Thursday, February 7, 2008

The Houston Accord

The weekend before last I went to Houston where I caught up with the ITUG Board. Also in Houston were the leaders of Encompass and HP-Interex EMEA. The picture I have included is of me standing outside the HP premises in Houston (Entrance 13, in fact) as I didn’t participate in any official capacity, but I did join them for a couple of evening functions

Those of you who are regular readers of this blog may recall the posting of October 17th ’07 where I wrote about my own observations of the ITUG Summit at HPTF&E event in Las Vegas. You may recall how positive an experience I had as ITUG collaborated with HP and Encompass and how the ITUG membership really benefited from the exposure to the full HP Business Critical Server (BCS) product line – even if the scale of it proved daunting for those unprepared for all the walking involved!

Scott Healy, the ITUG Chairman, told an audience at HPTF&E that “IT shops are multiplatform today, and we all have to deal with inter-platform issues like interoperability, the integration of data, and an almost constant world of migrations”. Most companies today have a variety of servers and the need to remain well-informed on all of HP’s product roadmaps, and the community recognizes the importance of the communication that comes when the different groups collaborate like this. In the discussions that followed, HPTF&E participants talked about how the communities needed to keep pushing, trying out new ideas and developing dialogues across community boundaries, with Scott stepping adding “we can adapt with the technology, and with the industry, or hold the course and disappear over time!”

Perhaps the best comment I received, after posting that blog, came from Jimbo in his August 28th comment where he posted “I too found the recent (event) a little overwhelming. But I have to say there was a palpable energy that has been missing from recent ITUGs. I love San Jose, but this was exciting. And you very much got the feeling where HP puts value – in NonStop!!”

In Houston I found myself engaged with the boards on the topic of how to best meet the needs of such a diverse HP community, how to develop a completely new business model for support of this community, and how to provide value to HP as the primary vendor? When I joined the board of ITUG at the end of ‘99, the talk had been about the impact of becoming one of three or four user groups within Compaq. At first, it was all a bit of a shock and the competitive nature of each group surfaced. But eventually, the leadership began to talk about merging into one global organization – and like anything on this scale, the devil turned out to be in the details. There were arguments for and against, task forces were created, but the differences of opinions across the leadership proved to be a gulf that couldn’t be bridged.

So much has changed since my time on the ITUG board, that it’s a credit to the different user group organizations’ leadership that not only are they talking to each other, but they have built a multi-lane bridge across that gulf and traffic is racing across. And the dialogue that began so tentatively back in 2006 has really flourished in 2007, and we saw how successful the HPTF&E event had been and how pleased the communities had been with the results.

Buoyed by the success of the event in Las Vegas Nina Buik, the President of Encompass, and Scott began talking about the possibility of creating an even closer working relationship, and reached out to the other HP user groups. While Vivit (formerly OpenView Forum) elected to watch from the sidelines, HP-Interex EMEA decided the time was right and jumped right in!

What I found encouraging in Houston was that there wasn’t any talk about merging, but rather, the discussions were very focused on creating something new. All parties were anxious to talk about the real value that would come from such an organization and were cognizant of the many potential pitfalls they had to be wary of and needed to avoid. As the weekend concluded, each board voted to move ahead with creating this new organization and agreed that a news release needed to go out.

Barely a week later, on February 4th, it was reported by ComputerWorld that the independent Hewlett-Packard user groups were proposing to their communities that there be “a single organization with more than 50,000 members” and then quoted Scott "it's more than a merger - it's creating a new organization, and the new organization is targeting the needs of a larger community”.

On the ITWire web site, it was reported that the user groups planned “to consolidate to form a single community of users of HP enterprise products and services”. The publication then quoted Nina "our intent in pursuing this new unified organization is to bring value to the entire HP community by creating expanded user group member benefits and relevant content”.

Each community will now be voting on the creation of this new organization and my vote will be in favor of forming the new group. I have had email exchanges with a number of volunteers active with the RUG community and while the feedback has been measured, as there are some concerns, there is growing support for the plan. The success of the recent events is still very fresh in their minds and they recognize the benefits of creating a stronger, cross-platform, enterprise level user group.

According to Peter Shell, a former OzTUG President, “I think that it would be a good idea for Australia as well. They need to build up the size of the group and as it stands now … if OzTUG are to continue they really need to join up and become part of this bigger group!” Neil Barnes, Vice Chairman of BITUG, added “in retrospect we should have seen this coming. At a high management level it makes sense, sharing conference costs and logistics, it is a no-brainer … the current areas I think of that we can share are, new functionality (e.g. Linux, SOA), computer centre design, web security and non-technical areas of disaster recovery, program design etc.”

