This year's Alliance 2022 marks the 25th year of this Higher Education / Public Sector conference. As a former PeopleSoft employee, I am proud to have presented at the very first one -- and have participated in almost all of them since.
Over the years, I can honestly say that the HEUG and specifically the Alliance conference has been one of the most valuable events / organizations to me in my career. Because of the collaborative atmosphere, attendees not only learn information they can use now and in the future; but will also learn who has the knowledge and experience to help them in the future.
I launched both of my startups at Alliance (Appsian and Mutara), and have met some of the most significant people in my career there -- colleagues, coworkers, and even customers.
Tip 1: Panels and Birds of a Feather
If you do nothing else, attend all of the "Birds of a Feather" and Panel discussions that are applicable. Whereas most other content is curated by the presenter (meaning that the presenter decides what to present -- and the topic is driven by that person's perspective) -- these sessions are driven by the participants. This means that as an attendee, you can learn (1) what problems are being faced by other institutions, (2) how they are solving them, and (3) other tips and techniques.
Birds of a Feather
A "Birds of a Feather" is a relatively unstructured meeting, where there is a facilitator -- but that the attendees act as both curators (i.e. bringing up topics) as well as subject matter experts (where others share their experiences).
A panel discussion is organized a bit differently. In that type of session, a group of experts (usually 3-6 people) act as subject matter experts for the session. The facilitator may have some prepared topics of discussion, but often the audience will ask questions for the panel.
Before attending the conference, a good idea is to prepare a list of topics and questions. Here are a few examples:
- What others are doing in terms of adopting cloud, upgrading to new versions, or adopting other technologies
- Challenges currently faced by your institution (technology, organizational, industry, bugs not getting resolved)
- Business strategies, such as traditional / nontraditional enrollment, instructional methods, and methodologies
Tip 2: Roadmaps and Best Practices
You should also make it to roadmap and best practices sessions. These sessions will take you farther than you can get with publicly available information -- and can help you both plan for the future and ensure you're taking full advantage of your investment in your student systems.
Roadmap sessions will tell you recent updates to the products you use -- as well as let you know where the products are going and what new things you can expect.
If you're a PeopleSoft customer, it's imperative that you make it to both of Susan Beidler's sessions this year -- as she is the head of the product management team (which drives product direction) -- and she has more experience than anybody with PeopleSoft Campus Solutions.
- Oracle Student Cloud: Complex Made Simple
- What's New with Campus Solutions?
Best Practices Sessions
Best practices sessions compose the most of the sessions available at the conference. The planning committees are made up of your peers at different institutions -- each committee with its own focus area. These teams pick the best of the best sessions to include in the agenda, with the goal of including ones that help other institutions in their focus area.
This year, we will be participating in two sessions focused in the admissions area:
- Rose State College Experience - Better Living Through Better Data
- Application for Admissions UX Tips and Techniques
You will find lots of other great sessions if you search within the sub-categories of interest to you.
Tip 3: Go Deep
If you can come early and want to get some hands on experience, I highly recommend the pre-conference workshops. This is where people with deep technical expertise will give you either 3 or 7 hour hands-on sessions. As somebody who has taught these in the past, these sessions have a lot of depth to them and are instructed by people who have years of experience putting those topics into practice at real customers.
Note: however, that these workshops do have additional costs associated with them.
Tip 4: Hit the Exhibit Hall
It may seem a little self serving as an Alliance exhibitor for me to suggest you hit the exhibit hall. However, there are a lot of great reasons for you to spend some time there to get to know the exhibitors.
- Get those issues addressed. In most likelihood, your organization will already be doing business with at least one exhibitor. If there is something that you need addressed or something you'd like to learn from them. Stop by their booth. It's amazing how responsive they'll be when they're trying to impress other organizations.
- Learn something new. Because customers often gravitate to the exhibitors with whom their doing business (see previous item), you'll be able to hear what they're doing, why they're doing it, and come away with additional knowledge.
- Get some great swag. Finally, most vendors have some great giveaways. Whether it's logo gear, an Amazon gift card, or a cool piece of tech -- you can come home with something extra. As an example, Mutara will be giving away logo stickers, cell phone wallets, Amazon gift cards, and a grand prize of a Sonos 1 Alexa-enabled speaker (and we're one of the smaller vendors exhibiting).
Tip 5: Network. Network. Network
Finally, make sure you take advantage of your opportunity to network with others. I can't emphasize how important this is, as you quite often can form relationships that will become your safety net in the future.
- Have some gnarly problem you can't figure out how to solve? Somebody has the answer.
- Not sure whether you should do business with a vendor or purchase a certain product? You can get a recommendation.
- Trying to determine whether there is a better way to do something? Somebody knows.
Here are a few tips for expanding your network:
- Attend those birds of a feather sessions
- Sit at lunch with somebody you don't know
- Get invited to a Monday night vendor event. Monday night is the one night where there isn't any conference activity. Those exhibitors will host dinners or cocktails for attendees who make "the list". You'll have a great opportunity to network and have a great meal (yes, we have a "list" for our Monday night event).
- Hang out at the lobby bar of one of the conference hotels. Alliance attendees know how to have a good time, and I've gotten into many a great conversation at the lobby bar of one of the hotels nearest the venue. My guess, this year, is that the Hyatt and the Sheraton will be the places to go (as they're closest to the Washington Convention Center).
- Don't miss the closing night event. My Facebook feed is full of selfies taken at prior closing parties where we're all having a great time dancing and singing. Letting off a little steam at that party is a great conversation starter with your peers -- and will make you feel more comfortable networking with them in the future.