Despite having held senior IT leadership roles in multinational organisations for almost two decades this week was the first time I have attended a Gartner Symposium. Having invested the time and taken a little time to reflect, here are my thoughts on the event in Barcelona.

Venue

The venue itself was huge. However once I had my bearings it was relatively straight forward and easy to find where you needed to be. The proximity from the airport to the city centre made it a good choice also. The fact that flights to the city were plentiful and all the budget airlines and hotels made getting to the event for me more economical to attend this event in Barcelona than an event in London for me. Security was a concern, particularly with the current political situation over there. It was apparent security was in a high state, however despite their being some protests going off in the city at no point did I feel unsafe.

Sessions

When researching the event several more experienced attendees advised not to book too many sessions and just focus on two or three a day. I think many of the topics were fairly common to what you see on the London event scene, however sheer number of sessions and topics to choose from was the key difference. I tried to select based on current issues around culture/leadership and upcoming technology, or technology I wanted to understand better. The Gartner mobile app and online events navigator are both excellent tools summarising all the event details and allowing a chance to review and plan the agenda well in advance. Of particular use is the ability to download content from any session whether attending or not.

Three sessions worth mentioning which I attended were:

Relevant to my current issues, I selected A CIO Decision Framework for Centralisation and Decentralisation, by Tina Nunno. This was really valuable for me and certainly thought provoking with regards how different approaches may be required in different types of organisations. The material will be useful to share as we start thinking about the approach within our group.

For culture leadership I selected Fire Yourself as CIO and Hire Yourself as Digital Business Leader, by Graham P. Waller. Again very useful and I will reflect more on the content of this one over the coming weeks. Although I'm not too sure how many people have the privilege of firing and rehiring themselves, but I get the concept...

With regards for technology I went for To the Point: Blockchain and IoT - Immature but Transformational by Nick Jones. I definitively need to look at the content again to try and get my head round it. Some of my peers felt the same.

General feedback on all the sessions I attended were that the people that deliver are ultimate professionals at what they do. They clearly have in depth understanding of the topics they are presenting on, and despite the odd technical issue in some sessions their ability to deliver every time on schedule is impressive.

The keynotes in the huge auditorium were worth taking the time to see, and the fact that they beamed them out across the venue was useful for those who didn't want to queue for the auditorium each time.

Gartner analyst one-on-ones

I only had one formal analyst meeting with Remi Gulzar, this was to discuss Digital Business. Specifically for me how we can use IoT to improve productivity and HSE performance (health and safety). This was a good session discussing some of the challenges and barriers in our sector, with Remi able to provide some potential case studies in similar sectors. The time also naturally flowed on to some potential issues around security and GDPR considerations.

I arranged an informal meeting with David Redpath who is a relatively new Executive Partner at Gartner. David and I have been connected for many years and had various calls but never met face to face. Despite being a peer in at a competitor for several years we were able to provide advice to each on several occasions. We had a really useful catch-up also, which again shows the value of the sheers volume of connections at the event.

Gartner ITXpo, exhibition and suppliers

The exhibition hall was full of predominantly large global suppliers. Most of our global providers were there and one or two organisations who are looking to work with us. So having the potential to chat to these organisations was useful. However, this element would not be the main selling point from my perspective by any means. Having the delegates directed here between 5pm and 7pm however was a good idea to get most people in the same location.

Networking opportunities

The biggest value for me when attending any event similar to this the benefits from peer networking.

I specifically have two approaches. The first is to seek out peers from similar sectors. As expected there were a number of CIOs and IT directors from our sector. Many already in my network and individuals I know and have had various discussions with previously. Several of us made time to meet up and catch up on current issues. The potential value being discussions started about having a formal peer group to meet more regularly and discuss common objectives. It was clear there are many example of where these exist. What did surprise me is the size of some of the delegations that went out from some of the organisations in the sector.

The second approach is to network with as many peers from other sectors and discuss their objectives. Understanding different sectors can be really useful and where their objectives differ (or more often than not, don't), but potentially being introduced to different approaches or solutions. I arranged various networking meetings, generally with people I knew of but not really had a good chance to sit down and have a proper chat with. These included CIOs from public sector organisations, insurance, global sporting brands, retail and others. Hopefully resulting in some useful relationships for the future.

Final thought

All in all I would compare the experience to a few days as a tourist in New York. Despite having been there from Sunday afternoon until Thursday morning and feeling like I crammed as much as possible into very long days, I still come away feeling there was so much more to do and see and feel like I want to go back!

Thanks to the Gartner team, specifically Sian O'Hanlon, Christopher Parr, Ian Whiteside and Paul Richards.

Dave Jones is CIO at energy services company Cape which has recently become part of the Altrad group, and is a member of the 2017 CIO 100. These are his personal thoughts and views, and not necessarily shared by his organisation