[Linux-aus] [Announce] linux.conf.au 2014 Financials

James Polley jamezpolley at gmail.com
Sun Jun 1 19:33:50 EST 2014

On Sunday, June 1, 2014, Jessica Smith <jessica at itgrrl.com
<javascript:_e(%7B%7D,'cvml','jessica at itgrrl.com');>> wrote:

> Hi Josh,
> On Sun, Jun 1, 2014 at 11:49 AM, Joshua Hesketh <president at linux.org.au>
> wrote:
> The professional events manager handled logistics and was not involved
>> in the financial side of the event management. Without the events
>> manager it is unlikely there would have been an LCA2014. This was an
>> added expense (and a fixed one) but not an unexpected one. The council
>> knew at the time of the bid that this likely meant for a lower return on
>> the conference but was happy to take that risk on the basis that running
>> an LCA that makes less money is better than not running an LCA.
>> While an event manager is an added risk that the council will always be
>> cautious of (and weigh up on a per-bid basis), the loss came about due
>> to much lower revenue than expected. In fact, the overall expenses for
>> the event were on par with most other years.
> As part of the post-mortem on LCA2014, will there be an assessment of
> whether 1) the event manager contracted discharged their duties as
> contracted (i.e. no breach of contract for which some or all money
> paid/owing could be clawed back), and 2) whether their engagement delivered
> value for money?
> From the outside-the-tent perspective of being a participant and miniconf
> organiser, quite a lot of things that I would consider absolutely standard
> in running a sizeable event either didn't happen, happened only after much
> prodding/chasing, or happened so late in the game that it appeared as
> though they were afterthoughts that hadn't been incorporated into the
> conference plan.
> And I guess that an obvious follow-up question is to ask if a team bidding
> on running an LCA feels that the only way they can run it is to outsource a
> significant amount of the work to a commercial events manager (with the
> inevitable overheads that will generate), should the committee award them
> the bid?

I may be reading too much into this last paragraph (maybe having been
involved in the decision to choose Perth is colouring my reading) but there
seems to be an assumption here that having a bid team outsourcing work is a
bad thing. I don't know if it's what you meant or if my reading is coloured
by my personal biases, but it sounds to me as though you're suggesting that
outsourcing work indicates the team isn't sufficiently committed or

I agree that is could be one reason for outsourcing the work, and I agree
that it's something I'd be wary of if I were once again involved in
choosing a winning LCA bid. However, I don't think that's the only possible

Running an event the size of LCA is a lot of work, especially when it's a
side project to occupy what would otherwise be your leisure time. A lot of
people come out of the experience feeling that it was a great experience
and a lot of fun - but not something they're going to think about doing
again for a long, long time. This scares away potential hosts as well -
knowing that it's such a large commitment limits the number of people who
are willing to put in a bid.

I think it makes sense to outsource work wherever possible. We've seen
several bid teams get help from local tourism or convention beaureaus to
find venues and accommodation. It's normal to get in caterers to provide
food rather than have volunteers cooking at home. The recent trend has been
to outsource the AV and recordings to professional teams, which has meant
that we've had some live streaming and most videos online within days.

Given the size of the task, I think it's not surprising that some bid teams
feel that they wouldn't be able to do all the work themselves. You're right
to point out that any outsourcing comes with its own overhead, but I think
that in some cases the overheads can be justified by a better result - eg,
there's fiscal overhead in getting professionals to do the AV, but I think
that the tradeoff, having video online days later, more than justified the

If I was choosing between a small enthusiastic team who were relying on
outsourced help to make up for their small team size, and a larger less
enthusiastic team, I'd probably prefer the enthusiastic team. Obviously the
exact decision would depend on the teams - if the small team will struggle
but the large team has experience and will be able to get all the tasks
done without needing to be enthused, the larger team might be a better

If I was choosing between a small enthusiastic team who were relying on
outsourced help to make up for their small team size, and having a year
with no LCA, I'd definitely prefer the enthusiastic team. LCA and LA will
survive a conference that makes a small loss, but I'd be very worried about
either surviving a year with no conference.

(To be clear, both of these cases are hypothetical - neither of these were
the case when we chose the Perth team as the winning bid)

I don't think "should the committee award them the bid" is a useful
question on its own - I think that decision always needs to be made by
comparing the bids that are on the table. I do agree that the degree of
outsourcing is one factor that needs to be considered as part of the

> Additional oversight and a supporting sub-committee may not be enough to
> offset that fundamental risk.
I agree that merely "additional oversight and a supporting sub-committee"
alone might not be enough to offset that risk.

As I understand it though, the committee has gone beyond merely "additional
oversight and a supporting sub-committee".

As I understand it, they've taken several specific steps to make sure that
the additional oversight and support provides what is needed. The
additional oversight and support is coming from organisers of previous LCAs
- people who have run their own conference and are likely to be able to
spot missing budget items or plans that aren't likely to work. In addition,
there's tighter reporting back to the LA committee so that overruns or
missed actions are likely to be known about sooner.

Additionally, the committee has moved from announcing LCA winning bids two
years in advance, instead of just one year. Although the move predates this
announcement, I think it will also help to make future conferences run more
smoothly. The 2015 team is currently preparing the 2015 conference, while
the 2016 team are able to watch the preparation and get an early start on
the 2016 conference. By the time the 2015 conference finishes, the 2016
team will have seen an entire conference run from early planning to
completion, and so they'll be well placed to run their own conference -
watched by the 2017 team. This should give us much smoother hardcovers
between teams than we've had in the past, where next year's team don't get
confirmation that they've won until the previous team are exhausted and
looking for a break.

Overall, I think the changes mean that future conference teams will be
better prepared (having had the chance to watch a full year of prep for the
previous conference), better supported (with more direct involvement from
previous organisers) and with a tighter reporting cycle to pick up any
problems faster,

> Jessica
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