European SharePoint Conference Berlin – That Was Then, This Is Now

 I’ve been with Bamboo Solutions for over 10 years and been fortunate enough to either take part in, or stay plugged into almost every major SharePoint conference held around the world. The European SharePoint Conference 2011 has once again returned to Berlin, Germany. This is a familiar stomping ground as it is being held at the same location that hosted the event held back in 2007. So much has changed in those intervening years, not only for SharePoint as a product, but for the entire SharePoint ecosystem. We ourselves have evolved from an emergent provider of Web Parts and add-ons in 2007 to a company which now offers complete solutions for project, community, workflow, and knowledge management. I look back and see EU-SPC 2007 as the point where things really started to take off – not only for Bamboo, but for SharePoint in general. Here are a few of my observations comparing and contrasting the SharePoint ecosystem around this conference in 2007 and 2011.

At first glance, the most puzzling observation is the drop in the number of attendees from the 2007 conference.  I don’t have the exact numbers from 2007, but the current conference is hosting slightly fewer than 800 attendees.  So, has there been a reduction in the interest in SharePoint in Europe?  Of course we know this not to be true.  The computing world continues to publish impressive numbers about the growth of SharePoint worldwide.  So why the drop in attendance? We are quite possibly looking at the impact of two discrete effects – the first being the competition for travel budget.  Because the U.S. SharePoint Conference 2011 was held in Anaheim, CA just two weeks ago, it’s quite possible that attendees were faced with an either/or decision.  We saw a good number of Europeans at the Bamboo booth in Anaheim who said they were faced with exactly that dilemma.  Another strong culprit for the attendance drop is the relative absence of new information that is ready to be conveyed.  The big news at EU-SPC 2007 was the release of SharePoint 2007.  As is typical during such a period, everyone was eager to gather new information that would help them prepare for the new platform.  I spoke with Michael Greth (part of this year’s conference organizing team) and Joel Oleson about this.  Joel and Michael were both at EU-SPC 2007 and echoed the opinion that the lack of enough new information to present to attendees was a key factor affecting this year’s attendance numbers.  So what is a typical conference attendee like now vs. then?  As you might expect, the average attendee is much better learned in SharePoint now than they were in 2007.  Attendees typically know what they are doing in SharePoint and have a specific plan when it comes to hitting sessions or visiting vendors.  Very few of the attendees are new to SharePoint like they were in 2007 and, as is typical of European shows, they aren’t out casually trolling for swag and kicking the tires at vendor booths.  The conversations I’ve had tend to be direct and productive from a business perspective with a much more focused set of questions covered. 

The number of EU-SPC 2011 vendors in the Expo area seems to have stayed constant.  OK, I admit that this is a totally unscientific observation, but this year all three exhibit halls are full – as was the case in the past.  The vendor landscape has changed quite a bit as well.  A few of the vendors who were once on top of the world in 2007 now seem to have little to no presence at EU-SPC 2011.  More remarkable to note is the surge in the number of new companies taking part.  These aren’t all necessarily startups either.  Many have been working with SharePoint for years, and after experiencing some level of success in their locale, now look to bring their products and services to a larger audience.  This is great, and I believe has boosted the energy level at the show.  One such company is Qorus Software based in South Africa.  Their product, also called Qorus, was born through the work of their sister services arm Relate Technologies.  It provides customers with a way to bring document automation capabilities to SharePoint.  Johan Olivier (from the same) led a conference session for developers, and the Qorus team helped sponsor the SharePint event on Tuesday evening.  Although relatively new to the SharePoint conference world, they are exactly the type of company that helps make this type of event a success.  

SharePoint conferences always seem to reenergize me.   No, not the “I spent a week at a spa” type reenergized.  Truth be told – attending events like this can be a tough slog at times and are quite exhausting.  It’s more the type of energy that comes from seeing firsthand how many opportunities there are for a SharePoint company like Bamboo.  It’s trite I know, but the opportunities out in front of everyone involved with SharePoint do seem endless.  The ride has been fun, especially the period between EU-SPC 2007 and EU-SPC 2010, and I can’t wait to see how things evolve over the next four years.

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