Over the course of the years I have had the privilege of attending and presenting at different IBM User Group events across the world and throughout all of that time there have been a couple of them that have always been rather dear to my heart. One of them is, of course, Engage and I am certain I’m not the only one thinking that way. It’s a rather special event on its own, hosted and organised by the wonderful and rather talented Theo (Lifetime IBM Champion) & Hilde, who do a pretty amazing piece of work for the overall community, so upon returning back home, after a wonderful week in Antwerp having just participated in its 9th edition, I just couldn’t help writing along some of my impressions along with different major highlights. The first one, and probably, the most important and relevant one, being how Engaged has become, by its own merit and noteworthy reputation within the community, the IBM Connect event in Europe. And that, if anything, if you ask me, is the pinnacle of any User Group event out there.

Haven´t you been at #engageug and missed Franz Walders demo of @panagenda #ApplicationInsights? Curious? Then contact us for a 1:1 session! pic.twitter.com/FRaqrRW2a1

— Arne Bergmann (@ArneBergmann) May 15, 2017

With over 400 participants from several different countries around the world (80% of which are customers and business partners) the first thing one notices is that it’s no longer a local event, but a global one. Just browsing through the live Twitter feed or the different pictures capturing the many wonderful moments is a testimony of the scale Engage has achieved in its 9th edition. In a way, it’s become the event to be, the event of the year, the event everyone is looking forward to flock to to meet old and new friends, to have some really interesting and exciting conversations between customers, business partners and IBMers around IBM’s Collaboration Solutions and overall that perfect hang-out place for a community that cares about what they do.

Speed-sponsoring has started at #engageug and @ArneBergmann is rocking it! Head on over and have a listen 😉 pic.twitter.com/dr6Roc2TVG

— panagenda (@panagenda) May 8, 2017

Of course, panagenda was there as well nicely represented by a few of my colleagues (ArneDominikFlorianFemkeHenningStoepsFranz), along with yours truly, as we participated delivering a number of different speaker presentations from the overall agenda.

However, if you look into the different highlights / reviews blog posts some folks have put together already, there are way too many really cool happenings to like about Engage itself, so I thought I would go ahead and jump in myself sharing as well what I thought about this year’s event, the 9th edition, in anticipation of the 10th anniversary since Engage first came about.

The Organisation

As you all may know already by now, putting together a face to face event can well be a rather daunting and exhaustive task. The amount of hard work, effort and energy that happen throughout the year to make it all work on the day can be, if anything, rather intimidating and overwhelming at best. There are just so many details that need to be taken care of that when you participate in specific events it’s actually those very same details that separate the good events from the great ones. And Engage is on the side of the greater ones! The pretty stunning work put together by both Theo and Hilde in making the event happen is absolutely mind-blowing. It’s the details that matter and they know exactly how to deliver on each of them time and time again. Whether you are an IBMer, or a customer or a business partner, whether you are attending the event or presenting at it, whether you are there to network, hang out, learn and converse with as many people as possible, both Theo and Hilde make it a wonderful AND overall engaged experience (pun intended!) that’s rather tough to beat. You can feel their energy throughout the two day event to the point where caring for it takes a whole new meaning altogether and I suspect it’s exactly because of this very same reason why we all love Engage so much!

Meet @panagenda at #engageug and become a lucky winner pic.twitter.com/utRbUibTx7

— Arne Bergmann (@ArneBergmann) May 9, 2017

The Networking

This is, by far, my favourite part of Engage. It gives you a unique opportunity to meet people coming together from different countries and backgrounds to talk, converse, connect and learn around the collaboration and social networking products we heart to bits from over the years. It’s all about passion. It’s probably one of the main reasons why Engage happens, i.e. people gathering from all over Europe (and other regions!) to network with one another and learn about what each of us is doing with IBM’s Collaboration Solutions to help exceed the expectations of our customers and business partners.

30 seconds ain’t long but hopefully you got a taste of what we have to offer and plenty of questions for us to answer at our booth #engageug pic.twitter.com/SOkieaJ5UH

— panagenda (@panagenda) May 8, 2017

And we did have plenty of opportunities to network last week, while in Antwerp, from the warp-sponsoring, to the speed-sponsoring, to the VIP dinner, the evening event at the Zoo (where I am not too sure whether we were observing animals or the animals themselves were observing us, because we couldn’t see a thing! haha), the extended breaks in between sessions, the roundtables, the lunches, you name it. We are a chatty bunch, I tell you, but I guess that’s what happens when the overall environment is rather welcoming and trustworthy for people to hang out and have a great time (We surely did! Even during the evening walk in the Zoo!), while we learn about what’s been happening since we last met up.

