IBM virtual conference closes at cyber bar

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IBM virtual conference closes at cyber bar

As IBM's Upload 2008 virtual summit came to a close, its virtual networking lounge bustled with greetings and introductions -- some shy, and some less so.

Stir-crazy exhibitors wound down with public offers of virtual vodka, cyber cocktails and iBeers amid a playful discussion of the weather in real-world Townsville and Hobart.

But it wasn’t just an imaginary bar tab that kept conference attendees at the event, which IBM estimates to have attracted some 350 delegates during its first hour.

Attendees who had accumulated enough points by interacting with exhibitors were given the chance to win real-world prizes that include: a 40-inch Sony HD LCD TV; a Flight Centre travel voucher; and an Apple iPhone.

“My boss suggested I participate, and to be really honest, the prizes kept me here,” Chantal Lawrence, NSW IT Coordinator of national construction company Hansen Yuncken, told iTnews at the virtual lounge.

Lawrence attended the summit with a particular interest in gold sponsor VMware, in the lead up to Hansen Yuncken’s forthcoming VMware implementation.

While the presentations were good, the delivery of VMware’s seminar was a little too muted for her liking, she said.

“Vmware wasn’t brilliant; it wasn’t that I didn't like something in particular, just that it was very reserved. A little fanfare is good,” she said.

According to Mark Wilson, Director of Marketing for IBM A/NZ, the conference was three months in the making, with conference sessions filmed throughout the U.S. and Australia, and put together by a virtual project team.

IBM hoped to attract 500 customers to yesterday’s ‘live’ event and another 500 during the following three months, when the recorded presentations will be available online.

The virtual platform is expected to allow IBM to reach a wider audience across Australia and New Zealand, and connect the audience with a global network of speakers.

Using technological reporting functions, the virtual setting is expected also to help IBM to identify specific customer needs.

“Customers can network, visit exhibition stands, attend conference sessions and receive all the same benefits they would reap from attending a physical conference,” Wilson told iTnews.

Another virtual feature that was reminiscent of a physical conference was the conference centre, which bore a fortuitous resemblance to the Sydney convention centre in Darling Harbour.

While Wilson said the virtual world was not modelled on the real-world centre, IBM was ‘pleased to note’ the similarities.

“When we saw the virtual conference platform for the first time, we were pleased to note it was very similar to Sydney convention centre,” he said.

“We were keen to go ahead and use it exactly as it was as we recognised it would give the event a nice local touch,” he said.

IBM reports having received ‘many positive responses’ to the virtual environment from exhibitors to date.

One exhibitor, PK Business Advantage (PKBA), had staff attending from its office in the Northern Queensland city of Townsville.

As most real-world functions tend to be hosted in larger cities to draw sufficient customer attention, the virtual world setting was said to be ‘a lot cheaper’ for PKBA.

“PKBA is a Premier Partner with IBM and were invited to participate,” PKBA Operations Manager James McClimont told iTnews at the virtual lounge this afternoon.

“As our Townsville location has an extensive experience and history with IBM, we felt able to utilise this to provide more info about the value we can add,” he said.

While he admitted that interactions in the virtual world lacked real-world cues such as body language and vocal tones, McClimont said PKBA has managed to attract ‘a great amount’ of interest and visitors to its exhibition booth.

“It was a great concept and has been put into practice quite well,” he said. “With more Virtual Expos I'm sure the experience could be much more [successful].”

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