About this Post

A recent series of posts on this blog have looked back at the IWMW 2016 event. This post reviews the feedback received regarding commercial involvement with the event.

Commercial Involvement

During the first seventeen years of its life the IWMW event was a UKOLN deliverable provided on behalf of JISC, UKOLN’s core funder. Following the cessation of JISC’s funding for UKOLN and the subsequent closure of UKOLN the future of the IWMW event was uncertain. However the feedback received at the IWMW 2013 event made it clear that there was still significant interest in the event and a desire for the event to continue.

The event has continued, with the IWMW 2014 event being held in Newcastle and organised jointly with Jisc Netskills. The event proved successful but the plans for continued joint delivery of the event with Jisc Netskills was not possible due to the subsequent cession of Jisc funding for Netskills. Since then the IWMW 2015 and IWMW 2016 events have been held at Edge Hill University and Liverpool John Moores University respectively. The responsibility for the event is now taken by myself, the founder of the IWMW series. This includes financial responsibility for the event, together with responsibility for the format and content of the event, although an IWMW advisory group provides valuable input into the latter aspects of the event.

In order to ensure the financial stability of the event greater emphasis has been given over the past few years to sponsorship of the event (note that Jisc have been approached but have declined to sponsor the event as support for the web management comment is no longer part of Jisc’s strategic areas).

The IWMW event has also emphasised its community aspects, providing a forum for sharing best practices across peers in the web management community. It has always been recognised that the sector can benefit from insights from beyond the higher education community, but the focus has been on content provided by practitioners in the UK’s higher education web management sector.

There is a risk that the need for commercial sponsorship in order to ensure the sustainability of the event could have a detrimental effect on the nature of the event. In order to identify possible risks and make plans for next year’s event the evaluation form for the IWMW 2016 event had a number of questions related to greater commercial involvement with the event.

Concerns

The evaluation form asked the question “what concerns do you have regarding greater commercial involvement with the event?“. A summary of the responses is given below.

  • None
  • HE vendors have a specialised, niche, slightly captive market. Sometimes that means they have less pressure to innovate.
  • That it will become a conference to ‘flog’ stuff and leave me with lots of cold calls and spam emails.
  • We need to be very clear that they shouldn’t be pushing their own product, but trying to benefit the community through the sharing of knowledge and best practice. The vendors play a huge part in IWMW, not only through funding it, but by exposing us to new ideas and concepts. However they also have a huge amount to gain from us. Financially for certain, but also picking up on new problems and trends that are affecting us.
  • Other than avoiding sales pitches at plenaries, none!
  • There’s always the difficulty that one company will be seen to be the main contender (eg T4) to the exclusion of others.
  • No concern
  • I feel a bit dubious about commercial involvement. I haven’t answered none, I think commercial involvement is useful, I just think it we all need to be aware that commercial representatives are there for their company and they will have their company’s agenda in mind.
  • That talks become straight pitches, rather than insightful.
  • I have no problem with greater commercial involvement in the event, as long as the presentations don’t feel like a sales pitch. If we can see the benefits of a system or piece of software while looking at a case study with a HE institution, then everyone’s a winner!
  • None, providing that the nature of commercial involvement continues to be overtly acknowledged by the organisers and vendors, which I think it was very well at IWMW 2016.
  • None. Quite happy to see any of the above. Plenary talks about products and services can be difficult if it’s not relevant to everyone. The ones at IWMW16 were actually very well balanced e.g. Precent and Headscape. I suspect that is partly due to them ‘getting’ the HE sector and knowing how to pitch something like that.
  • Sales pitches aren’t welcome and it was good that it didn’t feel like anyone was literally selling their products or services. Shared experience and expertise is welcome, and the balance felt right.
  • That the focus will be on selling a product rather than offering helpful information.
  • Wouldn’t want to have to sit through a talk that was basically a sales pitch, but aside from that I think there are a lot of benefits.
  • The difference in opinions, perspectives and agendas is a good thing. It offers conference participants a rounded 360-degree view of the industry.
  • None really, didn’t feel too much this year.
  • No real concerns. They are part of our community too, and a vital part of the HE digital ecosystem. Just as long as they avoid clunk sales pitches. From what I saw, speakers from commercial firms did a good job of avoiding this and demonstrated that they had valuable content to offer the community.
  • Done well they should build trust without coming across as a big sell. Piero from T4 did this very well.
  • Necessary evil. Would suggest you group them as you appear to have done this year
  • None, as long as involvement in talks etc. is product-neutral.
  • I thought the balance was good this year. Too much and it might start to seem overly slanted to their needs, not ours.
  • None, really.
  • The balance currently struck seems to work well and the commercial agencies/vendors seem to be getting a lot out of it too. Anything that can keep costs down will help. Sponsored places.

Benefits

The evaluation form asked the question “What benefits do you feel greater commercial involvement could provide?“. The following respopnises were given:

  • More case studies that are relevant to HEI. Perhaps the organisers could do a quick poll of different agencies used/considered by attendees to make it more relevant. This would give greater networking opportunities.
  • The vendors play a huge part in IWMW, not only through funding it, but by exposing us to new ideas and concepts. However they also have a huge amount to gain from us. Financially for certain, but also picking up on new problems and trends that are affecting us.
  • Sustainability Greater shared understanding of how to work with each other
  • Other than financial, it’s good to keep commercial companies involved in HE thinking.
  • More sponsors and therefore an improved quality of an already outstanding event.
  • Can give an idea of what’s out there in terms of agency partnerships, technology and training. Also good to get an idea of how non-HE organisations work.
  • Easy way of seeing what is out there. Especially if you are not really looking for anything in particular but it’s keep you informed and up to date.
  • More funds to make the event as high-quality as possible (i.e, catering, coffee, social events etc).
  • Reduce ticket prices Better conference dinner Sharing of new ideas Lessons from working in the commercial sector with HE clients.
  • I think the ability to keep the standard of the event up without raising the costs is a major point – getting sponsors to provide evening drinks / break refreshments / etc. Also some of the conference materials (eg lanyards) could be of higher quality if a commercial supplier were covering the costs. Also a good opportunity to hear from suppliers outside the usual IWMW circle (T4, Funnelback, etc)
  • Modern, out-of-the-box thinking, that is not limited to Higher Education vertical.
  • Better deals and opportunities for HE staff.
  • It feels like the conference was well supported this year, in contrast to some other previous years. I would like to this success maintained in future years.
  • Cheaper, I guess. More access to god resources.
  • Maybe Brian might turn a decent profit!
  • Outside views, opportunity to quiz people working in different environments (HE or not). .
  • Great to hear their perspective on the sector, and case studies etc. Rob Van Tol’s talk on managing change was particularly interesting.
  • Getting people to network by supporting a social setting worked well. With the right people there’s no hard sell.
  • Greater resources for meals, social, goodies.

Feedback From Commercial Sector

The evaluation form asked commercial vendors and consultants to respond to the question “What benefits do you gain from participation at IWMW events?” . The following responses were made:

  • Networking Visibility Insight into what’s going on in HE
  • Meeting lots of accounts and prospects face-to-face in a short time period.
  • Insights into how things are ‘in the trenches’. Exposure. Networking opportunities.

A follow-up question asked “What changes or enhancements would you like to see?”. The following responses were made:

  • No pre-registration requirement for WiFi access.
  • Video amplification is a great idea. This could be further improved by adding pre-event video coverage with session teasers where speakers would briefly talk about what they will be presenting.

Conclusions

It seems clear that participants appreciate the benefits which involvement of the commercial sector can bring to the event, provided talks are not just product pitches. THis feedback will be shared with potential sponsors of next year’s event.