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I have been going to IBF events for the past dozen or so years, attending at least one of their forecasting best-practice conferences annually. I also attend their Best of the Best S&OP conference, co-produced with APICS in Chicago each June. So as I sit in a hotel lobby at 4:30 a.m., with a few moments to spare while awaiting a cab to take me to the airport, , I ponder my involvement in these events and think about why IBF conferences have become so important to me.

I could offer a lot of typical pabulum—I am here to learn, to sharpen the axe, to network. I joke with family and friends that these events are math-nerd fests, knowing that the statement is more than just a little true. Sometimes the conferences feel like group therapy, with like-minded colleagues commiserating over the difficulties of planning demand—but that too represents only a small slice of why these gatherings are important to me.

I come to these IBF events because they offer a sense of community. Yep, community. This year I came to see Jeff Marthins from Tastykake win the excellence in forecasting award. I come so that I can carve out time to talk with Dr. Jain about some topic or other; this year it was portfolio management and S&OP. I come to banter with Charles Chase from SAS about the importance of POS data when planning. Or to hear Jason Breault or Andrea Atwell speak on talent shortages in the demand-planning space. Or to listen as Ann Omrod from John Galt shares her thoughts with me about forecastability.

Of course I come to learn from others. This year I was thoroughly impressed by Sara Park from Coca-Cola—who spoke about Coke’s S&OP journey. (Having worked in the beverage industry I feel her pain.) I sit and listen to the various ways that others explain demand planning, S&OP, or other topics, looking for nuggets, new insights, and different perspectives. I am always seeking out a better turn of phrase, or metaphor, or graphic to help explain complex processes. Best of all, I always learn something, and I always come away with fodder for new articles. For me, these conferences ignite a hundred ideas.
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As a former IT wonk, I also thoroughly enjoy meeting with the software vendors, some almost overly eager to show off their wares. I coach them on how to sell S&OP applications (most of them do not understand the process), and I patiently listen to the typical sales pitches that are the precursors to the meaty demos I am seeking. For the first time in a long time I liked a lot of the software I saw during this latest conference cycle. It is nice to see the functionality of the S&OP application set grow.

In exchange for admission to these conferences, I often present some topic that has caught my attention, usually the subject of a recent JBF article I have written. Developing such content helps offset the boredom that naturally occurs after working someplace—anyplace—for almost a decade. It stimulates my intellectual and creative soul. Most recently I spoke about the top ten topics that spark the most controversy in S&OP and demand planning. It was fun. The real payout for me is  always the thoughtful, intelligent, and challenging questions that follow.

Most importantly, I come to see my friends in the field: the Big Galluc, Alan, Anish, Steph. I come to see the icons I admire for their body of work: Larry Lapide, Mark Covas, Dr Jain, Charles Chase. I come to meet new people and old friends as we share the trials and tribulations of working as demand planners or S&OP leads. I keep coming back for the IBF community. It is not the topics that draw me,  but the good-hearted people eager to share who make me want to come back for more.