With all the hype surrounding the coronavirus, let’s take a step back, take a breath and not give in to emotional conference mob fear-mongering
We have all read the headlines: Mobile World Congress in Barcelona has been canceled. Facebook pulled the plug on a smaller conference next month in San Fransisco. IBM Security has pulled out of RSA Conference next week. Health and safety are everyone’s concerns, but are we acting rationally regarding coronavirus?
RSA Conference (RSAC) put out an update on Friday (use that link to stay up to date on RSAC) with some great metrics on some of the risk factors and attendance numbers. It is also important to note that RSAC is expected to draw a crowd of about 50,000 visitors (some of them attending the DevOps Connect: DevSecOps Days event that we produce).
Yes, eight vendors have withdrawn from exhibiting at RSAC. Six of these were from China and frankly, given current travel restrictions, probably couldn’t get here anyway. One is from Canada and one from the U.S. (presumably that is IBM).
But should we give in to emotional conference mob fear-mongering? There is some serious clickbait nonsense being bandied about, including “RSA in Doubt After IBM Pulls out of Conference.” To be fair, the clickbait headline was updated, but still, that is just fear-mongering at its worst.
Why would IBM and the Canadian company pull out? Well, two obvious reasons. One is for the safety of their employees and their potential customers. The other is economic if they feel attendance will suffer. But while I don’t have any facts to back it up, I would have to assume that unless the event is outright canceled, vendors pulling out at this late date won’t be refunded their deposits and payments. This is true not only of their fees to RSAC but also of the money they’ve ponied up for hotels, airfare, party deposits, etc. While potential liability for unnecessarily exposing people to the virus could be a legal option, reasonable precautions are being taken. So I don’t think economics play into the decision to pull out.
As of Friday, RSAC reports that including the members of the canceled vendors, only 0.79% of attendees had canceled their attendance. I would assume that the overwhelming majority of these were attendees from Asia or other impacted regions who could not get flights here anyway. Something like 82% of attendees are from the U.S. On top of this, RSAC is taking additional precautions to keep the conference as germ-free as possible.
I was in touch with RSAC management earlier last week regarding the DevSecOps event. At that point, I was informed that they were working closely with the City of San Francisco to do everything possible. They are following CDC and WHO guidelines. BTW, CDC still says the impact here in the U.S. to coronavirus is low.
So, then, are we seeing an overreaction to coronavirus? The security industry, more than the mobile application or other tech industries, is more attuned to risk management. Are we managing this risk adequately? Are we giving in to the fear-mongers among us? The flu has killed so many thousands more people (albeit with higher infection rates), but that has never caused us to shut down conferences or question gathering in groups.
Personal health and safety is everyone’s own right and responsibility, as well as the responsibility of the authorities. Of course, you should do what you think is best for you and your family. But I think times like this call for a moment of lucidity and the use of the risk management fundamentals so many of us practice in our professional lives.
Those of you who know me personally know I am a huge Pittsburgh Steelers fan. Their coach, Mike Tomlin, has a saying that I think applies to this situation: “We don’t live in our fears, we live in our hopes.” I hope the current trend of withdrawing from our community is not one that will continue. I refuse to give in to exaggerated fears.
I do want to announce two things, though, in regard to this coronavirus situation. First, for any conference organizers who have made the decision to cancel their event for this reason (it is your event, your decision), MediaOps is offering a conference disaster program (CDP) that will allow you to use our virtual conference platform and team to take your event virtual with almost all of the features of an in-person conference.
We have produced more than 10 virtual conferences in the last year or so that have drawn tens of thousands of visitors with hundreds of sessions, exhibit halls, interactive booths, signage, live chat and more. You can go to the home page of Predict 2020, our most recent virtual event, and click “Recent Events” to get an idea here, but just a caution, registration is required. Please see our press release on this for details. It is important that the tech community continues to engage in the very important exchange of ideas, learning and community that is so vital to our success and progress.
Secondly, Accelerated Strategies Group, DevOps Institute, JumpCloud and MediaOps are hosting a survey to learn about what you and your organizations are doing in light of the coronavirus outbreak and whether this is forcing you to rethink actions and behaviors going forward—not just for attending conferences, but as part of disaster recovery and business continuity. For instance, is this situation changing your views around working remotely versus working in a large office, going to customer premises or international engagements? Help us gather the information—please take moment and head over to http://acceleratedsurvey.com to answer a few questions.
As is the mission of Accelerated Strategies, all of the research and analysis will be made available to everyone to use without registration or any payment. Because “knowledge wants to be free.” I couldn’t think of a better example of why that mission is so important.
“We appreciate being invited to support the efforts of Accelerated Strategies to learn how this global situation will impact people professionally. We know that the JumpCloud community has been impacted, so we are thankful to be able to help in a small way,” said Rajat Bhargava, co-founder and CEO of JumpCloud. “Supporting primary research into the impact of coronavirus across this community is important work, and will hopefully help shape the actions that organizations can take with their teams and business to successfully navigate the future.”
“DevOps Institute’s mission is to advance the Humans of DevOps and we are obviously concerned about the impact on the thoughts and behaviors of our global community,” said Jayne Groll, CEO of DevOps Institute. “The best way to overcome the hype and adapt to changing times is to collect and share community data.”
Finally, Mitchell Ashley, CEO of managing analyst of Accelerated Strategies Group, Groll and I sat down for a video discussion of the coronavirus discussion and the reasons behind the survey. The video appears just below. For information, we recorded this just before the news of IBM Security’s withdrawal from RSAC came out.