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IBM i Thoughts: COMMON Conference

Steve Will reflects on the 2017 COMMON conference.

"You and i" in white against a purple banner, white chat bubble in righthand corner, with two planets colliding below.

The COMMON Annual Conference this year was a great experience. I’ve been trying to summarize for people why this particular event was even better than the usual excellent conferences we have when IBM i folks get together. I keep coming up with more and more reasons.  For example, the IBM team was finally recognized as the Wizards they are.
It was amazing fun for me, a Harry Potter fan, to be able to wander the conference dressed as a student at Hogwarts. Sometimes, I even felt like a Professor. It was fun!

However, in today’s blog I want to talk a bit about another reason I really enjoyed this conference: the IBM i messages we shared with the participants.

Cognitive: Watson and IBM i

From the opening session on the IBM team carried the message that the Cognitive Age is upon us, and IBM i is ready. Now I understand that most of us in IBM i-land are not thinking much yet about how we can apply artificial intelligence, cloud-based analytics, natural language processing and all the rest of the new disciplines that are categorized as “cognitive” into our daily jobs. But the IBM i team had a wonderful presentation—which drew an overflow audience on the first day, and an even larger audience when repeated on the final afternoon—on ways that IBM i can connect with and use Watson and Bluemix cognitive capabilities. And then there was the “Sorting Hat” at the IBM booth in the Expo, which sorted us into Hogwart’s Houses using Watson. There was a buzz around this at the conference, and it was deserved.

The Energy of Fresh Faces and Open Source

One of the efforts launched by the IBM i marketing team this spring has been to bring attention to some of the younger members of our IBM i community. They call this program “Fresh Faces” and the first set of Fresh Faces has already been profiled in IBM Systems Magazine. You should go read it! I met with several of them, and we even did a video shoot in which we talked about their experiences coming into the community and using IBM i and Power Systems. But for the conference as a whole, it was wonderful to have the Fresh Faces there, mingling with more experienced users, and even giving presentations on the technology they use and why they love it.  

Another event where we saw “Fresh Faces” was at the annual YiPs roundtable. YiPs stands for “Young i Professionals” and we saw a good turnout of people who were in their 20s to perhaps early 30s, many of whom were quite new to IBM i, and all of whom don’t fit the stereotype of the traditional 30-year user of this platform. They gave COMMON and IBM great input on how to attract and integrate newer users into our fold.

Another source of “new energy” was the large number of people interested in—and actively using—open source technology on IBM i. Our new IBM i Business Architect for Open Source, Jesse Gorzinski, even remarked to me that, when he saw one of his sessions had been scheduled opposite one of mine, that he expected a low turnout. Last year, the same session had 10 people in the audience. This year, they filled the room and even had to bring in more chairs!  

Both sources of energy influenced the mood of the conference, I think, because they demonstrated the healthy future of the platform.  

IBM i Strategy, Architecture and Promotion

For me personally, one of the exciting parts of the conference was having the opportunity to build and deliver presentations about the IBM i strategy, its evolving architecture, and how to promote the platform in your business. I spend a little time talking about the IBM i Strategy in most of my presentations, but having a chance to spend a whole session on it allowed me to more clearly communicate its scope, as well as to more clearly explain the role each of us has in making the IBM i future bright.  

I don’t often get to talk very much about the IBM i Architecture, and when I do, people often tell me that the IBM i architecture is “just the AS/400” or even “just the System/38.”  Since I know that’s not really true, I decided to create a presentation to talk about the technological evolution of the operating system, and the many new architectural elements we’ve added through the years.  I had help from a very large number of people, and I’m quite happy with the presentation.  Somewhere between 20 and 30 attended, and I think they got some useful information from it, but I can guarantee I’ll be using this presentation in other settings. Next up is the COMMON Europe Conference in June, and I also think I’ll be using some of it in a webcast I’m doing with HelpSystems in July. But there will be more chances, I am sure.

Finally, there were at least two sessions about “Promoting IBM i in your business.” Trevor Perry created one, and I did another. This is a topic I cover, obliquely, in many of my blog posts. And again, while maybe only 20 to 40 people saw these presentations, I continually run into people who need to know how to promote (or defend) the IBM i platform, so I know there is a need for this material. In fact, I’ve worked with my blog editor and the IBM marketing team to set up a schedule for blogging about the main points from this presentation over the next several months.  

There were certainly more reasons to be excited about the COMMON Annual Conference than those three (or four, if you count being a wizard—and you should!) but I definitely think, for me, those listed above were very important. I’m planning to use this blog this year to bring you some of the key points from my presentations, while also directing you to places where you can learn about many of the other wonderful things which were shared at COMMON.

I hope you join me next time, as I’ll either blog about the IBM i Cooperative Strategy, or the first in the series of Promoting IBM i in Your Business.  (I haven’t decided yet.)

Until then, pick up some energy and get excited about the future of IBM i!
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