It is hard to believe, but the 2013 Revelation Software Users’ Conference has come and gone. And much like a wedding, what takes a year or more of planning seems to flash by in just a few minutes, leaving us with happy memories and warm stories.
This year the conference was held at the Sheraton Music City Hotel, located in Nashville, Tennessee, a city renowned for its hospitality. A number of different cities had been considered as venues, but Nashville was hands down the best one we found. As attendees from around the globe began to arrive at the hotel in the days before the conference, old friends and acquaintances were met.
The conference officially began on Tuesday evening, April 16th. Starting at seven in the evening, a Welcome Reception brought the attendees together to receive their conference bag, tee shirt, badges and schedule, share a drink, and nibble on some hors d’oeuvres, while meeting with the other attendees.
The next morning we got down to business with the Conference presentations. After a tasty breakfast, the attendees meandered into the larger of the two presentation rooms for Mike Ruane’s Welcome Address.
After welcoming the attendees, highlighting the status of the company, and outlining some of the future plans for the company, Mike introduced the keynote speaker, Billy Kirsch. Billy, an award winning songwriter talked about “ ROI – Return on Imagination”. With lots of audience participation, he crafted a Revelation themed song, incorporating many of the ideas and features of Revelation Software products. While not the sort of keynote address one would normally expect at a software conference, the attendees seemed thoughtful about some of the creative ideas he expressed, and most found the session a fun way to get the conference started.
After a quick break Mike Ruane took the podium again and gave a presentation entitled “What’s New” in which he reviewed the current and future development projects going on at Revelation Software. While spending a bit of time describing the planned features for OpenInsight 10.0, or “Rev X” as some are calling it, he also spent a good deal of time encouraging the developers in the audience to enhance their mobile skills. To support this he reiterated some market research statistics; the fact that one billion (1,000,000,000) tablets and smartphones are expected to be sold by the end of 2013, and that PC sales dropped 13.9 percent in the first quarter of the year, the largest drop since numbers started being tracked in 1994.
Lunch was then held inside the courtyard of the hotel. A pleasant change from the usual tables in a multi-purpose room, the courtyard was sunny, airy, with a nice breeze. The food, served buffet style, was fantastic, with many attendees going back onto the line to get seconds of dessert.
The sessions then started two at a time. It is difficult to present all the information that we’d like to in a conference in a single track, so we need to split the conference into two parallel sessions. This works out well when there are multiple people from a company attending, or when an attendee wants to see just one of the two presentations, but difficult when one person wants to see both presentations. Hopefully, we have come up with an idea on how to rectify this for the next conference.
Carl Pates of Sprezzatura started the afternoon sessions with a presentation entitled “Revelation X: The Next Generation” where he discussed and demonstrated (where available) features of the new OpenInsight 10.0 release, due out late this year, or early next year. Presenting opposite Carl was Jared Bratu of Revelation Software with a session entitled “High Availability: Network Design for O4W Websites” in which he demonstrated practical tips and techniques for those situations where high availability access to your Revelation data is necessary.
The next pair of sessions had Bob Catalano of Revelation Software with his presentation named “The OI Console Overview”, where he discussed and showed screen shots of the new browser-based console that monitors server-based OpenInsight applications. Opposite Bob was David Goddard of Revelation Software Australia with his presentation “Source Management using Git” where he challenged the attendees to define what source was, and then proceeded to demonstrate how it could be managed nicely using Git, a free and open source distributed version control system.
After a quick break, Hank Huizinga of Megamation Systems gave a presentation entitled “Mobile Application from a Technology and Application Point of View” where he gave practical examples and lessons learned from Megamation’s creation of a full, mobile device-based O4W SaaS application that is being used by many organizations in the United States and Canada. Presenting opposite Hank was Don Bakke of SRP Computer Solutions with a talk entitled “Online Project Management: JIRA” using JIRA, a project management piece of software. These were the last two session of the day, and the attendees had some time to themselves before the evening event.
In lieu of the Vendor Fair that we have conducted at past conferences, this year we decided to have a more relaxed ‘Evening Social’. Revelation Software still provided a lavish spread of food and open bar, but instead of pipe and drape and popup booths, we provided small, more intimate tables, at a comfortable standing height, with power cords at each table. (We also provided free internet for all attendees.) We had hoped that vendors, users, developers – whoever wanted to – would get to a table, open their laptop or power up their tablet, and show some of their software. Much to our delight, this is exactly what happened. At one point your intrepid author counted nine laptops or tablets running, with groups of two or three looking in. The event ended at 9:00pm, and some attendees were kind enough to keep the hotel bar staff company for a few hours more.
Thursday morning dawned bright and warm and sunny, a good omen for how the day was going to go. After a hearty breakfast the attendees made their way to the first session of the day, an O4W training session given by Bryan Shumsky of Revelation Software entitled "O4W Programming Practices". As the primary developer of O4W, Bryan was able to describe the theory behind O4W programming, give helpful tips and techniques, and show the attendees live code and how it works. He answered numerous questions, whetting their appetites for Friday's training.
