisfaction of all. This was the night that the networking really started - with a few drinks under everyone's belts, it was time to throw off the shackles.
This night ended at around 3am in one of the bars of a motel having forged relationships with fellow attendees and Microsoft personnel that will last for years to come. This is one of the important parts of any conference - the chance to discuss a whole range of issues with fellow attendees in an informal gathering. The beauty of the modern world of e-mail means that cities/towns/countries have little bearing on the relevance of relationships you may forge. With other attendees being from regions well away from you, we don't see each other as competition and therefore are more likely to share details of how we all conduct business. Once you reduce the boasts of everyone by 20 per cent, you get a true picture of what everyone is doing and how they are doing it and how one fits into the big picture.
After working hard on the networking through Saturday night and into Sunday morning, Sunday at the conference was a bit quieter. I attended several more forums, including a couple of forums that I promised Microsoft staff from the night before that I would attend as they sounded particularly relevant to our situation. I also attended a number of Hands-On Labs on this day and they were particularly useful. They were one-hour lab sessions on specific topics designed to give some real-world examples of how a particular technology is used.
Sunday night was quite incredible and was a further opportunity to gain an insight into other similar businesses. Universal Studios was closed to the general public while overrun by 6,000 Fusion attendees willing and able to eat, drink and be merry. The logistics of moving 6,000 people from their motels to Universal Studios was carried out flawlessly and the scene at Universal Studios was incredible.
We entered to find a rock band playing for our benefit and all the food outlets in the food court were open for our benefit. After eating and drinking until we could eat and drink no more, we were told that we could now proceed into the Universal Studios theme park. All rides and most exhibits were open and free - better yet, there were no queues.
It's amazing how quickly you forge a relationship with someone sitting beside you while being dropped over a cliff into Jurassic Park or being shaken until you feel sick on the Back to the Future ride. And just in case we didn't eat enough in the food court, tables were lined up at various points around the theme park with every sweet imaginable and a variety of drinks. The celebrations continued on until around 1am when the smooth process of moving everyone back home began. Even our bus breaking down didn't dampen my impression of what a well-organised event this had been.
Monday dawned with some regret as this was the last day of a highly enjoyable conference - easily the best I had ever attended. The day was fairly low-key with some general sessions addressing various topics and then the major session from Steve Ballmer explaining how we can all partner together and all be more successful. If I had heard his talk at the beginning of the conference, I would have dismissed most of it as company rhetoric. But after the numerous impressive examples from all the Microsoft staff over the four days, I believed every word that Steve uttered!
So it was time to say goodbye to new friends and think about the conference in broad terms. Had it been worthwhile? Was it worth the expense? Would I go again? And how can I take full advantage of what I had seen?
At last count, I met and received business cards from 10 high-level Microsoft executives from Australia and the US. How long would it normally take me to meet 10 Microsoft executives? Well, in 13 years in business my total count was zero, so this certainly increased the headcount dramatically. I have already used these contacts and sent e-mails directly to the people that are key decision-makers in various areas.
I also met and now have the business cards of 15 other attendees at Fusion. These are people in businesses similar (though usually larger) to mine scattered all over the world. If I need help with a sticky problem or want to know how someone addressed a similar problem, I feel confident I can call on these people.
Would I go again? This is a tricky question. Flights to the US aren't cheap and the ticket to Fusion isn't either. Add the expense of motels and food and it ends up being an expensive four days. Is that expense justified? On a simple mathematical model, I must receive additional income over and above the expense to make it justifiable. At worst, I believe over the next 12 months I will at least equal the expense but probably come out in front, so on that count the expense is justified. Certainly the Melbourne Fusion [held last week], without the expense of the conference and without the cost of international plane flights, will definitely be attended by at least one of my staff as I believe that expense will be easily justified.
Now it is up to me to make certain I take full advantage of the contacts I have forged. Overall, the boy from the little country town in western NSW found that the big smoke of LA was well and truly worthwhile.
Mathew Dickerson is managing director of Dubbo-based reseller Axxis Technology.