Monday, April 21, 2008

We all have opinions!

This morning I have woken to a mild spring morning in Vienna, Austria. The picture I have included here is of me watching chocolate tortes being made at the Demel coffee house, where I had a late morning breakfast of coffee and tortes. Joining me for breakfast was Ron Beauchamp of ACI Worldwide. I had caught up with Ron the night before, immediately after arriving in Vienna, and we had gone to the old town surrounding St Stephan’s Cathedral, for Vienna Schnitzel at a local cafĂ©, the Figlmuller. Vienna has some great cafes and coffee shops, so we wanted to try them as soon as we could, as we knew we would have little spare time for the rest of the week.

Ron and I are in Vienna for the European BASE24 User Group (EBUG) event. This year’s agenda has taken a completely new look, and I will be very interested in how it proceeds, and in the general mood of the community now that ACI has moved away from HP and aligned itself strategically with IBM. There’s no escaping the fact that this holds enormous repercussions for all of us as ACI has been the largest ISV in the NonStop marketplace and any shift away from the platform will have lasting impact on all of us. While sources tell me that even though ACI and HP have sold a couple of new systems here, in EMEA, after the announcement, IBM will prove to be formidable presence in what has been traditionally a NonStop marketplace.

I have participated in a number of user group meetings this year – from SATUG early in the year, to RMTUG in Denver, and most recently, DUST in Phoenix. And I have had a number of email exchanges with BASE24 users as well as with HP. And the message I am getting is not all that bad, certainly not a tale of doom and gloom with skilled NonStop managers looking for the exit signs. The old BASE24 product may have been heading for the scrap heap for some time – ACI’s decision to sunset it shouldn’t surprise anyone. The small detail hidden in the fine print, and missed by many, is that BASE24eps, the main cross-platform product from ACI, will be fully supported on NonStop. Migration to the new product will not be easy, and I have concerns about the strategy ACI is pursuing, but they do have a plan and they have a group – the Migration Factory – that is tasked with helping customers through any transition problems. When you put all the posturing to one side, there’s no question in my mind that ACI was not about to kill off their golden goose and do want to continue working with HP.

It’s perhaps a coincidence, but while these announcements by ACI were going on, and grabbing the headlines, ACI was also quietly introducing a new online network – the ACI Forum. I briefly touched on this in my blog of January 9, 2008 “I got my new horizons!” While I noted back then that it was very early days, I have to say that it is beginning to attract a readership, and while it’s a place ACI users will be able to ask questions and to seek input from their peers, I expect it will also become a place where these users will
express their opinions.

Among my readers, it’s widely known of how valuable I view social networks, and blogs like this one are just one example of social networking. ACI themselves see the ACI Forum not so much as a social network, but a tool at the business level. By this, ACI acknowledge that with a managed set of users, it is very focused on providing support for their customers. It is not open to everyone, and all postings will be monitored. But even with this, I have been reading comments and have provided a couple of postings.

Whether open or closed, social networking has made enormous inroads to the way most of us maintain our awareness of what’s happening across the industry. There’s no shortage of writers willing to express their opinion on a wide variety of topics. The ACI Forum, I am hoping, could become a place where the ACI community engages ACI product and business managers on all aspects of their strategy, and where all of their users can go for the latest insight into what their peers are thinking. This interaction is typical of the way our society is adjusting to new communications channels.

In the past we would rely on our Church newsletters for information about what’s going on within our neighborhood and the social life that developed in parallel was where many of us went to develop personal relationships. Numbers scribbled on the back of matchbook covers, in the local bar, also helped us make new friendships. The message boards littered with hand-written “for sale” notices and news about upcoming training camps for all manner of sports that were prominently displayed at the corner dinner and in our coffee shops! They were all important vehicles for keeping in touch with our local community.

Newsletters, scribbled notes on coasters, and tear-off strips on tattered notices, are all still with us but for most of us, we have moved on. Whether we keep our family aware of our activities on Facebook, or network with current and former business associates on LinkedIn, or check the reviews of a book or movie on, we are all very much living in an on-line world where information is only a few keystrokes away. And this is not even talking about the changes that have come through our increased dependence on Google, Mapquest, or eBay! Or about the numerous wiki’s that support many of our clubs and associations.

In fact, some of the practices of the past now look a little foolish. Seldom does any single person just walk into a bar as the primary way to meet another single – it’s only done today after a number of exchanges online with a little background checking already undertaken. Giving out too much information on a Starbucks message board now bothers many of us. And the comments box that used to be an integral part of our business life, never attracted too many honest suggestions.

While sitting in an airline lounge in Denver, waiting for my flight to Europe, I ran into a senior Garnter executive. As we waited for our plane to open for boarding, we talked about Gartner and the roles of senior analysts. I posed the question to him that social networks could make an impact on companies like Gartner in that it allows users to talk directly to other users and hear their opinions without having to rely on an analyst. “And that’s the point,” he suggested “companies like Gartner are not really in the opinion business as much as they are in the analysis business.” Essentially, what he went on to explain is that there will always be a need for companies like Gartner when we need to see more detail analysis of a market segment or a developing technology. And I have to agree with him on this point – opinions can be pretty easy to provide but good analysis is always a premium commodity. Just the process of vetting everything produced within Gartner is a major process and pretty much stands in the way of the style and immediacy we associate with social networking.

Over the past couple of months, I have written about reasons why I started this blog and how I thought of it as a complementary communication channel, aimed at those within our community who just feel more comfortable going to the web for their information. I have developed a level of impatience over the coverage of NonStop by the industry and believe blogging does contribute to generating more “buzz” around the NonStop platform. I have written about the work Nina Buik, the President of Encompass, is doing with her blog, and how the Encompass board has been instrumental in bringing to market the new HP user community social networking site and where I am now contributing content alongside Nina. And of course, we have the ACI Forum site as well.

Social networking will not ever take the place of face-to-face meetings – and that is the main reason why I traveled to Vienna this week. I just want to catch up with many colleagues I have known for many years and to participate in discussions I am certain will develop. And I still engage in email exchanges with a number of you who have concerns over the balance and mix of opinions being expressed via this medium where it’s volunteers from the vendor communities that appear to be the most vocal right now. What I believe ACI is hoping to achieve with the ACI Forum is to see a open and highly informal dialogue open up with their users at this time of major change – and to have a vehicle where they can make sure their message is correctly presented. Unfiltered and undiluted!

Social networking has now made its presence felt on us all - whether we check comments on, look at the latest news from our family on Facebook, or even T-times and groupings provided on the local golf-club’s wiki. Will these communication and networking vehicles survive over time, and will we always turn to them for information? Or will this be viewed as just a fad, popular with a younger generation of users? It’s like everything that’s gone before whether simple newsletters, major newspapers or trade magazines, it’s all about the content and as long as what is being provided is worth the time reading, then social networking will continue to thrive. After all, while there is a legitimate place for analysis, it is the opinions of our peers and colleagues that still influence many of our actions, and social networks have, for the most part, eliminated any middleman and given us direct contact with all those contributing opinions. For better or worse, we can read it all!

1 comment:

Nina Buik said...

So yes, I’m on LinkedIn, Plaxo, Facebook, and HP User Community. I blog on soon to be the Connect site, on HP User and soon on HP’s website. I will also most likely (like last year) be one of the site bloggers for HPTF&E. Can you be on too many SN sites….personally, I don’t think so! The ubiquitous nature of your presence in the socialnet sphere says to the world, you want to be seen and noticed…and not missed by only being in one place! It’s key that you keep them current and I plan on doing just that on my sites…today!