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View from the Airport: Appian World 2020

From punctuality to the lack of gimmicks, there’s a lot to be said for virtual conferences

It’s a strange experience for me writing this article. For the past several years, I’ve been writing “View from the Airport” columns analysing the events of the major tech conferences I’ve attended. By this point in any normal year, I would have attended at least two of these get-togethers and written an analysis for each of them.

This has been anything but a normal year, however, and for me and many others in the tech industry this steady rhythm of conferences dotted throughout the year has been cut off. And so it is that this “View from the Airport” comes to you not from a departures lounge in Las Vegas, San Francisco or Orlando, but a desk in my spare room.

Attending my first virtual conference this week, Appian World, was something of a novelty, but also something I was a bit apprehensive about. Would I somehow accidentally end up on screen or with my mic turned on? Would it just be too dull without the customary bungee jumping trampoline dancers and giant puppets marching through the audience to mark the opening keynote? Would I miss the ever present danger of being blasted to the point of deafness by some generic but invigorating music?

Importantly, is it still acceptable to eat a par-boiled croissant stuffed with sausage meat and processed cheese slices for breakfast if you’re making it for yourself?

But as soon as the opening day keynote began, my fears were assuaged. For starters, everything ran on time, whereas traditionally these things run at least 30 minutes behind schedule, if not more.

CEO Matt Calkins acknowledged the fact that this was a strange situation, but managed not to dwell too much on the sad and frightening reality that has changed the way we work and even the way we dress. While the context was different, the thrust of the presentation – the importance of automation, AI and low code – was still what delegates had always wanted to hear about even before the current crisis. This is important, as I think there’s a danger at the moment that we lose sight of all the normal things that still have an impact on how tech is developing and how we do business. Once all this is over, these things will still matter.

We were also treated to interesting guests in the form of customer case studies from  Bexley Health Neighbourhood Care and Bank of the West, as well as a rather... ‘animated’ discussion between two White House economic advisors – one from the Obama administration, the other from Reagan’s.

I’m happy to say, then, that my first experience of a virtual conference hasn’t put me off them forever, which is handy with almost all tech conferences becoming virtual until at least next year.

I’m also looking forward to our own IT Pro Live conference in June. As it’s spread over the course of a week, there’s an even greater selection of experts to listen to with each day focusing on a different theme. What’s more, you’ll even get to see what some of the IT Pro team look like.

Whether you want to complete the experience with a traditional conference breakfast I’ll leave up to you

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