Kalido Virtual Conference Scores Big

I’ve been critical of virtual conferences in the past, but I just saw the future, and it works. Kalido, a relatively small vendor, has demonstrated that careful preparation, serious commitment, and the right team can allow smaller firms to “punch above their weight,” putting on an event that captures great leads, promotes and sustains community, collects requirements for future product development in a participatory model, and satisfies partners with an event that costs a fraction of the in-person kind.  If you’re not familiar with Kalido, they deliver what they like to call a fully governed data warehouse, a suite of modeling, governance (including MDM) and model-driven DW automation tools that have been adopted by over 85 enterprise customers.
With 275 implementations in 100 countries, Kalido is on a roll, doubling their sales in the past year, and seeing 95% customer retention. At this event they made some important announcements, including a strong push around Kona, the DW and BI appliance they are delivering in partnership with Netezza.  At the conference, Kalido announced support for more complex models, a new MDM interface, substantial performance boosts and more. For my money, the most interesting part of the announcements was the substantial empowerment of business users in their collaboration environment. Breaking down the barriers between business and IT is a key part of the challenge companies face, and a key part of the Kalido product. In this version users can submit change requests directly to the data stewards, and the licensing and architecture are all designed to facilitate that dialogue.
But in this post, I’d like to talk about the power of social media for marketing, as exemplified by a truly effective event: the 2009 Kalido Virtual Connect Conference. Its content, though not its live interaction, is still available online here (registration required), and I encourage you to check it out if you are interested in either Kalido’s products or how events like this can work for you. Be warned: this post is a bit long – another thousand words to go.

Since I follow Kalido’s space as an analyst, this was a good opportunity for me to see how the company delivers the story. It’s not obvious, but analysts live in a rarefied environment – we are briefed by specialists, who are managed by specialists, and both communities can fall prey to the whiteboard disease: we both think once we’ve done the powerpoints, or sketched at the board, that it’s done. Nothing is further from the truth. It all happens where the customer comes in contact with the message – and analysts don’t see that nearly enough.

Kalido Connect let me hear the company deliver its message to prospects and customers – and hear the questions they were asked, see how they were responded to, and to participate. This is a triple play that in some ways improved on what I’m able to do at an in-person event, where analysts are often segregated into their own sessions, and conversations are more private.

But that’s just my parochial view. Let’s look at it from the marketer’s side. Mary Wells, Kalido’s VP of Marketing, was kind enough to share some information with me about the event, the process, the commitment and the results. Let’s start with the high points: Kalido Connect had more than 5x the number of attendees the live event had last year, and drew from a dozen countries, which would have been far less likely if travel and lodging expenses were needed. InXpo provided the technology, and if you’ve seen virtual events before, most of the visuals looked similar to others, as you can see in the screenshot above. Here’s my brief narrative about the experience:

The first attraction was the CEO keynote. Bill Hewitt, in front of a green-screened background that showed pictures of familiar cities worldwide, told the usual customer stories, and highlighted how Kalido is now delivering average first deployments in less than 6 months. He made the company vision and mission clear, as CEOs should do: Data Governance is getting attention; it’s a fundamental cross-enterprise process; most businesses struggle with quality because they don’t know the business context of data. Kalido is focused on 4 key issues: adoption, enforcement (hence effectiveness), accountability, and ROI. It’s a well-told story, and Bill was energetic and crisp, so that it didn’t feel canned. A key decision was to have him live, not recorded. It was personal and engaged, and doing live Q&A set a great tone.

From the keynote, I wandered off into the exhibit hall, where booths were set up by partners. (Mary Wells tells me that because costs were lower, Kalido was able to charge sponsors less, and the slots filled much quicker.)  As I went from place to place, the screen showed me who was present – everyone sets up a profile when they register. The screen highlighted the ones who were there, and showed others even though they were not “present” at the time – an improvement over the “real thing,” since I could read bios and decide who I wanted to talk to, even if they were not available.

And often, people were in fact available, even if they weren’t “in the booth.” If I wanted to chat with them, I clicked and we could talk one-on-one when they were ready – later if they were occupied. And exchange business cards (vcards), which I could directly import into my Gmail contacts. I could “see” the booth people, but they didn’t see me until I engaged – one vendor commented that “we can’t grab people as they go past, so it is very dependent on attendees responding.” You may be happy with that – I was. I chose when to engage. And at “real” shows, it’s not really that much different. And, as another partner told me, “I didn’t have to get on a plane and stand in a booth all day – and I still had tons of quality conversations.”

Each booth had a literature stand; I chose documents here and there and dropped them into my briefcase, which I later downloaded all at once as a zip file in a single click. That was even better than the “real show” experience – saved a lot of trees, and I didn’t leave several pounds of stuff in my hotel room when I packed to leave.

