Thursday, February 15, 2007

European SharePoint Conference Final Thoughts

The European SharePoint Conference in Berlin concluded with another full day of presentations. Previous commitments had me traveling back to the UK on Wednesday so I can't give a recap of day three (see here and here for a rundown on days one and two), which is really a shame as Ben Robb was scheduled to give a couple of good presentations on Internet-facing web sites and profiling/personalization that I would have liked to have attended. So instead here are my final thoughts on the conference as a whole.


The overall event organization was quite good. Check-in was a breeze, there were big signs in each area detailing the day's events, and if you got a bit lost all you had to do was grab hold of one of the ubiquitous orange-shirted emissaries to point you in the right direction. The sessions were a bit spread out due to the configuration of the facilities but you had plenty of time between sessions to wander to and fro and numerous opportunities to grab some refreshments on the way. There were some glitches with invoicing and payment that had a few people (including myself) scrambling a bit but I understand that was due to some EMEA regulations regarding credit-card bookings that were out of the organizer's control.


I was quite pleased by the content presented in the break-out sessions. There was a distinct division between developer, IT and partner sessions, and quite a bit to choose from in each track. Naturally, the developers wanted to see more code and the IT people wanted more numbers, but that's always how it is. Aside from a few last-minute speaker substitutions most of it went off without a hitch.


The Hotel Estrel is a nice facility with lots of space but it wasn't laid out that well, especially for the vendor booths, forcing participants to walk back and forth across the hotel quite a bit. Guest rooms booked up quickly so a lot of people stayed at hotels scattered around Berlin (I chose the Upstalsboom Friedrichshain which was quite nice but, like everywhere else, had no WiFi to speak of). The staff were very good, exhibiting the renowned German efficiency - you could barely set an empty plate down before someone came and whisked it away. The food was mostly standard conference fair but I must say that the sweets were top notch - I had way more of them than I should have.


There was quite a good mix of speakers for this event, even though some, like Patrick Tisseghem and Ben Robb, presented multiple sessions (which is fine by me because I like listening to them both). Speakers seemed to be matched well to their topics and generally provided good domain knowledge. The slide decks were fairly uniform (excepting Patrick, who seems to be as addicted to PowerPoint SmartArt as he is to Belgian beer) but there were lots of demos and code samples to keep things interesting. In fact, it will be a bit of a letdown when we get the final slide decks as most of the good content was in the demos.


There was in impressive number of vendors at the event from all over Europe as well as the UK and America. Some were promoting general offerings - like HP and AMD - but there were a large number of SharePoint-specific solution providers in attendance. I didn't hang around the booths much so I don't know how good their conversion ratios were but there were a lot of people carrying literature and chatting up the vendors. The best venue for them was probably the vendor breakout sessions, of which there were quite a few, and which seemed to have pretty good attendance.


Quite frankly, I was amazed at the turnout for this event. Official figures were somewhere north of 2,300 participants. Considering all the other products that Microsoft has launched in the last year and the fact that SharePoint is marketed as part of the overall Office product line, this is really and astounding level of interest. If there were any doubts that SharePoint should be taken seriously this should dispel them entirely.


Like any event of this type, it wasn't perfect, but I think overall I'd give it a B+. The location was a bit difficult to reach for a lot of attendees (Paris, London or Rome would have been easier) but it wasn't too bad. The organization and content were good and the participation was excellent. I hope that next year will see an even greater number of attendees and more focused breakout sessions (and, of course, more in-depth developer content).