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The Channel Company To Launch ‘Reimagined’ Partner Event With XChange+

The conference will include 11 on-site events around the U.S. from Aug. 18-19, followed by a virtual experience on Aug. 20.

The Channel Company is debuting a “reimagined” event model for solution providers with its XChange+ conference next week, which will include in-person events around the U.S. followed by a day of virtual sessions.

XChange+ 2020 will kick off with 11 regional events across the country, attended by 12 to 15 solution provider professionals at each. The limited attendance is part of protecting the health and safety of all participants and is just one of the many precautions being taken, according to executives at The Channel Company, which is the parent company of CRN.

The regional events are set for Aug. 18 and 19, with a virtual experience to follow on Aug. 20 that’s free for solution providers.

The Channel Company normally holds its in-person XChange conference in August. But amid the COVID-19 pandemic, “we needed to reimagine our events business,” said Blaine Raddon, CEO of The Channel Company.

“We’re not just doing it from the perspective of a company in the events business. We’ve also been in the virtual event business for over a decade—helping other companies with their virtual events and doing our own,” Raddon said. “And we’ve been doing research. Those three things are informing this reimagined event structure.”

The research has involved gathering input from a broad set of solution providers, vendors, distributors and industry partners, he said. One key finding: There’s a strong interest in the market for smaller-scale regional events that require less travel, since partner satisfaction is generally higher for in-person events.

The hybrid XChange+ model is a terrific idea, said Jason Ulm, vice president of sales at Indianapolis-based Axia Technology Partners. He plans to attend the XChange+ regional event in Cincinnati next week.

“It allows you to still get the on-site piece, where you have some of that camaraderie with other peers,” Ulm said. “And you get a little bit of the national piece, where you can still watch the content.”

While most of the industry has shifted to fully virtual events, “we didn’t think that was the right model for what we do,” said Bill Jones, senior vice president and general manager of events at The Channel Company. “Our events are very personable, very relationship-oriented. So we looked at this hybrid model.”

Along with providing time for solution providers to network, the regional XChange+ events will include presentations from technology vendors—delivered by representatives who’ll either be on-site or will present over videoconferencing.

The conferencing system will include four different camera angles to help with capturing reactions in the audience. “From a presentation standpoint and a technology standpoint, we feel really good about how that interaction will work,” Jones said.

Overall, “we feel like we’ve got something a little bit different than everybody else that’s just going 100 percent digital,” Jones said. “We’re still bringing that face-to-face piece in a safe, small environment.”

Precautions for the regional events will include social distancing, temperature checks, disinfecting of public spaces, hand-sanitizing stations, and health and safety kits for each participant. Wearing a mask will be mandatory when attendees are not in their assigned seats, while the distribution of food and beverages will include procedures for physical distancing and reduced contact.

There will also be protocols in place if any participant becomes ill, and event communications will provide attendees with information about any new protocols or updates.

Vennard Wright, CIO of Herndon, Va.-based Iron Bow Technologies, No. 43 on CRN’s Solution Provider 500, said XChange+ will be his first in-person tech event since the start of the pandemic.

“I know that The Channel Company is very serious about making sure that the health and safety of their attendees is where it should be,” said Wright, who plans to attend the regional event in Reston, Va.

The big benefit of on-site events is the ability to “learn a lot in a short amount of time,” he said. “You get to hear from other technology leaders about what their challenges are and see how those map to yours. And you get to see new technologies that you might not get a chance to otherwise, and see whether they’re a good fit for your organization.”

In addition, “it helps to break up the monotony. And that’s something that has been very important for me in the past,” Wright said. “We can get so caught up in our day-to-day work lives that we really don’t see how things are changing around us. It gives me a chance to take a step back and reset, and to really make sure that I’m aligned with where the industry is headed.”

With XChange+, The Channel Company has shown itself to be “very good at pivoting” its XChange model, said Chad Hodges, executive vice president at Rancho Cordova, Calif.-based Enterprise Networking Solutions.

“I think the regional idea is brilliant,” said Hodges, who plans to attend the San Francisco event. “We still get a little bit of the human interaction that we’re all craving—while at the same time we can be very safe and use our common sense around social distancing. Then the second day is all-virtual, so it’s a blend. I’m liking it.”

Virtual Experience

For the XChange+ virtual experience on Aug. 20, solution provider attendees will be able to view keynote talks along with sessions featuring vendors and solution providers.

Featured speakers at XChange+ 2020 will include Linda Clemons, CEO of Sisterpreneur Inc. and a body language expert; author and accomplished media industry executive Michele Thornton Ghee; and Joseph Pucciarelli, group vice president and IT executive adviser for IDC.

Content from the event will continue to be made available on-demand for 90 days.

During the virtual experience, attendees will also be able to chat with peers in an online networking lounge and visit more than 40 virtual vendor booths where they can interact with the vendors and access assets such as white papers and videos.

Beyond XChange+

XChange+ is the first of three conferences that The Channel Company plans to hold using a hybrid format in the coming months.

The Midsize Enterprise Summit+ (MES+) 2020 is scheduled for Sept. 21-24, while NexGen+ 2020 will be held Oct. 19-22.

Like XChange+, those two conferences will include regional events along with a virtual experience. “Between NexGen+, XChange+ and MES+, we’re running 35 events in the next three months,” Raddon said.

With uncertainty about how soon the COVID-19 crisis could subside, “we’re moving in this direction because we’re committed to figuring out how to make the events work,” Raddon said.

Looking ahead, Raddon said he expects a continued opportunity for smaller regional events combined with a virtual component.

The Channel Company has been working to reimagine the traditional event model “not just in the time where we’ve got limitations on us from COVID, but even after COVID,” Raddon said. “What we’re learning here is going to make a big difference. Our events are going to look different. There are going to be some changes to the partner events that are out there.”

[Editor’s Note: For information on speakers and to attend the virtual event, visit the XChange+ registration page.]

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