After a quick break, the next set of sessions began with a presentation from Bob Carten of Revelation Software on the “Banded Report Writer”. He first discussed the theory of the Banded Report Writer, or BRW, and how it can best be used in OpenInsight and O4W. Bob then began to give demonstrations, creating reports and sub-reports as needed. Opposite Bob, Mike Ruane of Revelation Software gave a presentation entitled “Using OpenInsight with Non-OI Data Sources”, in which he described the history and theory of the OpenInsight Connectors, and how the OpenInsight tools treats that data as native OpenInsight data. Mike then showed how to use the SQL and D3 connectors, and showed example code.
Lunch was next, in the courtyard again, and it was another lovely day. We lounged in the sun, ate tasty food, drank the house wine of the south (iced tea) and enjoyed each other’s company.
After lunch, the presentations continued. First up was Kevin Fournier from SRP Computer Solutions and his talk entitled “OI Integration with Outlook” in which he discussed some best practices and methods to have your OpenInsight application interact with Microsoft’s Outlook program. Opposite him, in his first presentation as a Revelation staff member, was David Hendershot and his presentation “Programming the OI Console”. Here, David described how the different O4W functions and calls were used to create the new OI Console, a fully browser-based application used to monitor and modify server-based OpenInsight applications. He showed the specific screens in the Console, and then described the code used to create the page.
Up next were Stefano Cavaglieri, of Fonoteca Nazionale Svizzera, who gave a talk, entitled “Speed Matters”. In this talk, Stefano showed the attendees a number of coding practices and styles that could dramatically increase the speed of their application. The results of rigorous testing, the talk was exceptionally informative to those who attended. Presenting opposite Stefano was Mike Ruane of Revelation Software. Mike’s presentation of “Converting To and Using Arev32” was designed to show those attendees who have still not converted out of Arev (or even RevG) an idea of what is involved with performing the conversion process, and how to handle expected errors, and what to do once the conversion is complete.
A short break was up next, before the final two talks of the day. This time a pair of duos were giving the presentations. On one side, Aaron Kaplan and Andrew McAuley of Sprezzatura and their talk entitled “Package Management in OpenInsight”, in which they described the theory of what packages could be described as, how they could be used, and then a demonstration of their tool to assist in the use of such packages. Opposite Aaron and Andrew were Bob Cloney, of Elite Spice, and Mary Jean Blink of VSI Technologies and their presentation entitled “Put Your Data to Work”, in which they described and demonstrated techniques for getting complex data out to the user in a useful format, in an incredibly short amount of time. The techniques were exceptionally clever, and attendees were seen busily scribbling notes. As the day’s presentations came to an end, the users had just over an hour to rest, dress and prepare for the evening’s event.
At about 6:15 in the evening the assembled attendees boarded a pair of Gray Line buses and were driven the short distance from the hotel to downtown Nashville. As we entered an area known as “The District”, full of music venues and honky tonks, we pulled up in front of the Wild Horse Saloon. This combination dance club, bar, restaurant, and concert venue had a section roped off especially for our attendees with a private bar, private buffet line filled with country specialties and our own wait staff. After some eating , drinking and talking, a dance instructor called from the stage and announced that line dancing lessons were about to begin. Surprisingly, a large number of attendees headed for the floor and began to learn the intricacies of memorizing multiple eight-counts, not stepping on your neighbor (too heavily), and trying to remember to spin to the left, or the right? For the most part, your author believes we did all right. We also discovered that two of our members are very talented dancers, especially as one spun a trail around the dance floor with one of the dance hosts and looked great doing it. As the night progressed more and more of us took our chances on the dance floor and had a great time. A few hours later the buses magically appeared at the door and whisked us back to the hotel. While a few in the crowd headed to the hotel bar, most headed back to their rooms to rest their weary feet.
Friday morning, the last day of the conference, found us at breakfast, many with their bags packed and ready to head to the airport. The penultimate presentation of the week was Bryan Shumsky’s “Building Mobile Applications with O4W”. The session turned into more of a continuation of his talk from the prior day, only there were more attendees and more questions, so it was obvious people were interested in the subject. All of the subject matter was not covered completely, so we are looking at a way of getting that content out to the attendees.
Finally, the closing remarks. Mike Ruane, thanked the attendees for coming to the conference, thanked the staff, and showed a video comprised of pictures from the week at the conference, with music including the Revelation Song written and recorded earlier in the week by Billy Kirsch. After a final thank you to Nancy Ruane, Revelation Software’s Event Coordinator, Mike bid goodbye to the attendees.
Overall, it was a very enjoyable, easy going, fun learning experience. We received many, many comments that this was the best conference they had ever attended, and we had a number of attendees who had never attended a Revelation Conference before, so we are getting new attendees. After the conference the attendees were emailed a feedback form asking them to choose the venue for the next conference from a list of cities. We will also be evaluating the results, performing due diligence on those cities, and decide on the where and when of the next conference. We hope to see you there!