Partnering with VFI to Organize a Great Event


IAMCP Chicagoland President John Nicolau on “The Future of Data”

As President of the Chicagoland Chapter of the International Association of Microsoft Channel Partners (IAMCP), I put a lot of emphasis on fostering peer-to-peer networking. It’s great to be able to bring tech professionals together to share best practices, discover mutual interests, and uncover business opportunities.

Of course, I also want to recruit new IAMCP members as well. The Microsoft ecosystem and our industry are stronger when partners connect with one another.

Of course, one of the best ways to bring people together is to entice them with compelling—or at least, fun—events. Like other IAMCP chapters around the country, we host product presentations by Microsoft executives, hear from experts on various business topics, or get together for a holiday social. Our events generally attract anywhere from 20 to 40 people, regulars and new faces.

A Proposal to Get Political

Late last year, I was having lunch with fellow Microsoft partner and IACMP member Rob Sterling, and he suggested IAMCP Chicagoland host a candidate forum, given that 2016 is an election year. We had never done anything like this before, but it sounded like a good idea.

In addition, I’ve known U.S. Representative Bob Dold (R-IL-10) for many years, and I thought he might be willing to participate. I reached out, and he agreed to be part of the event.

Congressman Bob Dold (R-IL-10) and blog author John Nicolau

Congressman Bob Dold (R-IL-10) and blog author John Nicolau

Now this is where things get interesting—and took a welcome, if unexpected, turn. During a conversation with Rudy Rodriguez, an IAMCP national leader, he suggested that I connect with Voices for Innovation, Microsoft’s partner advocacy program, and see if they’d be interested in helping and participating. I’d signed up for VFI at Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Conference a few years earlier, but hadn’t been involved in the organization.

I got connected with Jonathan Friebert, the director of VFI, and he enthusiastically agreed to help. Jonathan’s participation opened up new doors and greatly expanded the scope of the event. He suggested that we do a more in-depth, half-day event with keynotes and panels focused on a critical topic—big data, privacy, and cloud management—where innovation, business opportunities, and government regulation intersect. We called the event, “The Future of Data.” We still planned to have elected and appointed government officials participate, though the event was no longer a candidate forum.

Jonathan also enlisted the participation of members of Microsoft’s Chicago-based Technology and Civic Engagement team. With U.S. Rep. Bob Dold as the “anchor” participant, VFI and TCE together were able to bring together a slate of great presenters, including a University of Chicago professor, business leaders, Illinois CIO Hardik Bhatt, Chicago’s Chief Data Officer Tom Schenk, and U.S. Representative Danny Davis (D-IL-7). TCE also secured the participation of the Illinois Technology Association, which offered its TechNexus space as a venue. Ultimately, the event became a collaboration between IAMCP, Microsoft, and ITA/TechNexus, with each group providing organizing muscle and budget.

Big Turnout on a Rainy Day

On the day of the event—June 1—it rained cats and dogs. My commute was terrible, and I was worried that we’d have a big drop-off of attendees. This wasn’t the case. We had a nearly filled room, with about 100 attendees, most of whom stayed for the entire program.

The panels and presentations were illuminating and helped provide a vision of where data innovation is headed. We also heard about the headwinds of legal and regulatory uncertainty. In addition, Illinois CIO Hardik Bhatt highlighted the problems with our state’s IT services and infrastructure—no surprise there—but he also provided a glimmer of hope that progress could be made since Governor Bruce Rauner is open to change.

Illinois State CIO Hardik Bhatt

Illinois State CIO Hardik Bhatt

In the end, I think the event was professionally and personally valuable. I suspect that every attendee met someone new and benefited from the many perspectives that were shared during the program. We all become accustomed to working in our own niches, and this event broke down silos. It also illuminated how government impacts business—and how government is learning from business (and needs to learn more).

By partnering with VFI, the IAMCP Chicagoland Chapter was able to put on an event that not only provided value to our members, but also raised our profile with other tech professionals. I strongly encourage other IACMP chapters and local tech organizations to partner with VFI to add a new dimension to your programming.


A longtime tech professional and Microsoft partner, John Nicolau is President of the Chicagoland Chapter of the International Association of Microsoft Channel Partners (IAMCP). He is co-founder, partner, and VP of Business Development at ZLan Partners, a Chicagoland-based Microsoft Gold Certified Partner, with multiple competencies in both the cloud and SMB spaces.