Users Embrace an Open Atmosphere at FeneTech ConferenceJune 11th, 2019 by Drew Vass
Customers of FeneTech Inc. arrived in Cleveland this week for its Annual User Conference armed with plenty of umbrellas for the pouring rain and with questions about the company’s software. Held Monday through Wednesday—a week after Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference—the annual event is no WWDC, but it might well be the equivalent for users of FeneVision, the company’s enterprise resource planning platform. This year marks the 17th time that customers have packed their bags to fly out and join the company, learning about its latest features, while gathering insights about best practices.
After a welcome reception Sunday evening and an 8 a.m. breakfast, the event’s opening session gave way to “What’s New.” In all, the event will usher in more than 20 announcements, officials said, stemming from what president and CEO Ron Crowl boasted as more than 30,000 man-hours of development.
Over the course of two and half days, the event’s discussions follow six tracks, including FeneVision Basics, FeneVision for Glass Fabricators, FeneVision for Window and Door Manufacturers, IT and Miscellaneous (topics that include everything from how to write effective queries to how to protect systems from ransomware), Best Practice and Ask the Experts—most of which include informal, open-air discussions.
The event began in 2003 with 17 attendees. These days, that many or more pack individual break-out sessions. FeneTech’s head of business development, Matt Batcha, reported that this year’s conference drew around 127 attendees, half of whom hail from the door and window industries (others from glass fabrication). Interspersed among those users are groups of FeneTech employees, dressed in brightly colored orange shirts, fielding questions and engaging in software-related conversations at every turn (think Apple’s Genius Bar). In what Batcha describes as an “open source” environment, conversations around lunch tables center on questions like, “What do you use?” and comments like, “We’ve found that …”
From a company’s perspective, the impetus for such an event might seem obvious: to cultivate customer relationships and unveil new features that officials hope will culminate in enthusiasm. But Crowl said his employees are there to do more than just lead sessions and answer questions; they’re there to plot out FeneTech’s next developments.
“We’re doing more than 80 sessions this year,” Crowl said. “From those sessions we get specific feedback that goes into our software.”
Amid each session, attendee questions are often led with, “Can you …?,” leading to a sidecar of additional requests for input. Meanwhile, speakers make no attempt at regathering attendees back to their presentations, instead encouraging them to continue those conversations. It’s those discussions that lead to about 300 suggestions per year, Crowl estimates—around 10 of which turn into actual developments.
The company is overt about its info-gathering process.
“Is it possible to do grid alignment between line items,” asked one attendee in a session about grid configuration within window systems.
“We’ve had that request a lot as well,” echoed another, before the room entered a collaborative conversation.
“Like, if I have a picture window here, and a double-hung there, and I want the grids to line up …,” began another.
“Not currently,” answered an employee. “But I’ll tell you what, I’m making a note about this,” he concluded, reaching for a pen.
“I’ll tell you what, I’ve got a hundred bucks and a case of beer for that one,” one attendee jested.
Bang for the Buck
“The good thing about this [conference] is you can ask users how to solve specific problems,” said James Harrowitz, of Interstate Windows and Doors. “In fact, I just did this in the last session.”
Harrowitz polled other users, as he weighs the option for adding a vendor price portal.
“I wasn’t sure exactly how it worked and how it dealt with quantities,” he said. “Now I understand.”
In its second day, the skies parted over Cleveland for a sunnier atmosphere. In the meantime, in the day’s opening session it was right down to one of its most anticipated announcements: the winners of a Corn Hole tournament from the night before, held at a nearby brewery. First place was claimed by Crowl (the company’s CEO) and his teammate, Brandon Crea of 310 Tempering in Jeffersontown, Ky. Crowl’s victory over customers and employees might have aroused suspicion, had he not proven his skills the night before in a very convincing fashion.
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