ORLANDO, Fla., March 11, 2002 — Ask attendees from previous years what they think of Microsoft Great Plains’ Convergence conference, and these are a few of the words you’ll likely hear: Inspirational, exhilarating, invigorating.
Bringing a company’s customers, partners, resellers and employees together at a four-day conference — on technology solutions for small- and medium-sized businesses — isn’t all that unusual. But when attendees regard the event with a reverence usually reserved for family reunions and motivational retreats, that’s something special.
Wendy Zumpano of LANAC Technology, a Microsoft Great Plains Business Solutions reselling partner, says Convergence turns on its ear the image of financial software as stodgy. “You walk in, and there’s music and visuals that represent the cutting edge of technology,” she says. “It’s like a modern painting. It’s impossible to describe, except to say that it’s visually arresting.”
Karen Evans of the Chicago Board Options Exchange, a client of LANAC Technology, is equally enthusiastic. “The speeches and presentations were all interesting and very helpful,” she says. “Many of them were actually inspirational.”
Convergence 2002, the sixth annual Microsoft Great Plains customer conference, opened officially Sunday. The conference is a forum for attendees to network, learn and share their knowledge. The first Convergence in 1996 drew 100 customers; this year, approximately 3,000 attendees are expected, including 2,400 Microsoft Great Plains customers.
The Convergence 2002 agenda offers previews of new Microsoft .NET business applications and updates on the latest product features and applications, more than 70 educational sessions on professional skills, business development, technology trends and Microsoft Great Plains products, and more than 30 forums focused on solutions to inform attendees on the latest applications, customizations, vertical market solutions and hardware. Doug Burgum, senior vice president of Microsoft Great Plains Business Solutions, delivers a keynote address today.
Convergence 2002 wraps up Wednesday evening with a keynote address by Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates, followed by the Pinnacle Awards Ceremony, which will recognize more than a dozen customer achievements as well as the overall success of all Microsoft Great Plains customers.
Convergence 2002: A Larger Company Offering the Same Personalization
While this year’s Convergence is the first since Microsoft acquired Great Plains in 2001, Gary Schafer, Microsoft Great Plains vice president of existing customers, is confident that the event will retain the personal flavor for which it became known. “Customers are the most important part of our business,” he says, “and Convergence is the perfect venue for developing a better understanding of what our customers need to drive their business forward.”
Convergence 2002 includes several personalized features — hospitality suites for small group meetings, partner-hosted dinners and smaller group activities based on industry affiliation. “Convergence is a great opportunity to thank customers and recognize how important they are,” Schafer says. “They use our technology every day, and this is a golden opportunity for us to all see each other face-to-face.
“What started out as a large user group has matured into an industry event,” Shaffer says. “People aren’t here just to learn about financial management software but to develop a perspective on where the industry is going as a whole.”
The acquisition of Great Plains by Microsoft, he says, will give this year’s Convergence a new flavor. “We’re going to focus a lot on .NET, jumping from Windows to .NET, and the philosophy of the interconnected community and what it really means,” he says.
But the basics, Schafer says, remain the same. “The key differentiator is that we work with our channel to host our collective customers,” he says. “We have 2,400 customers coming to meet and mingle with the people of Microsoft Great Plains and learn about future technology.”
Schafer says knowledge sharing is still one of the main benefits that Convergence attendees take away from the conference. “By networking and learning from other businesses that are using the same technology, it’s not unusual for our customers to come away from Convergence with ideas and new knowledge that can save them up to US$20,000 per year,” he says. “There’s no way to go through Convergence and not find better ways to run your business. I’ve even challenged people to not find value by offering a refund.”
So far, Schafer hasn’t lost a dime.
An Event Unlike Any Other
Evans runs the market data service for the Chicago Board Options Exchange, which sells options pricing information. By attending last year’s Convergence, she led her company to a more efficient tracking system. “We got a lot of ideas from other users,” she says. “We got special demos of software we were thinking of purchasing. There was an entire lab set up with people standing by to make suggestions.”
The suggestions, Evans says, led to the purchase of Anyview by Accountable Software, an add-on used in conjunction with Microsoft Great Plains eEnterprise, which provides a collaborative environment for information management and sharing across Microsoft technology. LANAC Technology worked with Evans to develop a third-party system. The custom development allows Evans to easily manage, sort and analyze data.
According to Evans, what she learned at last year’s Convergence has resulted in a dramatic improvement in efficiency and accuracy when it comes to gathering, sorting and analyzing company data. With 50 different vendors and some 10,000 customers worldwide, Evans explains, improving efficiencies in data management is a considerable accomplishment.
Also, Evans now has the ability to easily sort and organize data in a way that gives her a better view of company-wide trends. “It enables us to do much better reporting,” she says. “Before, we couldn’t really tell where we were from a big-picture perspective. Now, it’s simple for us to do a comparative analysis that shows us where business is up or where it’s down.”
Last year was Evans’ first Convergence, but she says it won’t be her last.
“It was about so much more than software,” Evans says. “I learned a lot about organizational development and best practices. People gave talks on what they were doing at their companies, which were very helpful.”
She also learned a lot from interacting with other users. “People were pumped up,” she says. “It was amazing.”
Zumpano, customer sales manager at LANAC, has an equally enthusiastic response. “The event is really a reflection of Microsoft Great Plains,” says Zumpano, who’s attending her third consecutive Convergence. “Customers get a chance to see what the company and the partner channel are really like. It’s interactive. I would even say it’s exhilarating.”
Zumpano credits Convergence with building some of LANAC’s most enduring customer relationships. “The conference is one of the most powerful ways of connecting with everyone because it gives the software a personality,” she says. “The people at Microsoft Great Plains are some of the most passionate people out there. They’ve thrown themselves into building a really fabulous technology company. It’s contagious.”
The impact Convergence has on customers is equally impressive: Everyone comes out feeling rejuvenated and motivated, Zumpano says. She recalls one client telling her that the company got far more ideas than it could implement in a year. “The whole world is connected, and Microsoft Great Plains really talks about what that means to a business. It’s inspiring.”