JBoye 2014 Conference, Aarhus. The best yet!
In my line of business attending conferences is an occupational hazard. Typically I end up at about a dozen a year, often sitting at the back or on a speaker chair muttering about variable quality papers and even more variable quality organisation. The JBoye Aarhus 2014 conference, which took place on 4-6 November, has set an almost unattainable benchmark for both content and organisation.
Although I attended most of the early Aarhus conferences, and one in Philadelphia, a conflict of dates with the Enterprise Search Summit Fall in Washington DC over the last few years meant that this was my first Aarhus conference for a while. But as it was the tenth anniversary event I engraved the date in my diary right at the start of the year. In this account of the conference I’m going to try to give you a sense of ‘feel’ of the event rather than summarise the sessions I attended
The opening plenary session on Tuesday evening took place in the main hall of the Aarhus City Hall and was followed by a very good supper sponsored by IntranetNote. The conference was located in the new Comwell Hotel in the centre of the city. The hotel was under construction when Janus and his team took the decision to use it as the venue. It turned out to be a very good choice. The main room and the breakout rooms all had a substantial amount of natural light, a mix of tables and chairs, good AV and plenty of power sockets. Although there were five parallel themes the rooms for each theme changed between every paper. This meant that delegates were encouraged to re-think their choice and would find themselves sitting alongside a fresh group of people at each rotation. The layout of the rooms around a large coffee breakout area made this much easier to accomplish that it may seem from this description and encouraged high-speed networking at each break in the timetable. The food was excellent at breakfast, breaks and lunch and the queues were minimal.
One of the benefits of not having a subtitle theme to the conference is that the papers, round tables and discussions ranged across the entire spectrum of digital delivery. In the course of my two days at the event among the sessions I attended were on the development of digital services in the UK Parliament (Tracy Green), making Agile development work (James Cannings), the Gov.uk content strategy (Simon Kaplan), a pragmatic approach to big data (Bebo White), implementing a social business application at Schneider Electric (Todd Moran) and web accessibility (Daniel Gartman and Helene Noorgard). I also enjoyed participating in the Expert Panel session with Bebo White (no relation as far as he and I know!) and Ina Rosen. The conference dinner, in the old Turbine Hall of the Aarhus power company, was generously sponsored by Magnolia.
I have already Tweeted that this was the best conference I have attended in the last decade in Europe and the USA. The only other conference I can recall that matched it was the Step Two Designs Intranets conference in Sydney a few years ago. The event provided a wide range of speakers, a very open ethos of sharing knowledge, immaculate conference organisation and a commitment to delegate satisfaction throughout the event. It’s not until you have run a conference that you gain any idea of the amount of work and attention to detail that is required to deliver an event of this standard. The Aarhus event also benefits from JBoye being able to bring the best of the Philadelphia conference speakers across, and vice versa, and that also adds to the wealth of knowledge in the sessions and at the networking events. The 2015 Aarhus conference will take place on 2-5 November 2015. Put it in your budget now. Each year JBoye has consistently improved the events. Based on Aarhus 2014 the 2015 events should be stunning!
PS If you are wondering about the ‘decade’ limitation it is because the early intranet conferences in San Francisco and then San Jose between 1999 and 2002 were outstanding in terms of a community of several hundred practitioners coming together to share a vision and good practice in intranet development.