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How to Be a Smart Shopper at Data Warehousing Conferences

Make no mistake about it: You can gain tremendous value from attending any type of conference or trade show, including those oriented toward data warehousing. Vendors tout and demonstrate their latest products, you get to hear real-life case studies and stories about successful data warehousing implementations, and you can gain unique insight into up-and-coming problems you’re likely to face from consultants and others.

Do your homework first

When you register for a data warehousing trade show or conference, you typically do so from a schedule on the Internet that gives you a complete list of vendors who’ll attend, consultants and other speakers who’ll give presentations, their respective topics, special sessions and seminars, and hospitality suites and other services you can use to spend more time researching your specific data warehousing needs.

Plan your entire agenda well in advance of the event. Most conferences have a number of parallel session tracks, with anywhere from two to five simultaneous lectures and presentations. After reviewing the entire agenda for each day, mark for each time block the topic that’s most interesting or pertinent to you.

In addition, mark a secondary topic, just in case the presentation you had as your primary is cancelled or you lose interest in the first five minutes — always have a back-up. Don’t be distracted by the headings given to tracks, such as systems track or OLAP track. Plan your schedule by topic.

If you’re attending an event with other people from your organization, split up whenever possible and cover as many sessions as you can.

Ask a lot of questions

Asking questions at presentations and during demonstrations at vendor booths is not only permissible, it’s also encouraged. After all, you’re there to find out as much as possible about specific techniques, experiences, and products. Don’t use your question-asking time, however, to do any of the following:

  • Show off how much you know (or think you know) about a particular subject.

  • Pointedly contradict or embarrass a speaker, especially on matters of philosophy that have no right or wrong answers and are just different ways of doing things.

  • Do or say anything that reflects negatively on your company (which probably appears prominently on your name badge).

Although these statements may seem somewhat silly, most of us have had the experience of attending a session that’s continually disrupted by an audience member who argues with the presenter and who seems to be doing little other than trying to draw attention to him- or herself. Don’t be one of those people.

Be skeptical

First and foremost, be skeptical. When you hear about “revolutionary new features,” “order-of-magnitude increases in performance over our previous product version,” or anything else that sounds a little too hype-tinged, say to yourself: “What has changed so dramatically in the past few months that suddenly the product offers all these wonderful new capabilities?”

Next, ask questions privately or in small groups, not in a large forum in which a speaker may feel defensive. If you see something that seems too good to be true during a demonstration, ask the presenter after the session is over.

If the waiting line is too long, go back later; that person, or someone else who works for that vendor, will still be there. An even better idea is to ask several people at a vendor’s booth the same question on different days and see whether you get consistent responses.

Although your questions may be somewhat general at first, try to present a specific, real-life example from your environment as the context for digging into whether a feature or capability would truly benefit your data warehousing project.

You may say something like this, for example: “We looked at Version 3.1 of your product six months ago and ran some tests against a demo copy to check on performance. Although we were okay with 250 gigabytes of data, as soon as we went above that number, volume performance was terrible, even though we had only two fact tables and four dimensions. You mentioned that response time with 500 gigabytes in the new version is as good as we used to get with 250 gigabytes. Please tell me what has changed in the new version to make performance so much better.”

Don’t get rushed into a purchase

You may be faced occasionally with a limited-time-only offer of a steep discount on a product, but only if you order before the end of the trade show.

Never buy a data warehousing product at a trade show. Okay, maybe a book or another low-priced item, but never buy a business intelligence tool, middleware product, data quality assurance tool, or an entire database management system at a trade show.

Use a conference or trade show as a fact-finding mission. Collect the glossy brochures and white papers. Take home the conference proceedings with the presentation slides, but don’t buy on impulse.

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