As a global consulting firm, it’s well understood that InterWorks employs a large number of consultants who are scattered to the winds. Whether it’s in the Bay Area, New York, Chicago or even across the pond in Europe, our reach is broad and only growing broader. This is great for several strategic reasons, but it does present some challenges when it comes to collaboration. Fortunately, communication tools like Slack make it easy to stay in touch, but several of our road warriors rarely get face-to-face time with fellow employees. That in-person connection is very much needed.

We’ve become much more mindful of this in recent years as we continue to grow our company at a faster clip than ever before, which has spurred conversations on how to bring people together on a regular basis. Moreover, it’s led to a bigger conversation on how we bring our people together for a long enough period of time for effective collaboration, planning and just plain networking. We’ve started doing this among individual teams with quarterly team meetups, but that’s still not enough and certainly doesn’t cover the entire data practice.

The Invention of the InterWorks BI Summit

To solve our issue of getting everyone in the same room, at least on the data side of our business, we had an idea back in mid-2015. Why not fly everyone into one of our main hubs in Oklahoma for a day-long meeting of the minds? The event could be entirely focused on sessions and workshops on how we want to improve our data practice and ourselves. Of course, this event needed an impressive name, and what’s more impressive than reaching, say, the summit of a mountain? Hence, the InterWorks BI Summit was born.

Fast forward to just two weeks ago, and the third annual InterWorks BI Summit in Downtown Oklahoma City was officially underway. This time, we gathered 70+ people together for TWO days, and those two days conveniently led up to our annual holiday party.

InterWorks BI Summit 2016

Above: The InterWorks crew posing for a group pic at this year's BI Summit.

Can Marketing Tag Along?

While the annual BI Summit is planned with our consultants in mind, other groups like Marketing, Sales and Operations saw a lot of value in attending, as well. On the Marketing side, attending such an event is particularly interesting because it provides the opportunity for us to learn about our overarching data strategy much more in depth. As mentioned before, it also allows us valuable face time with our consultants, many of whom we haven’t had the chance to meet in person yet.

The Structure

The biggest change from this year vs. last was the addition of another day to the BI Summit. Last year, it was a one-day whirlwind jammed with select sessions and the obligatory keynote speeches from leadership. All in all, it was a lot to process in such a short time. The addition of an extra day allowed for a little more breathing room and wider variety of sessions from each functional area of our data practice. It also helps that we had the benefit of learning what worked and what didn’t from the previous year.

We also made a bigger push to be more intentional (which happened to be THE word of the Summit) in our planning this year. Brittany Dunn, Tobiah McConnell, Ken McBride, James Wright, Cody Crouch (who also spent considerable time gathering material for an upcoming PYD feature) and countless others put in hours of work to make this year’s BI Summit truly impactful. Adding to their efforts, we had dozens of session and workshop leaders from across the company who put together some great stuff while simultaneously killing it with their day-to-day work. It was indeed a group effort.

The Sessions

So, what does InterWorks talk about in these BI Summit sessions and workshops? Well, we can’t divulge ALL of our secrets, but we can tell you that we talked about, well, everything. We discussed what our upcoming strategy was for the BI practice across the board, what geos we planned on beefing up, how we planned on growing in those markets and how we planned on growing specific offerings.

Each niche was well represented, including integration, data integration, training and enablement, advanced analytics, and visual analytics to name a few. This variety of sessions from different sub-practices helped further illustrate the wide spectrum of services and solutions offered by InterWorks. It’s always amazing to see how much we really do in so many facets vs. just hearing about it.

Derrick Austin presenting Tableau portals

Above: Integration Practice Lead Derrick Austin sharing new developments with our Portals for Tableau.

It wasn’t all talk of growth and strategy. Many sessions focused on building awareness around offerings such as portals or Power Tools for Tableau. Other sessions focused on things as wide ranging as internal analytics, process improvement, professional development and even personal branding development (the latter being a session presented by yours truly). There was something for everyone, and our employees were given the freedom to choose among the sessions that piqued their interest.

The Keynotes

It wouldn’t be a large gathering without some keynote speeches, and ours included both broad strategy and specific niches. James Wright and other spoke about our BI strategy on a macro level, but we also had some show-and-tell of cool projects going on at InterWorks. These examples allowed individuals to showcase their work while educating others on what’s possible when we collaborate. As keynotes should, these presentations unified our focus for the coming year.

A big theme in this year’s keynotes was intentionality. We’ve long been a company that can do it all and adapt to any situation, and we will certainly remain that way in some respects, but we’re thinking more and more on the why vs. the what. By being more intentional in the work that we do and educating everyone on why we do it, we’ll be able to do even more of the work that we love while also having a greater impact on our clients. That’s what InterWorks was founded on, so it makes a lot of sense.

Extra-Curricular Activities

This was the fun part. We absolutely love what we do, but sometimes it’s nice just to hang out with your coworkers. We had several opportunities to do this throughout the Summit, mainly in the form of two big dinners.

The first big dinner involved everyone, and we all spent time talking about things outside of work over a few drinks. The second dinner was team-focused. Each team went to their own fancy restaurant to have a little more personalized time with the people they work most closely with. For us on the Marketing Team, we had the choice to individually have dinner with whichever team we chose. Clinton Fields and I chose to have dinner with out training and enablement team, and it was an absolute blast to get to know these people better. 

Outside of the dinners, we also had a “Martinis with Marketing” hour, giving everyone the chance to network with Marketing specifically. We talked about ideas, each other and hodge-podge of other things. The point was simply to connect, and it was a big success.Other than that, big groups of people inevitably went out for drinks each night after dinner. A good number of us even hung around a piano bar, where some of our musically talented team members took the stage to deliver riveting performances to say the least. Overall, it was great to just be people and not think about business the entire time.

InterWorks Sales and Dev

Above: Members of the Sales and Power Tools teams in their natural states.

What Does It All Mean?!

The value we gain from holding an event like the BI Summit is immense. On a corporate level, we see the value of bringing everyone together to get on common ground and reset our focus for the coming year. Individually, this value is dependent on the person.

We’d like to think that most folks on our team learned something new or forged a connection that wasn’t there before. That in itself is worth the effort. At the very least, they had the opportunity to spend quality time with their coworkers. Those of us in dedicated offices at InterWorks take this for granted, but our remote workers truly treasure it. From the sound of it, they definitely make the most of that time, as well.

The point is that bringing people together is never a bad idea, and we plan to keep on doing it bigger and better each year. It ties directly into our core mantra of “Best Work. Best Clients. Best People.” After all, the best people only get better together.