Staying Connected – User Conference or Not
Trade user conference attendance has been light this year, to say the least. As a result, trade conference organizers for individual vendors have taken different routes to get their product message out to their users. Some vendors have posted videos of their keynotes and some technical sessions. Bentley Systems opted to cancel their live BE User Conference in favor of what they call “Bentley Connected,” an online offering of content featuring best practices presentations by users and other industry leaders.
In conversation with Chris Barron, vice president for corporate marketing, Barron noted that in a live conference, they had all this “terrific content” but the conference was over within the week and they didn’t have a program to promote the content even after they posted it online.
“When we were planning our conference for this year, we lined up more great speakers but we were also hearing from a lot of people in the industry among our users, that their travel budgets were being cut this year,” Barron explained. “We started to think about what we could do to extend the reach of this good content that was being developed and make it available to a much wider audience rather than the 2,000 people who might be able to attend a physical conference.”
What came of it was the BE Connected conference, in operation since the third week in June. “We have about 150 seminars lined up and about two-thirds of those are Best Practices, the other one-third are presented by Bentley colleagues, generally about specific products.” Barron assured that the presentations were all “educational” not just sales pitches. BE Connected is an attempt to users keep up with trends in the industry and best practices and find out what’s happening with technology without the expense of traveling to a conference.
Every week 6-9 new seminars are added to the website. Live Q&A has been made available on demand, after the initial streaming of the presentation. This way an audience in different parts of the world can access the presentations when it’s convenient for them.
“We are tracking what seminars people have attended, and keeping a transcript that’s available to them so they can track their own professional development through the process,” added Barron.
The content is arranged around different tracks: bridges, roads, power generation, building structures and building energy performance, BIM.
Will the BE Conference return in the future? “This is a response to the economy this year, but we are planning to have a face-to-face conference in the future,” Barron replied. “But I also think we will continue to have this element of outreach and education as an ongoing fixture in terms of our web community.”
Barron said Bentley is seeking ways to leverage new technology in different ways. In the future, presentations may become case studies, or become discussion topics on their community site, or generate ideas for future seminars. “It’s all about reusing content and making it available as widely as possible.”
They are also working on language presentations for geographic regions that are underserved such as China and Brazil.
My take on the user conference situation:
The new element of outreach is definitely a value add for Bentley and their users. The content on the site is rich and will serve attendees well. However, it would seem there is no replacement for face-to-face contact, nor the commitment of being at a conference and trying to make the most of your time there.
What I have found at the user conferences I’ve attended this year is that users really feel the user conference experience is valuable – valuable enough that for some bigger conferences, some attendees are willing to pay their own way to attend when their companies don’t have the budget for it.
The act of making a plane and hotel reservation, organizing the time away from the office, places an attendee in a particular position of focus for the event. Visiting a website, although valuable, is not going to have the same takeaway value.
Perhaps one way of bridging this gap would be to have periodic announcements of what is being featured on venues such as BE Connected, so that attendees would not need to remember to see if there was something upcoming that they were interested in.