The system alerted me via a screen-bottom crawl that a product session was starting, so I headed over there. Another good session, more slide-based, but the demo didn’t work – desktop sharing  did not show. I contacted the Kalido techs at their booth (while keeping the presentation going – try bilocating yourself at your next show. It’s hard.) The slides came back on, overlaid with a “tech difficulties” message. This was the only real technology glitch I experienced, and the demo is visible in the recorded replay. I attended some other sessions, interviewed a few people in the networking center, eavesdropped in a few chat rooms, and eventually exited. Overall, I accomplished almost everything I would hope to at a conference, from the comfort of my office – and since it began at 6AM my time, that was a real blessing.

What’s Kalido’s take on how it all went? It was Mary’s project, so I interviewed her a day or two later. Mary’s career in marketing (through several large and small IT firms) has been mostly about running field execution, and that served her well in preparing for this event. “We had serious commitment from the team,” she says – “everyone needed to be ‘present’ for it work well.” Not so different from an in-person event after all. My experience confirmed that everyone from CEO Bill Hewitt down had cleared their calendars and was available to interact. As I went by booths and saw the chatter, I could see, for example, that Bill had “dropped by” to thank the partners for being there. A nice touch. How does Mary feel it went?

We’re still on a high – it exceeded our expectations. Of course it’s an apples to oranges comparison. But the quality of the leads was there – and rather than one or two people, I got entire teams from prospects engaging with us. I also asked our field people to go to a site and host a Kalido day there – everybody did so. Immediate flash numbers are 5x what we had last year, at one-fifth the cost. We expect significant results from the show.”

The Infoshare session is always one of the most popular – it’s about facilitated requirements gathering. Typical user group idea, where a vendor discusses needs with customers, and reports on which features from last years’ session got into this release. Groups form and break off, bring reports it back, and everyone votes.  In the Virtual Conference, this meant 4 chat rooms, audio support, people popping in and out. Over a hundred people participated and were polled for rankings of the resulting list. The team considered it a resounding success.

There you have it. A lengthy post, longer than most. Hope you found it interesting – I wanted it to be a bit more personal because it was about personal experience – but also tried to capture how the vendor felt about the value. Kalido has found a model that works. I expect to see others take advantage of thus experience and continue to develop the ideas – virtual is effective, low cost – and very cool.

Published by Merv Adrian

Independent information technology market analyst and consultant, 40 years of industry experience, covering software in and around the data management space.

12 thoughts on “Kalido Virtual Conference Scores Big

  1. Merv, where you using headphones (headset/mike) to interract with this virtual system? How about multiple screens? Necessity or “nice to have”?

    I believe they used InXpo’s platform right? Any idea what the cost structure is like to set something up like this?


  2. I was just using my “iDell” system – the XPS. It has a camera, and I use a headset for skype, but none of that was in play. In the future, I think we all will. For now, that was not a barrier, although it would have been fun.
    It was InXpo, and I don’t know the cost – although Kalido told me it cost 1/5 of what the physical event would have. (and that’s direct costs; no T&E was modeled, and of course, the customer/partner T%E is also saved and they wouldn’t count that.)

  3. Merv,

    How much time did you spend “in” the conference? Was it contiguous or did you mix it in with other unrelated work items? I guess it boils down to were you engaged for the full length of the conference?


  4. Alan, I started at 6 AM (arrgghhhh.) Was on till late morning – attended keynote and two other presentations and spent time talking in the networking lounge, visited vendor booths. I treated it like a real conference – tweeted a bit, checked email, like I often do in presentations. The latter part of the day was practitioner-oriented stuff I wouldn’t have attended if I were there. I behave like that at similar events when I’m present. Hope that helps.

  5. Merv,

    That sort of helps. For me, one of the benefits of going to a conference is getting away from the day-to-day distractions. Spending the day focusing on just one thing. From my office, I can barely concentrate for a 30 minute webinar. Maybe I’m ADD.

    I’ve only tried one Virtual Conference so I don’t have much experience with them. I guess it requires a little “social engineering” on the attendee side. I’m going to have to go back and try again.

  6. Jerome,

    Even more distractions there, but you make a very good point. Much cheaper to sit in an Internet cafe around the corner for a few hours than to hop on a plane and pay for a hotel room et al. Or maybe it’s just a matter of closing the office door and pressing the “Do Not Disturb” button on my phone. That’s what I mean by social engineering for the attendees.

    There might be a blog in there somewhere: “How to effectively attend a Virtual Conference.” Merv?

  7. Merv, we really appreciate you taking the time to share your insights on the conference- I agree that proper preparation is the key- one way to remember that point is that your customers expect – and deserve – nothing less than your best effort- and we know we have to earn their business every day.

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