I talked with another community member from a large British bank, who told me “I only picked up on this story this morning - having now discussed it with a few ‘old hands’ here in the bank, the common reaction is that such a change is sad but inevitable”. He then added “it has to work well from day one, else the energy and direction provided by and through ITUG will start to dissipate - board level, active volunteers, down to the techie who currently strives to persuade their manager that a conference in Las Vegas really is a worthwhile investment”.

In a short exchange with those close to CTUG, it’s clear to me that they will need a little more time to discuss among themselves, as earlier efforts among the Canadian leadership weren’t that productive. And then there are the ongoing concerns I run into frequently over the commitment to the NonStop platform and whether the creation of a larger body will weaken the voice of NonStop - but I have to say here that in the end, this comes back to all of us. It’s up to us to not let that happen! On the other hand, from what I have heard coming out of SATUG, there’s a lot of enthusiasm in favor of this new organization.

Perhaps the clearest message I received came from another former RUG President who made the suggestion “that, at the very least, during your negotiations (and there will be lots of them) you ensure the ground rules are laid out at the base level so there are no surprises later. Obviously there are lots of drivers for an amalgamated group, and I saw the benefits at last years ITUG event. It’s an inevitability that the groups will join forces – just remember that the users are the ones being served!”

As we left Houston, I was reminded of how I concluded my October 17th ’07 posting “You can’t survive if you ain’t got drive ...” Last year I had said “but we have to try! We either adapt to our environment or we fade into oblivion”. And it was with the same sense of inevitability that I could see it making a whole lot of sense. The whole was definitely a lot better than the sum of the pieces. I then went on to say “we have to keep pushing, or we will cease to be relevant. Holding the course, maintaining the status quo, resisting change, never wins out. Even private clubs eventually fold and disappear.”

I kind of anticipated that something like this would develop but now that I have seen it unfold, I am very excited by it all. Yes, there is a sense of inevitability about it all. But I still have the passion, and I still enjoy working with all the stakeholders, so now I am really looking forward to embracing this far bigger user community!

And I will do my part to make sure it works well from day one!


Randall Becker said...

Great blog, Richard. Allow me to express a concern related to concerns over HP commitment to NonStop. In the effort to reorganize, rebuild, or refactor the user group structure, please be cognizant of the perception issues that might ensue. Over the past few years there have been continuing concerns over the commitment of HP to NonStop. While the public statements have been very clear that NonStop is here to stay, the reality of the concerns in customer perception that efforts are being redirected from core NonStop to NeoView, for example, cannot be ignored. I have personally experienced the perceptions of software quality reduction related to that area. In this new world of HP user groups, we have to be sensitive to customer perception, or risk losing the core values that have been built up over the past decades.

Anonymous said...

Well said Richard. I think we are at a key point in the user group lifespan where change will ensure longevity. We risk becoming irrelevant and loosing key support for our bread-and-butter platform if we continue with the way we've always done things.
I for one will support this change and look forward to being a NonStop Ambassador to a larger community. -Kelvin

Anonymous said...

Finding that a little thought has now stopped my knee from jerking, I agree that the User Groups needed to adapt so as to represent the platforms from a position of strength and thus be able to deliver value to their members.
Some issues that remain are :
- to ensure that the NonStop identity is maintained and not diluted by the other brands within the new "corporate" User Group.
- to keep those characteristics which differentiate NonStop to the forefront with Users and HP execs - we know we are niche but we are extremely good at it.
- to make sure that the new User Group is structured correctly - so that it remains in business, so that it retains some independence from HP, so that it keeps Users and ISV's in their proper - prominent - place.
Scott and the board have my support in going forward with this, as making it a success is crucial.
Richard F

Anonymous said...

The brave new world is here... try not to lose your footing!

The other day while cleaning out a closet, my wife found a large collection of old ITUG conference bags (dating back to the '80s) and the concept of 'brand recognition' struck me. Our members (both individuals and customers) associate ITUG with a whole lot more than just membership in a user group; if we can keep our brand alive within the organization (for example, 'ITUG SQL SIG' or 'ITUG SUMMIT at (new user group name) FORUM'), you could have the best of both worlds... just a thought.

All that being said, I believe this change has a great amount of value for the ITUG membership (and NonStop users at large). I encourage members to give it serious consideration.

Bill Honaker
1996 ITUG Chair