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What’s in store at Impact 2009

A conversation with Virginia Sharma, Director of Events, IBM SOA and WebSphere

SMART SOA: Can you describe the Impact event and your audience?

Virginia Sharma
Virginia Sharma: Impact is the one event we have all year to bring together everyone interested in learning more about service oriented architecture. We had more than 6200 attendees last year, at our second Impact event, so Impact has become one of the world’s biggest SOA gatherings. One thing that is unique about Impact is the audience. Impact attracts the technical professionals, the true practitioners, who come to build their skills and hear about the latest technologies. But, we also have Information Technology (IT) executives who are very interested in the technology, especially as it demonstrates business value. And there are C-level executives and business decision makers. They want help to solve industry challenges. It is common for all three areas of a single organization to attend and learn together the value of SOA for their business.

SMART SOA: What is the nature of Impact? Can you describe what to expect for those who have not attended before.

Sharma: Our theme this year is about making an impact now to survive and thrive in this economy. It´s more important than ever for our audience to learn how to apply SOA and WebSphere technologies to make their organizations more efficient and competitive. Businesses are not interested in long, extended projects as much as projects that can demonstrate value now. We want to show them how to optimize costs and increase agility. It's not easy for people to spend a week away from work, so we want to make sure the week is well spent, and they can go back to the office with innovative ideas to make an impact on their business very quickly.

That’s why we have as many customers who speak at Impact as IBM experts. The attendees want to learn proven techniques from other similar organizations and industries who know how SOA works. Our speakers have used SOA to improve their business and do a better job of having IT support business goals. Last year Jim Haney from Harley Davidson opened the Impact conference. To paraphrase, he basically said, “this conference is for us." So, we listen to feedback from previous Impact events, and provide more of what attendees want to see.

Some people perceive that, in this economy, it is inherently too expensive to have an event in Las Vegas. However, behind all the glitz, Vegas is actually a bargain in many ways. There are plenty of flights to Vegas with reasonably priced fares, and the airport is close to the conference center. The Venetian offers a discounted hotel rate to our attendees. And, Las Vegas uniquely has the facilities and personnel to efficiently run such a large event as Impact.

SMART SOA: Maybe it would help to say what Impact is not.

Sharma: It isn’t a trade show. It’s not filled with a lot of theory. It isn’t about technology for technology’s sake. Instead, Impact provides practical information about proven solutions. The conference is centered around case studies to share the implementations that are tried and true. There are more than 400 educational track presentations, hands-on labs, and opportunities to get certifications. We have also increased the number of networking opportunities for peers to meet and exchange information. We also offer more than 80 industry sessions.

SMART SOA: What are you bringing back to Impact based on feedback from past events?

Sharma: We are going to have an “unconference” type of session again. This is a networking environment where the attendees actually define the agenda. Last year 80 business and technical leaders participated, and Jerry Cuomo, our CTO of WebSphere, facilitated. They defined what they wanted to talk about, and the session lasted for three hours. It was a very animated discussion with peers talking to peers about technology issues and business challenges, and how they tackle it for their respective businesses.

Impact has a segment geared especially for our IBM Business Partners. This is the time we honor those IBM Business Partners who have succeeded in using IBM technologies to achieve the promise of SOA for customers.

SMART SOA: What new things are planned for Impact 2009?

Sharma: Last year we used social media to survey attendees and get their feedback, as a way to learn how we can help them with their business issues. Then, we wanted to continue the conversation beyond just one event, so we set up a community for ongoing interaction at

This year we have a special focus on the blogger community, which has become a great and growing source of information and interaction. One of the Impact activities is a “Blog House” where Web bloggers can interact face-to-face.

We will also demonstrate the new version of our serious game, Innov8 v2.0, at Impact. Studies show that people learn better, and retain more, when they interact with a gaming module than when they hear a lecture. Innov8 is already in use in the curricula of 100 universities to help students learn about SOA and business process management in practical business scenarios. The new version has three new scenarios for making improvements related to green supply chain, efficient traffic flow, and call center customer service. Our business clients are eager to use Innov8 to teach employees. You can talk theoretically to a business person about SOA all you want: about how great SOA is, about how it enables agility, and helps reduce cost. But, if you can simulate a true technology implementation that shows cost savings, suddenly, it makes it very real.

SMART SOA: What keynote speakers and entertainment do you have planned for Impact?

Sharma: We’re excited that leaders from over 300 of our client organizations will speak about their SOA experiences. Our keynote speakers include Todd Ellis from Chubb Insurance, Carmen Suarez from Miami Dade County, Bostjan Robeznik from Mobitel, and Russell Irwin from Standard Life.

We will have many IBM executives on hand to speak and to interact with participants. Steve Mills, the IBM Software Group general manager, is going to speak on opening day about IBM’s smarter planet initiative that has been in the news so much lately. SOA is very much a part of being able to build a smarter planet by working smarter to optimize costs and increase agility.

Our emcee for the first day is Billy Crystal. We’re very lucky to have such an accomplished entertainer with awards across theater, film and television to share his “Service Oriented Attitude” with us. It’s going to be fun.

SMART SOA: What else should our readers know about Impact 2009?

Sharma: You can get ad-hoc education and certifications throughout the year, but at the end of the day, time is of the essence. Your ability to make an impact on your business by using and optimizing the technology that you already have has become even more important. So, if you come to Impact, you will spend five days with your peers, and with the technology at your fingertips to really learn the latest and greatest about SOA and how people are using it. It's serious education packed into a few days. The total educational value has been estimated to be over $15,000.

Our goal is for people to be able to go back and put it to use immediately. We want to help organizations yield success faster, optimize costs more effectively, drive more agility into their business, and drive better time-to-value.

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