Random Thoughts on DirectionsEMEA 2017
For those who don’t know DirectionsEMEA, and its sister event DirectionsNA which runs in North America roughly two weeks before the European event, it is an opportunity for the Microsoft Dynamics NAV community to bring together partners, ISVs, Service Partners , Microsoft, industry observers and commentators for an “all things NAV” conference and general NAV “love in”.
I’ve been back for a week now and, having worked my way through the usual “you’ve been away but we’ve kept these things for you to look at, we knew you’d really like to” list, I’m only now getting round to formulating my thoughts on the event.
Others have written about the technical issues addressed at the conference including the cloud-or-die debate, NAV and Dyn 365 route maps and the new technologies which may or may not be coming before and/or after Christmas. Let me state up front, I’m not looking to repeat any of that. These are just the impressions of a not-so-techy, worked with NAV for 20 years guy.
So, let’s put it into some perspective. Over 2,000 people descended on the Marriot Hotel & Auditorium in Madrid for three days of presentation, discussion, Q&A and some social interaction but where the focus was 100% Microsoft Dynamics NAV.
2,000 plus people? Yes, the NAV industry is THAT big. In 2015, the Mannheim event hosted 1,400 attendees; in 2016 Prague had 1,800; and in 2017 in Madrid it was 2,100. Those attendees came from 60 countries and the whole event was supported by 70 sponsors.
NAV is BIG Business for Microsoft
Dynamics NAV is now huge business for Microsoft. By 2014, there were over 100,000 NAV sites around the world and one of the first points made by Microsoft at the opening keynote session was an expectation that this would reach 200,000 within the next couple of years!
But that number of people raises some issues. Not least how to feed them, bus them to events and get them in and out of the various sessions they want to attend. The main lunch break on the first day was a tad fractious with long lines of people waiting to be fed. It was sorted the next day. However that was repeated at the big evening event on the Thursday at the rather swish Palacio del Negralejo. Queues for buses, queues for food, queues for drink. Next time, some might choose to head into town for a quiet meal and a few drinks with friends. For all I know, that’s what many of the ‘old hands’ did. Lesson learned.
There were over 200 sessions, 30 workshops, 25 “town halls” or Q&A sessions and 35 ISV sessions. Some were incredibly popular and, inevitably, demand for a number outstripped the available space. Sessions were repeated where it was clear that there was a demand. This raised another issue. A company sending one individual attendee will do well to get the best from the event. Many companies had four or more attendees who split out across the various sessions throughout the day.
I’m all about sales, marketing, product knowledge, consultancy, business planning, the future… at any point during the day I was faced with deciding between at least two, if not more, competing sessions that were of great relevance to our company’s plans for taking NAV forward. And that was me ignoring any overtly full-on technical sessions. If they asked you to bring in your laptop, that was my clue to avoid! More lessons learned.
Undaunted, I managed to type up over 14 A4 pages of notes on everything I attended and took around 100 photographs. It’s that frenetic an event. In between times, I found myself grabbing a coffee and whatever eats were laid out – cakes, pastries, yoghurts, muesli bars… quite a variety – while taking time to chat with our existing ISV partners and introducing myself to potential new ones. My phone had quite a few messages from people keen to have 10 minutes of my time – some just to put a face to a name, others to talk about products. The 70 ISV booths scattered around the conference centre, and the multitude of staff manning them, are a whole event on their own.
It’s a truism now in the world of NAV that while for the first 15 years of NAV we would dive into NAV and develop the bits that our “gap analysis” showed us were needed to meet a customer’s needs, over the last 4 or 5 years that’s shifted. These days, the sheer wealth of NAV add-in technology means that more and more we’re able to announce the NAV equivalent of “there’s an app for that”. DirectionsEMEA reinforces that view and imbues the partner to go out into the world and sell NAV with a confidence that few other ERP sellers can match.
Would I go again? Absolutely, but I would plead for at least one, technical colleague to accompany me. And I would think twice about the evening events. On the first evening I was on a “see Madrid by night” bus tour. Yes, it was Madrid, in the dark. Probably not its best side… and the bus ran out of beer (not that there was a lot to start with!). That’s maybe not such a big deal given each day’s session kicks off at 9am and you may not be, as I wasn’t, in the actual conference hotel. So, there’s breakfast and a 20 minute taxi ride to negotiate and still be in your seat for 8.45 ish. For that reason alone, I was on the first bus out of the big Palacio del Negralejo “main event” on the Thursday night… another lessons learned.
And, ignore suggestions that old friends x, y & z will all be staying at such and such a hotel – book early and be in the actual conference hotel. It may cost more but factor in those taxi rides and the general inconvenience, and it’s worth it. Another lesson learned.
Despite the minor glitches, praise must go to the organisers did a fantastic job of mounting such a huge event and responding to issues as they arose. I’m sure they’ll take those lessons into next year’s event in The Hague in the Netherlands.
Similarly, Microsoft and GM Marko Perisic have to take a lot of credit. They had a few issues at the North America event around NAV and, ironically, its “Direction” but addressed these in Madrid. They even participated in two quite noisy Q & A sessions where they were prepared to take come comments on the chin, respond with real answers and provide encouragement to the NAV community that Microsoft see the product as a huge part of what they’re doing. The billions of dollars being invested may be another clue… I’m sure that Microsoft anticipate continuing to earn a decent return.
The ISV community were out in force and there’s no excuse not to see what your current favourite ISVs have on offer now, and what they plan to bring along shortly. I found that chatting to other partners gave me the opportunity to identify potential new ISVs and Service Partners who we should be talking with. As ever, a recommendations from one of your peers is a powerful persuader. A shout out here to Duncan at Acora who pointed me at a couple of excellent potential partners. Turnkey run an open day each year for our customers and so this was a great chance to see who we might look to invite over to Scotland.
Overall impression. For NAV partners and the supporting community, if you’re only going to one big event per year, it is THE event to attend.