ICE 2016, Already Looking to the Future

Heading back from this year’s Incognito Community Exchange (ICE), feeling somewhat exhausted (even though I’m not even the main guy putting the event together), I couldn’t help but reflect on why we put together such an event in the first place, year after year.

From a vendor perspective, when you have crossed the chasm of serving a sizable number of users on a global scale — and Incognito certainly has, boasting over 300 service provider customers and managing over 200 million IP devices — providing a physical forum for gathering users together to share experiences and ideas is not only desirable, it’s necessary.

The conference helps us build our brand and customer loyalty, spurring increased adoptions within our current installed base (they call that up-selling and cross-selling). At the back end, it helps reduce the technical support costs — given that a better trained user is less reliant on our technical support for troubleshooting.

In addition, having an event where company representatives, from the CEO down to the support engineer, can mingle with the actual users and partners of our solutions outside the office makes it an ideal place to foster a sense of community. ICE is a relaxed environment where everybody can “let their hair down,” so to speak, and grow the trust and camaraderie that comes with this sense of community.

We also get to share our company culture with “people on the other side.” After all, it’s the people that make the business and create the products.

So what’s in it for the users? Having showcased the user conference for the last five years, we certainly have some idea of what the attendees want to get out of a user event like ICE. I wasted no time on day one chit-chatting with the people I met. Right away I asked, “what are you expecting this year?”

I got a list of answers. Some were expected, such as:

  • Learning about new offerings from Incognito
  • Learning about integration tools that allow users to build extensions and configurations that leverage what Incognito offers to integrate with other systems
  • Getting tips on troubleshooting. This is a big one. Most of the engineers attending the conference are directly administering the installed Incognito products. They want to be self-sufficient when it comes to basic troubleshooting
    Networking with other users and the Incognito staff

A couple others attendees offered a refreshingly new perspective:

  • A few attendees commented that while they were in the office listening to Incognito product presentations, often times, the length of their presentation was constrained by short meeting blocks, and so it was only focused on a single product. These clients don’t have the luxury of connecting the dots to see all of what Incognito has to offer. At ICE, we have the undivided attention of our attendees to showcase the full Incognito portfolio. Things start to make more sense. Attendees understand how each product is, or potentially will, connect with the others products and solutions. Face-to-face discussions ensure understanding and clarification, if needed. Now, the attendee’s head is turning, and new ideas start to germinate
  • For some, especially those who don’t get sent to industry events often, coming to ICE is an opportunity to learn about what’s going on in the industry — specifically at levels related to the areas they work in. High level, macro-economic trends down to the working level initiatives make people feel that their work is a vital part of a much bigger mission
  • ICE also starts a user forum to exchange ideas and learn from other operator’s experiences

The telecommunications and broadband industry is undergoing a profound change: everything is connected, converged networks are ubiquitous, access to information and entertainment is available anytime, anywhere, on any device, with a consistent user-experience and strong security. Over-the-top competition, mobility, mergers and acquisitions, new fiber deployments, new service introductions: they’re all growing. These 30-thousand-foot views underpin how the industry is transforming. Attendees surely have this in mind, and simply can’t shrug it off.

Looking at the list above, I’m thinking: what if we had asked more questions before ICE? Do attendees want to learn about new offerings? Do they have problems that we could help them with? If they are thinking of integration, is there an opportunity for us to collaborate by offering our professional services?

One step further, most engineers attending are administrators, but why not get their developers involved? There’s a treasure trove of opportunities for us to help our customers beyond just the product administrators. Looking at the people in the room, how many were developers or administrators or network-operation users? Hands-on boot-camp training preceded the two-day conference and offered troubleshooting training, mostly for systems administrators; but could we reach out to an even larger audience?

We received numerous positive suggestions, such as starting an online user forum, which would provide opportunities for continued discussions after the ICE conference. As a matter of fact, we should use all tools available, including social media, to communicate on a continuous basis. Twitter, Facebook, user forums, or email surveys can all be leveraged. Not only for after-conference follow ups, but also with the attendee recruiting process and conference planning — even for formulating next year’s themes and topics, soliciting speakers and panels, and getting the users into the planning process.

It’s a community event: vendor and user. It doesn’t make much sense to have only one party planning it anyways, eh? We would love to get even more feedback so that we can make the next even an even bigger success!

As we’ve all learned in the digital marketing age, it’s all about a “Call To Action.” When the user conference ended, I kept wondering, what’s my “Call To Action”? What is my to-do item? And more importantly, what are the action items for each of the users who attended this year’s ICE?

What if we asked the attendees to write down the ideas inspired by the conference that they can take home to present to their colleagues and others? What if we asked the attendees to write down potential plans that came to their minds after the two-day event?

Perhaps our attendees have some initiatives that can develop into new projects. What if we asked attendees to write down their next 6–12 months plan, as related to Incognito platforms, either by impact to Incognito platforms or as major strategic initiatives? Would that impact the way the company uses or leverages their installed Incognito platforms? What if we asked the attendees write down the potential, specific decisions to use more Incognito products and services?

That would indeed be a powerful list of action items to take home, and would put the ICE team back to work on planning and creating an even better ICE 2017!