Happy to work with these 2 amazing people. You did a great job!! @theoheselmans & @hildeaerts #engageug pic.twitter.com/VSdInEdzoD

— Kristof Bruers (@kristofbruers) May 9, 2017

The Content

If you have been to different IBM User Group gatherings you will know how high the overall quality of the content is throughout the entire event. Engage was no exception with over 65 speakers, a bunch of them being IBM Champions themselves, who presented around different types of tracks, as you can see from the agenda, with some of the highlights around IBM Connections’ PINK (The next major version of IBM Connections itself), the modernisation and optimisation of Notes & Domino Apps (Where ApplicationInsights got plenty of attention, too! … W00t!), Data Analytics (First time, if I recall correctly, this theme had its own track!), IBM Watson Workspace and the overall impact of cognitive technologies on how we collaborate and share our knowledge across with Assisted Intelligence, customer stories and their own case studies as well as business partners presenting about their own solutions.

@FemkeGoedhart explains and gives a demo on ConnectionsExpert. How you can show value in your Connections environment. #engageug #panagenda pic.twitter.com/8wKdsEOOAm

— Robert vd Breemen (@rvdbreemen) May 9, 2017

Overall, a very mixed, high quality driven, in-depth agenda with topics to cater for everyone’s tastes and likes. I bet it wasn’t an easy task to put it together, but, once again, the organisation came to the rescue by providing plenty of top-notch, best-of-breed opportunities to learn about what everyone else is doing in this space. Over time, once the presentations become available, I will go ahead and update this article and link to them, so you can have a look and judge for yourselves.

While @stoeps has already taken the stage in today’s first session, @panconkun and Franz are still getting things in order 😉 #engageug pic.twitter.com/uyGyS0Rvet

— panagenda (@panagenda) May 9, 2017

The Venue

Over the course of the years I have been able to attend a number of different Engage events and if there is something that excites me every single time is how Theo manages to amaze us all successfully by coming up with some of the most remarkable, mind-boggling venues for conference events. This year was no exception as we had the privilege of experiencing the brand new Elisabeth Center Antwerp that just opened for us as their first major event since they have done it up! And WOW!!! What an amazing place. Very central and easy to reach within walking distance from Antwerp’s Centraal Station. A rather spacious and wide venue (check out the links shared earlier on for some of the snap shots some folks have been sharing already about it) with plenty of large rooms to spread around, lots of natural light, wonderful and very yummy catering, and a wi-fi connection that just works, as it should be!, throughout the entire event! In one word, beautiful setting for another amazing event! Ooh, and very welcoming, too!

The extra curricular Activities

This year’s extra-curricular activities have been really good fun and a bit puzzling altogether as well, and although I missed the one on Tuesday evening, as I had to fly out early in that same evening, the one on Monday was really interesting: walking along in the evening, in full moon, along Antwerp’s Zoo not knowing exactly whether we were the ones observing the different animals in their sleep or whether we were the ones being observed by they themselves as they noticed our lingering presence. Weird feeling, I tell you, but equally hilarious altogether because it certainly helped put things into perspective as to who observes whom out of curiosity. Ooh and the perfect setting for some totally unexpected networking with people you bumped into as you walked along, but that you could hardly see! I tell you, I won’t be forgetting that evening that easily, more than anything else as well because the dinner was incredibly good as well and rather rich for the standards of conference events. It’s the details that matter, remember? It’s all in the lovely details and the attention you pay to them…

The overall vibe

And, finally, some additional thoughts on the overall vibe. Earlier on in this article I mentioned how I feel we may have witnessed in this year’s edition how Engage is just about to pivot into becoming the IBM Connect Europe event and while the global event is trying to figure out the next phase of what it might become I had a good number of different conversations with customers, business partners and IBMers who were longing for that transition to take place because when you have got plenty of people coming along from all over Europe, as well as the US and other geographies, that’s when you realise you are just about to scale and make the jump into delivering awesomeness in a completely different way! Scale! And you know that? Next year it will be Engage’s 10th edition, and what a celebration it will certainly be if it eventually turns into IBM Connect Europe, don’t you think?

Why, you may be wondering, right? Well, because of one single key thought: that’s where the global ICS’ community of PASSIONATE USERS hangs out to learn, connect and share what they are working on!