Limits: S4x21 Cancelled

Perhaps it’s my fault for tempting fate with the tag line “No Limits” for S4x21. We were expanding the event into a second building and relooking at every aspect of the event with new eyes and No Limits. Unfortunately there are Limits to holding an event during COVID, and our plans will have to shift to S4x22, which is scheduled for 25-27 January 2022 in Miami South Beach.

The most frequent question we’ve received over the past two months is: will S4x21 move to virtual? I said it would not back in June, yet some did not believe or understand why we wouldn’t go virtual. After all, many ICS security events have drawn large crowds and presented useful content in the past six months. There are three reasons.

1) We cannot recreate S4’s unique, creative, break you out of your status quo environment in a virtual event.

Everything we do at S4 is an attempt to put a diverse set of smart and curious people in an environment that fosters their creativity. Breaks their patterns, so the S4 tribe can invent and consider and collaborate on new ideas. This extends to our choice of venue (theater not hotel), parties and social events (cabana sessions not exhibitor hall), food, art, competitions, … and of course the content. We could move the content to a virtual conference, but little else.

While the level of effort we put on hunting down great content is huge, and the speakers were outstanding at S4x20, the sessions on the three stages are becoming a smaller percentage of the benefit of attending S4 every year. This was obvious seeing the 700+ very talented and innovative people talking and having fun at the Welcome Party, the Beer ISAC, Cabana Sessions, outside under the tent while sessions are going on, and so on.

2) The virtual conference approach is a primitive and not particularly effective use of the media.

At the start of the television age, most programs consisted of radio talent reading scripts into a microphone with little thought to how to use the video feed. Early Internet ads were banner ads similar to display ads in newspapers. It’s common to try to recreate what worked in one media in the new media, and I think this is what we are doing with virtual conferences. Can we do better than full or multi-day powerpoint presentations? I think so.

We are working on some new S4 content that will come out in 2021. One item is a weekly 45-minute show that will highlight the innovative people, ideas, and projects that could play a large role in creating the future of a secure ICS and IIoT world. More details on this and other S4 content to be announced in November.

3) I just wasn’t passionate about putting on a virtual event. (or as Derek Sivers would say it – Hell Yeah or No)

Highly experienced ICS security pro’s often ask me what they should propose to speak about at S4, because they want to get on the S4 stage. And they are capable of speaking competently on a wide variety of issues. I always answer: pick a topic you are passionate about and where you have a point of view different than most in the S4 tribe. The passion, or lack thereof, is so obvious to see onstage and in the videos.

I didn’t want to put a half-hearted effort into a virtual S4x21 because the results would show. We strive to make S4 a unique and best-in-world event, and will do so again at S4x22.

Quick note on other events – when a small group of people put on an event it is incredibly personal and a large amount of work. Cancellation rather than virtual was the right decision for S4, and most others have made a different decision that I respect and support. Every one of these small groups should do what they believe is best for their mission and their community.

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S4 Trivia: S4 began in 2007 and has occurred every year except one before this cancellation of S4x21. What year was S4 cancelled?

Hint: Watch out for 2031.