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Consona Connect 2010 Thoughts and Impressions

Teaching PowerPivot

Using Excel/PowerPivot with M2M Presentation.


First, I want to take a moment to thank everyone at Consona for putting on a great convention this year. Having worked on SQL Saturday Events, I have an idea of how much work goes into it. I’d especially like to thank Devon Everage, who was largely responsible for planning the conference and made my role as a presenter as easy as possible.

Changes in Attitudes

I’ve been working with the M2M product for nearly 13 years, and in the past several years Consona seems to have made an effort to listen to their users with more of an open mind. That was never more apparent than at this conference. Consona employees seem more open to listening to problems and more willing to try to fix them.

At one of the networking events, I was “cornered” by three of Consona’s top project managers asking me for my opinions of the product and issues with it’s database. I was very blunt about the problems the product has. They were exceptionally open to my suggestions (criticisms) even when I said things like:

  • You know that the security model is awful, right?
  • What were you guys thinking when you…..
  • Why on earth didn’t you implement referential integrity?

At no point did they get flustered, defensive, or angry while I discussed problems with their system. In fact, one of the Consona big wigs actually went and got me a drink so the technical conversation wouldn’t get interrupted. To me, this indicates a change in their mindset regarding the quality of the Made2Manage product.

Presenting at the conference was a great experience. I’d like to thank Don Rudo for being so gracious during our presentations. He’s been presenting the SQL Administration classes solo for as long as I can remember and he adapted to co-presenting exceptionally well. It almost seemed as if he and I had been working together for years.

Don had already done the heavy lifting for our presentation, created PowerPoints, determined the scope and such. He’s a real pro so I was just there for color commentary. He accepted every comment I made in stride, even when I disagreed with him about certain SQL administration practices.

One cardinal rule I broke and had to re-learn was that you should never change your presentation at the last minute. I decided to edit something small the night before to improve my PowerPivot presentation. Well, of course something got hosed up and I spent that morning in a corner feverishly creating a new PowerPivot dashboard before I was scheduled to present. Never again.

Improvement Suggestions

Although the event went exceptionally well, I want to offer the following suggestions.

More Targeted Networking. One of the biggest benefits to these events is networking. Consona has made strides to facilitate networking by giving users of each product different color badges so you can look for others with your color badge. However, what I’d like to see are general employee types designated on the badge and at tables at lunch. Ideally, I’d like to know if you’re in Accounting, Operations, Sales, or IT by glancing at your badge. It’s just too difficult to do that by looking for a person’s job title in a relatively small font. I suspect most people would like to network with others who do share their general position and responsibilities.

Lunch time presentations need to change. Once again, I feel that networking at these events is paramount so having a speaker, no matter what the topic, speak through lunch isn’t a productive use of time. Most people seemed to whisper at their tables, or eat their lunch in silence while checking their phones, or leave the room to network. I took the last option.

Also, it is nearly impossible to find a speaker that appeals to all of the attendees. You have every imaginable type of employee there as well as every category of manufacturing company as well. I know it would create logistic problems but if you want to have lunch presentations, then divide the room and have several so people can choose what they want to see.

More sessions covering topics you cannot learn from the Made2Manage University. While Consona Educators are very good at their jobs, I did not fly to Vegas to see one present on a topic I can stream free over the internet. Also, I prefer that most topics (if not all) be included with the base conference registration. The Advanced SQL Server Administration classes were well attended, but I met lots of people who wanted to, but couldn’t attend them because their company wouldn’t fork out the additional cost for that track. These classes are important for all IT people and would reduce calls to M2M Support so they are good for everyone.

Change the Advanced Workshop sessions. I think these were a great idea and I applaud whoever came up with it. However, most people did not bring their own problems to our SQL workshops, and I heard that the VBA Workshops had a similar problem. Luckily Don was prepared to carry the entire sessions with his own content, that man could lecture about SQL Server for weeks, so we were covered. I suspect many of the people there did not have the resources to bring a laptop that was set up to demonstrate their problems. Perhaps there are better ways to get customer participation and encourage them to ask questions in these types of sessions. Once again, great idea but it didn’t seem to work.

More presentations should span several Consona products. The topics I presented, SQL Administration and Excel/PowerPivot use, are not specific to Made2Manage. Any of the companies using other products that Consona sells which use SQL Server would have benefited from those classes. Also, PowerPivot will connect to almost anything. A lot of the people at the conference missed out because they never knew about them because they don’t use M2M.

Non supported customers should be encouraged to attend. I never knew that customers who are no longer on support/maintenance are not invited to the conference. I suspect the reason is that many of those customers are disgruntled and Consona does not want negative attitudes to ruin the positive air of the conference. Well, as someone who learned M2M on his own because his employer was NOT on support, I encourage Consona to change this practice for a couple of reasons.

First, how do you expect to re-gain customers if they aren’t invited to events like these? Consona Connect conferences, where so many of Consona’s successful customers gather to network and learn new ways to improve, is the perfect venue to lure customers back into the fold.

