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Conference Organisation from the Inside – UKOUG Tech14 November 20, 2014

Posted by mwidlake in conference, Meeting notes, Presenting, UKOUG.
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An interesting experience I have had this year is being more involved in helping organise the annual UKOUG Oracle Technical Conference – Tech14. I fully intended to blog about things as we progressed, but it never happened got going so I did not.. But I thought it would be interesting to do a couple of blogs about it now, for anyone interested, as the conference itself approaches.

If you have never helped organise a conference or user group meeting then you probably think there is not a lot of work involved. You would be quite wrong. If you have been a volunteer at one, as in you have presented or chaired sessions, then you will have more understanding – but still probably fall short of the mark in estimating the effort involved. There is a lot involved.

The UKOUG is, I think, the largest Oracle User Group in the world and the annual conference has grown significantly since I first got involved around the turn of the millennium {which is now quite a while back – yes, we are all getting quite old}. In fact, it is now a set of conferences and events dedicated to Oracle E-Business suite, JD Edwards, PeopleSoft, Hyperion and regional conferences for Ireland and Scotland (sorry Wales) as well as the annual technical event that used to be the single conference. This year Tech14 is in the same location as Apps14, which covers most of the application areas I just mentioned. I rather like the fact we are returning to being in the same place but still have two events as it matches the reality of the two groups. There is a lot of cross-over between apps and tech for some of us whereas for many, you belong in one camp or the other. It’s a bit like do you like football or rugby…

So where did I fit into the picture? Each year the UKOUG approach some of it’s volunteers and asks them if they would mind giving them a little bit of help with the conference that year. Any that do not run away quickly are corralled into a room at head office in Wimbledon and bribed them with tea, coffee and biscuits. We are arranged into being the content committees for various areas. I was part of the committee for the Database stream and ended up being the Chair. This does not make me any more significant, it just means if someone has to make a decision when the committee is split or they just want a quick answer to a question (such as “can Dave swap his presentation slot with Senthil’s”), then it will be me the office contacts. OK, I suppose it means I have a little more input but as everything is open, others on the database committee (or others) can cry foul.

There are also committees for Middleware, Development, OS & Engineered systems, Business analytics… I am sure I have forgotten one! In many ways the Database stream is easiest as I do not think it has as broad a remit as, for example, development, and the core database is the core database. But we also have the largest community and thus the largest number of papers put forward and streams to organise.

So What do the committees do? Our responsibility is primarily to agree on the technical content of our steams. ie What presentations go into it, the order of them, plan any threads or themes to run through a day or several days and ensure that at any given time there are talks, roundtables and workshops across a spectrum of topics and not 4 all on backups or ADF. Sounds easy? No, it’s not. I’ll go into why in a later post.

We also help with decisions about wider issues for the conference – when the keynotes occur, who to ask to do the keynotes, the evening events and some wider issues like that. However, the actual location and timing of the event is set in stone before we get involved – it has to be as those major decisions have to be made over a year in advance. Personally, I think the venue at The Liverpool ACC is a good one. I can understand some people feeling Liverpool is a bit far to go but in reality it only takes an hour or two longer to get there than to what was the traditional home of the conference in Birmingham. And frankly, I was tired of Birmingham and the usual pub I ended up in was getting truly ratty and unpleasant. The ACC is at Albert Doc and a lot of bars, restaurants and ,I suspect, nightclubs (for those who like loud music and terrible lager at a premium price) are in the area.

Most of the work planning the actual conference is of course done by the office staff and I know that for smaller user groups all the work is done by volunteers – I’ve done a couple of myself too – so some of you might think we volunteers for the UKOUG conference have it a bit easy. But the conference is massive and we do {most of us} have proper jobs to do too. So if something is not as you would like at the UKOUG conference, or in fact at any conference, it is probably not through lack of effort. Just let us know {nicely, please} and we will try and not make the same mistake next time.

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