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BT EXCLUSIVE

Celebrities bring star power to enterprise tech conferences

Tech companies, with a growing responsibility to educate and inspire, are splashing out to 'out-conference' one another

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Goo Goo Dolls performing at the after-party of Pure//Accelerate 2018, the annual conference organised by data storage firm Pure Storage.

Singapore

ENTERPRISE tech conferences have evolved into extravaganzas.

Once events for enterprise tech firms to showcase their products to clients, partners and the media, many of them now feature musicians, inspiring speakers, games and recreation events to create a spirited environment for attendees to learn and network. To observers, these have been costly but rewarding in helping companies "out-conference" one another.

Tan Jie Hao, chief of Singapore-based conference platform Micepad, told The Business Times: "Tech conferences today are like chicken soup for the aspiring souls. Attendees look forward to learning new trends and technologies from the talks and demos. Just knowing that there are companies creating innovative products and services can be an extremely motivating experience."

To stand out from competing events, conferences bank on musical performances and the like to foster a superior user experience, said Mr Tan.

"Like how many tech companies are now consumerising enterprise technology with great user experiences, tech conferences are being disrupted with live band performances to stand out from the rest."

Music, in particular, has become an integral part of enterprise tech conferences. Artistes would perform at after-parties or even on stage between keynote speakers. Companies have been known to fork out up to a million dollars to hire a musician. Foo Fighters, for instance, which Salesforce hired for a post-conference party in 2015, reportedly commands over US$500,000 per appearance.

This year, the San Francisco-based customer relationship management software firm will have American politician and environmentalist Al Gore and entertainer Will.i.am grace its annual conference, Dreamforce. Salesforce has also engaged heavy metal band Metallica to play at its post-conference benefit concert.

Renzo Taal, senior vice-president for Asia-Pacific at Salesforce, said: "While we encourage our Trailblazers to have fun, these events are also opportunities for Salesforce to educate and give back to the community."

Trailblazers are employees, partners and customers of Salesforce. According to Mr Taal, Dreamforce was launched in 2003 as a platform to foster communication, collaboration and innovation among Salesforce's customers, developers and partners.

"Since then, it has evolved to become much more. Dreamforce is a celebration of innovation. Trailblazers can expect to experience new technologies first hand and be part of the conversation on how leading companies are redefining tomorrow."

Pure Storage, a US data storage firm, had Goo Goo Dolls sing at the after-party of its annual conference, Pure//Accelerate, this year. David Wirt, vice-president for South-east Asia and Greater China at Pure, told BT: "Music is so central to us as humans ... it plays a key role in setting the appropriate mood and pumping energy where needed."

 

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Oracle, which snagged The Chainsmokers and Ellie Goulding for its after-party last year, believes that music enlivens its annual conference, Oracle OpenWorld. The software firm had promoted last year's acts by saying: "Enjoy a night of fun and dancing at AT&T Park. What better way to wrap up OpenWorld than with your colleagues, under the stars, with two of today's top entertainers."

VMware, the cloud infrastructure firm whose annual conference is VMworld, booked Royal Machines, Macy Gray and Fred Durst for its post-conference party this year. But what reportedly stole the show at VMworld last month was Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, who was a special speaker at the conference.

Sanjay Deshmukh, VMware's vice- president for South-east Asia and Korea, said: "As a tech company, harnessing the power of tech as a force for good is not just an opportunity to us. It is an obligation. Malala - a Pakistani activist for girls' education, Oxford student, and the youngest person ever awarded the Nobel Peace Prize - is an inspiration.

"As an organisation committed to leading the industry in innovating to solve some of the toughest challenges of our time, we were honored to have Malala take the stage."

Alibaba - which said earlier this week that CEO Daniel Zhang would succeed Jack Ma as chairman of the board in a year's time - invites what it calls "key opinion leaders" (KOLs) to its various tech conferences yearly.

The 2017 Global Netrepreneur Conference, for instance, featured Zhang Dayi, an Internet celebrity and influential business owner on Alibaba's e-commerce site, Taobao.

An Alibaba spokesman said: "KOLs have a good following because of their talents, skills or their contributions, and have valuable life experiences to share with our attendees. Some of these influencers found success through our platforms ... and we hope they will inspire others."

He added that Alibaba's conferences (which also include The Computing Conference and Alibaba Cloud Summit) facilitate knowledge exchange and serve as touchpoints with stakeholders and the broader market.

"They ensure we retain an innovative mindset and push one another to think bigger every day," he said.

That such conferences are increasingly showered with celebrity and pomp is a result of the growing responsibility of tech companies to educate and inspire, said Micepad's Mr Tan, who noted that the world's top five companies by market capitalisation are all tech companies: Apple, Amazon, Alphabet (Google), Microsoft and Facebook.

"With their amount of money and impact on the economy, there is an indispensable responsibility to educate and inspire all to a better future. Many of these tech giants have, arguably, a bigger influence than some governments in the world."

Pure's Mr Wirt added that for the world to progress together, education "has to come" from tech companies, which are at the forefront of these technological developments.

"As we continue to push forward in a world governed by data, tech companies play a role in empowering other organisations to make sense of all these data; recognise and appreciate the importance of adopting new innovations; and understand how to leverage these technologies to create value for their organisations."