Second, the conference ends up costing a company at least two thousand dollars per employee to attend when you consider flight, hotel, conference fee, and additional meals and expenses. Is it likely that a truly disgruntled company is going to spend all that money simply to ruin conference sessions? I really don’t think so. Also, I’ve been critical of M2M at times over the years and I’ve found their employees to be resilient and enthusiastic in defense of their product. These people can handle some criticism.

Allow independent consultants who represent customers to attend on the customer’s behalf. I know almost all of the independent consultants and I noticed a conspicuous lack of them at the event. While I understand that Consona does not want independents to hawk their wares at the event, stipulations to that effect can be made and enforced. Also, if you’re a small customer who relies on an independent person to write your reports, administer your SQL Server, etc why shouldn’t you be allowed to send who you want to the conference? I appreciate the fact that Consona can and should exclude certain independent consultants who have caused M2M disasters, but responsible folks (many of whom are ex-Consona employees to begin with) should be allowed and encouraged to attend.

If it sounds like I’m complaining a lot, I’m not. Overall, it was a great event and I enjoyed it immensely and look forward to attending them in the future.

Super Secret Project Announcement

I announced the super secret project at the event in front of 70 or so people at our Consona Connect user group meeting. It’s a difficult concept for non-technical people to grasp, but those who understood had already started clapping before I had finished. I’ll follow up with the official announcement on the blog in a day or two.

What do you think? If you attended, what did you like or dislike? If not, what would need to be done for you to want to attend next year?

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13 comments to Consona Connect 2010 Thoughts and Impressions

  • Tyler

    WOW fantastic comments, I have had many of the same thoughts in the past.

  • Judy Graham

    Great suggestions – hopefully someone at Consona will listen to your ideas with an open mind!

  • Thomas Erb

    My biggest worry about m2m is what is happening long term with VFP. Did you get any feedback ?

  • This is my understanding, but it is subject to change.

    1. 6.01 and 7.0 will be able to run concurrently on the same SQL Database. Therefore we will not get any database improvements until after version 7.
    2. VFP will still be a part of both versions, though more and more of the VFP tables will be replicated in the M2MSystem SQL Database.
    3. VFP Reporting will still be used in both versions as well.
    4. M2M is currently evaluating at least two options for M2M reporting. One of which is a proprietary product and the other is SQL Server Reporting Services. I sincerely hope they move to SSRS as it would be better for everyone.

    The faster they can eliminate VFP the better because it is difficult to report with, is inherently less stable than SQL Server, and has considerable security holes as M2M currently implements it.

    Again, maybe someone from Consona would be willing to elaborate (or correct) what I’ve just stated.

  • Thomas Erb

    So version 6.01 is still using VFP tables. There is no excuse for this. We have found V5.6 to be very stable.

    SSRS would be great anything else would be unacceptable.

  • Andrew

    I didn’t go this year. one thing I always hated was all of the vendor presentations. To echo what you said I didn’t pay for the conference to sit through sales pitches on the latest m2m add on products.

  • Thanks for the conference comments.
    I’m especially encouraged by PM listening to suggestions. I’ve made several over the past 4 years and they fell on deaf ears.
    I did notice when going through the Beta Test for 6.01 more attention was given to making enhancements.

    Participated in BETA for 6.01 and currently loading 6.01GA.
    C
    an’t wait for VFP to go away.
    Reports in M2M 6.01 no improvement.

  • Thomas Erb

    How soon before microsoft breaks VFP

    The VFP team made a special announcement to the community on March 13, 2007. The team has announced that there will be no VFP 10. VFP 9 will continue to be supported as per the support policy (http://support.microsoft.com/lifecycle/?p1=7992) through 2015.

    As indicated in prior public statements, Microsoft does not plan to merge Visual FoxPro into Visual Studio, or create a .NET version of Visual FoxPro. Visual FoxPro will remain stand-alone Win32 based, and will run on 64-bit Windows in 32-bit compatibility mode.

  • Ben

    Was there any comments from M2M regarding your “observations” about lack of referential integrity etc… Any acknowledgement that the database will be slowly “cleaned up” in future releases?

  • It was very unofficial, but they said that they intended to “work” on the database, but it will not be until after version 7.0.

  • […] PowerPivot with Problem Databases (Like M2M) Part 1 In my presentation at Consona Connect 2010, I showed users the wonders of Excel connections through ODBC, and what you could do with […]

  • Tamara Smith

    I work for a company that opted not to pay for M2M Support/Maintenance for the past 2 years (purchased in ’06), but we WERE invited and did attend the conference in Las Vegas last month. We were not disgruntled users, but went in search of answers to some basic questions, since we’ve been ‘out of the loop’ (without support), and have not been upgrading (still on 5.52).

  • […] past year I presented to large groups at Consona Connect 2010, the national conference for Consona’s customers including those who use M2M. I didn’t […]

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