Tuesday, February 19, 2013

ODTUG KScope comes full circle for me in New Orleans

I remember back in April 2008, it was the first spring following the end of the Hyperion Solutions conferences.  As an avid Essbase user I was nervous about the future of my dear friend.  I figured Oracle wouldn't kill the product and I was right, but in an inadvertent way they did kill a very important part of the Essbase community. 

The solutions conference was an annual event that brought together Hyperion people from all over the country (world actually) to meet and network around technology products that were core to our careers.  Sure the conference was a bit fluff, many of the presentations were marketing slides with maybe a couple of tidbits of useful information, something we affectionately referred to as "Tips and Tricks".  At the end of the conference you walked away with a few nuggets of information and mostly inspiration to try some new things.  It was also an opportunity to network; meeting up with people who you may have communicated with all year via a faceless user forum.  Still, it was like meeting up with an old friend even if it was the first time you ever met each other face to face.

So when Solutions was laid to rest many were left wondering "where do I go now?".  The answer that was put forth to us was OAUG Collaborate.  Communications from Oracle and OAUG threw around the Solutions name and it seemed like things would continue without skipping a beat.  I dutifully paid the price of admission and headed off to Denver with a colleague of mine excited to experience the newest incarnation of the Solutions conference.  Boy was I disappointed!

I'm not going to using the post to speak negatively about my experience at Collaborate, I've voiced that opinion in the past and what's in the past is done.  Today I know a number of top notch "Hyperion" people who are involved with OAUG and I respect the efforts they put forth to try and contribute to the community.

Despite the disappointing experience that was Collaborate 08, I do not regret taking that trip one bit.  The fact is that trip changed the trajectory of my career in many ways.  It was the last day of the conference and I was walking through the conference center when I came upon two of the most well known names in the Essbase community - Tim Tow and Edward Roske.  They asked me what I thought of the conference and I told them I was disappointed and would not be returning the next year.  They told me about this "Essbase conference" they were working on in June in New Orleans with ODTUG and suggested I go.  I explained there was no way I could get funding to attend another conference in two months given what I had just spent on Collaborate.  They explained a little more about what they were doing and said they really thought it would be worth it if I would come, then they asked if I had any good ideas for a presentation.  I explained I had been doing some stuff with MDX around time functionality (something that was significantly missing in early versions of ASO).  They told me if I could get there I could give my presentation.

So I headed home, gave it some thought, and had a conversation with my wife.  I explained that this was something that could potentially be good for my career (it never looks bad on a resume when you are a presenter at a national conference).  My wife agreed and I made the investment to self fund my trip to New Orleans hoping this wasn't going to be a bust.  In the back of my mind I figured what's the worst that could happen, the conference is in New Orleans.  Worst case scenario I spend the week in New Orleans - I could think of a lot worse things.  The fact is I love New Orleans from the food to the night life, the music and the culture, New Orleans is one of my favorite places to go.

Two months later I was in the Sheraton New Orleans reviewing the conference schedule.  I could tell immediately this was going to be an interesting event.  For starters all the sessions were in one room.  There was a single track for Essbase, it amounted to about 175 people all in the same room for the entire conference.  We started off with a symposium hosted by Oracle product managers who were former Hyperion people, then we had back to back technical sessions on Essbase from one highly skilled Essbase person after another.  I started to wonder what I was doing there as a speaker.  Luckily my presentation on MDX and the use of Analytic Dimensions was well received.  By the end of the conference my head was spinning with all I had learned in a matter of four days.  Things I could have never learned in any other setting.  There were no training classes offered like this, there were no local user group meetings like this, there was no other conference like this.  I was absolutely blown away by the experience.  I knew at that moment that I was part of something special and it was going to be huge, there was no way to contain it.  Word would get out and people would come.

I was not alone in my impression of KScope.  Other developers were also beaming about how awesome the conference was (have you ever read Cameron Lackpour's blog?).  Many of us knew this was something special but it wasn't going to sustain itself alone, ODTUG as we learned was a volunteer organization, essentially a user group on steroids (disclaimer: no one I know of within ODTUG has ever taken performance enhancing drugs).  Hyperbole aside this was a user group, so as a user in the community if I wanted to see this continue, I was going to have to put up some time and do my part.  I felt it was worth it and I volunteered to be part of the Hyperion Special Interest Group with ODTUG.

Over the past few years I have continued to be part of ODTUG in different ways.  For one year I served as the President of the Hyperion SIG and for the last two years I have been on the conference committee as Vendor Chair.  Working with ODTUG has been a wonderful experience.  Aside from being some of the nicest people I have met, they are a group of individuals genuinely concerned about their members.  There is such true dedication to the user and what is best for them.  I have witnessed on multiple occasions decisions being made that were not the easiest or most profitable, not the most popular or politically correct, but they were what was best for the users.  That principle consistently drives everything they do.  In a cynical world where it seems like someone is always trying to put one over on you, the strong principles of ODTUG have been refreshing and something I am proud to be associated with.

My investment in ODTUG has paid dividends many times over.  I have developed a network of some of the most talented and intelligent individuals in the industry, I have learned something new at every event, and I have made some good friends in the process.  Those relationships have resulted in projects that helped me get my work published and have increased my value within my own organization.  I owe a great deal to ODTUG and that is why I am proud to be part of the organization.

So here we are five years later returning to New Orleans.  Some things have certainly changed, we are a much larger conference to say the least.  Growth has been amazing over the past five years with each year exceeding the last. 
  • Five years ago we had a single track in one room, there are now seven tracks in EPM/BI plus five other tracks in the traditional Oracle space.  
  • Five years ago the Hyperion track was about Essbase alone, today we cover multiple EPM products including Essbase, Planning, HFM, and tracks focused on business use cases.  
  • Five years ago the vendor expo floor was a small room with a couple of kiosks, today the vendor expo is a force to be reckoned with.  
    • One of the main highlights of the conference the expo floor has grown to include all the major players in the space as well as the niche players who bring their unique personalized solutions for all to experience.  With over 30 Exhibitors and sponsors, the expo floor has become the cornerstone of the conference experience.
  • Five years ago, we had only a handful of presenters, today we have so many more each with unique valuable experiences they are looking to share.
    • We had more abstract submissions this year then ever and the content processing teams worked through a tremendous effort to select the best of the best.
  • Five years ago we only had lectures, today we also have hand on labs that get attendees in front of the software and learning skills by doing not just listening.
KScope has come a long way in five years and it is fun to look back on such a successful history.  What is even more fun is thinking about the future and  what it will be like in another five years.  I am very excited to be returning to New Orleans this June.  My old adage still holds true - worst case scenario I get to spend a week in New Orleans!  But knowing what I know now, I don't worry if the trip will be worth my time, I just worry about how to fit it all in!

Hope to see you there!