The Demandware XChange conference runs once a year in Europe and brings everyone from the community together. In a world where it is rare to find people in the same place at the same time, it's a great opportunity to meet and catch up. It is also great to see updates coming to the platform and to learn from retailers' experiences.
This year the event was held in London at the Park Plaza Westminster and what a fine venue it was. General organisation was good, staff were helpful and the food was fantastic. The break out spaces were also well-sized, the WiFi worked and the technology in general was pretty seamless. A credit to the hotel and the organisational team at Demandware as no doubt they put in a lot of hard work to make sure it went as smoothly as it did.
At any conference, it is often the simple things that make all the difference. The name badges for the conference were large and had a useful flag on them to to show country of origin. This made networking much easier as you often didn't need to ask their name as it was so easy to read. It also made it easier to spot people you've heard of but were yet to meet, so wouldn't recognise.
The event kicked off on Monday night with a partner drinks event at the hotel. This is where all the partners get together to network and bond. Partners include solution integrators like ourselves and technology partners including translation companies like Translate Media. I also happened to bump into Tom Ebling, the CEO of Demandware. This was refreshing as it can often be the case that CEOs spend their time behind closed doors at events like this. Things wrapped up about 11pm and I headed up to my hotel (near Euston). A good tip is to book your accommodation well in advance as the event fills up all the hotels in the surrounding area....as I quickly found out!
XChange also allows potential clients to come along to experience Demandware. This is useful as they can meet other retailers, get under the skin of the platform and catch up with partners like us. As a result, my day started well, with breakfast with one of these potential clients and some remarkably fluffy eggs.
What followed was a technical bootcamp; a series of sessions lasting right up until lunch. The sessions were extremely valuable, exploring the technical areas of the platform and included performance improvements and architecture. This was a great session for me. Being a techie at heart I love to know the way things tick and their philosophy and this session helped bring that to light. The platform itself is well put together. To create a system that allows a lot of flexibility to partners for what they can achieve is one thing; doing this whilst providing a scalable cloud infrastructure is quite another. The conference was still relatively quiet on this first morning as the main event kicked off just after lunch.
Then, there was a series of keynotes across the platform, finished off by Andy Harding from House of Fraser. House of Fraser is one of Demandware's leading European retailers and Andy himself was entertaining and great value. In particular, there was discussion from Andy around their internal structure changes. They are essentially dispersing across the organisation and no longer really running a full 'multi-channel' team any more. This makes a lot of sense when you think about it - how can one team operate separately to the rest of the business AND cover all channels?
The evening was a blast with everyone coming together for some food, drinks and entertainment. Partners were mixing with retailers and Demandware's internal staff and it was great to meet new parts of the community and generally get even further under the skin of everything. It was also a great chance for me to hang out with one of our current clients and have maybe one too many drinks before the night drew to a close in the early morning.
The last day of the conference was pretty packed with content. There was lots of individual sessions in the morning, which was a great mixture. On the one hand there was Demandware staff talking about the future and upgrades. On the other hand, retailers from Adidas to UGG were sharing their experiences on the platform and how they launched / got the most of it / carried out a difficult project. All great, enjoyable stuff.
After lunch, there was another set of hands-on sessions, looking at the future of the platform. Areas such as their cloud-based POS system that was recently acquired - Tomax, to the scale of the platform and what it's achieving. This was all topped off by a superb panel debate featuring two personalities in particular that stole the limelight. Martin Newman from Practicology and Ian Jindal from Internet Retailing. They had some great things to say including the very valid point of how much retailers tend to spend on a store fit-out and how that is often a lot more than their digital budgets for design and build.
My first XChange conference was a great experience. It is a very finely balanced opportunity for networking, meeting new people, catching up with old contacts and spending time with clients. That is then interspersed with very personal retailer stories, detailed updates on the platform and good 'look-aheads' to the future of the Demandware community and technology. In summary, it's an unmissable event for anyone serious about working with Demandware.