Is IMACS Worth Attending?

In yesterday’s blog, I left you all with a cliff-hanger, so to speak. I left you with the thought that I’d come back and let you know whether you should attend IMACS, yourself.

A VelQuest Meeting
What I didn’t realize, and maybe I just didn’t pick-up on this, but this meeting is not just put together by VelQuest, but is wrapped-around by VelQuest events, such as their user group meeting and demos to those people interested in the product but not yet a customer. The speakers are mainly VelQuest customers. I didn’t realize that when I first mentioned it in my blog. If you look at the list of sponsors for the event, VelQuest doesn’t insist on having their logo larger than that of their partners, so that didn’t tip me off, either.

Whether or not you care at all about the VelQuest product, we can still look at this meeting with a critical eye and question whether you can get value out of it.

One or two people I ran into asked me if this VelQuest meeting had anything to do with the SmartLabs Exchange. Let me clear up the confusion – they are not related. VelQuest’s ELN (Electronic Laboratory Notebook)/LES (Laboratory Execution System) product is called SmartLab. The event I participate in each year called the SmartLabs Exchange is run by the events organization IQPC and is an invitation-only European laboratory informatics event. While VelQuest does appear to be an ongoing sponsor of the SmartLabs Exchange, there is no relationship beyond that.

Should You Bother?
Let’s go backwards for a moment – if you’re a VelQuest user or thinking of buying their product, you need to attend this entire meeting. Those reasons I’m about to give to others to consider attending are the same reasons you need to go before you start your project.

But for those of you who aren’t remotely interested in this product, you could still get value out of this. If you’re putting a QC ELN/LES into your lab, you’re going to run into the same issues and problems that the speakers at this event talked-about.

First of all, the biggest problem we have at our conferences is that they’re full of too many “happy path” stories, and this is a complaint from customers, consultants and software vendors, equally. But the keynote talk set the tone at this event, being full of good information on how the project was done but it also included comments on problems, such as the fact that you have to leave time for rework, because you WILL have it. The next speaker went on in the same vein. So, the conference was really down-to-earth. Another problem is that conference attendees don’t like listening to sponsors and consultants speak. While I think I did say in a previous post that there wouldn’t be any of these, there were. However, they were combined into one block of time, not terribly long, and pretty focused on actual content. While some seemed like the same canned bits of information we see at most events, others were unique.

Since the user group meeting was held the night before, the talks didn’t have a lot of material on how to use the product but focused on the running the projects and the issues they faced, including comments on using wireless networks in the lab, dealing with resistance, converting to tablet technology — basically issues that are general-purpose issues. Granted, there were some talks that got a little too much “VelQuest is the greatest thing I ever saw” for the cynical me but even those talks provided good material.

Beyond the talks, the conference was quite collaborative, too. As experienced conference-goers know, the discussions you have during breaks is what really makes or breaks a conference. I got an opportunity to have many good discussions with people, both gaining and giving information. So, people were generous with their project experience and also receptive to outside ideas. I came back with a lot to think about but didn’t feel like an outsider, either. VelQuest really encouraged this, too. Should they be afraid people like me will steal all their customers away or should they promote collaborative discussions among everyone that we can all benefit from? That’s something each software vendor has to decide for themselves and VelQuest appears to have selected the former as their path.

Bottom Line
So, the question remains whether you should attend this if you don’t have and don’t plan to buy a VelQuest system. If you’ve got a QC lab and if you’re thinking about moving forward with a system or have one but want to move into more areas, such as implementing wireless technology (do-able), RFID-tagging your paper notebooks (don’t, by the way), or converting your traditional desktop PCs to tablets, I would say that this conference would be useful to you. If you are in the area of the conference, next year (it travels) and can spare a couple days, you should definitely go. If you have to travel, you should still seriously consider it.

Gloria Metrick
GeoMetrick Enterprises

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