Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Up close, and friendly ...

Not everyone thinks of transportation the same way – for many of us, there’s no such thing as simply travelling between point A and point B. When the choice comes down to cars, it has to be a roadster or a grand tourer – either a pure stripped-down sports car or, at a pinch, something with a few more creature comforts. But they have to be able to really pull strongly, and to handle, and the surrounding vista is of secondary importance.

On the other hand, when it comes to motorcycles, I prefer something a lot more relaxed – not for me are the replica-racers that dominate the California coastal canyon roads. But it wasn’t always the case and it was only a few years back that I reluctantly traded in my liter sports bike, the mighty Yamaha R1. The ergonomics of the café racers of today finally defeating my slender youthful figure!

This year is the 40th anniversary of the motorcycle that changed the industry, and that made a lasting impression on me. It was 1969, and I was only one year out of high school. I had just bought a Honda 250cc motorcycle, promptly fell off it on the first outing I took, and for the remainder of that year it lay in pieces in my parent’s garage.

It was in 1969 that Honda leapfrogged the industry when it unveiled the Honda CB750 – an inline four cylinder motorcycle, with a front disk brake! And yes, forty years later the first bike I bought in the US was a Honda 750 however, this time around, a less impressive entry-level V Twin cruiser. If the opportunity ever presents itself, a nicely restored CB750 is a bike I would have certainly like to see take up residence in the garage!

It seems like it was only a few weeks back when I was writing about the 30th Anniversary of ITUG – an anniversary that, because of the circumstances, went by with barely a murmur of recognition within the community – I certainly remember participating in the 20th and 25th events and retain the badges celebrating the event. And my very first ITUG in America was at the Hyatt Hotel in Orlando when ITUG turned 15 - with Jimmy Treybig still the star attraction!

Next week, SATUG will conduct its annual event, as the user group enters its 10th year – a significant milestone for any community. Held just outside of Johannesburg at the Emerald Casino and Resort, on the Vaal River, and the picture above is of the resort. Unfortunately, I will not be attending this year – but regular readers may recall the blog posting I produced on February 19, ’08 “Out of Africa” that I had written on my blackberry “a first for me - and I am in total darkness, illuminated solely by the blackberry display I am holding.”

This will only be the second time in ten years that I have missed SATUG and I am hoping that, in keeping with the tradition of previous events, the week turns out to be an extremely productive and fun occasion for all involved. And my absence has no association with the resurgent South African cricket team as it’s poised to take over the world number one ranking from Australia!

The SATUG event has a history that differs from nearly all other events. From the first one that I attended in 2000, as a representative of the ITUG Board, the welcome given to the vendor community was outstanding. Rather than treating vendors as a pariahs and a necessary evil, to be tolerated as long as they picked up the bar bills each night, SATUG went out of their way to treat the vendor community as welcomed guests. Nowhere else, within the global NonStop community, was as much energy put into making the participating vendors feel more special. SATUG managed to strike a balance between the needs of their end users and those of the vendors - and the vendors kept on coming back each year. And the general attendance kept growing!

There was a certain practicality to this – for any vendor to fly to Johannesburg for a presentation to just one customer, was an expensive and time-consuming undertaking. As a consequence, the NonStop community saw very little vendor commitment to their local marketplace. But the energy of the SATUG committee members participating at the bigger ITUG events in San Jose and Europe was untiring in their pursuit of potential vendor participants such that, in time, almost every major vendor made the long trek down to Johannesburg to participate in SATUG.

In my time at InSession, we gave the event tremendous support and now that I am at GoldenGate, there’s no lessening of the support for the local South African community. Crowd favorite Chris McAllister, Senior Director of Product Management at GoldenGate will be presenting and the only question for many participants will be about which one of his many colorful shirts he will be wearing on the day. Tradition!

He gave me an advanced copy of the slide deck he will use and I will be waiting to hear of the audience’s response – it looks really good, and as entertaining as any of his previous presentations. As the focus of the event shifts in coming years to embrace a community bigger than just NonStop, Chris will be talking this year as much about real time data integration and data off-loading, as he usually talks about high availability solutions.

Neil Pringle, the head of HP EMEA NonStop sales will be participating as will others from the HP EMEA organization – often someone that is hard to nail down during a regular week, Neil makes himself available to everyone attending SATUG “as long as they are buying the drinks” he assures me. But the effects of today’s economy are also being felt as direct US participation is down from previous years and it’s going to be a real challenge for the SATUG committee to develop programs that can pull the management away from their Cupertino cubicles.

And for me, this is what has been the essence of the SATUG event – all the characters of our industry, in attendance, and passionately addressing issues of importance to the community. And often there are surprise visitors – no more so than when the Cheetah (pictured here) showed up for the occasion and where we had the opportunity for an up close encounter!

Nowhere else do you get so close to all the CEO’s of the vendors committing serious money of their own in support of the NonStop platform. Whether it’s the opportunity to play golf, visit the game parks, taste the local wines, or whatever, somehow each year these busy time-constrained executives find ways to keep open that week to attend SATUG.

Certainly, changes are coming. After ten highly successful years, the focus of the community is broadening to embrace more than NonStop. As Anton Lessing explained to me in a recent email exchange "yes, you have guessed we are taking SATUG in a different direction. If our members vote yes, then next year you could be seeing companies like EMC, VMware, Microsoft, Oracle and the likes at SATUG. We will keep HP as our main sponsor ...."

Anton, who served a number of terms on the ITUG Board and is well-known to many of us, is not frightened in the least in taking on new challenges. Whereas other regional user groups are in discussions about consolidations and mergers as they attempt to create a presence mirroring some of the practices of the new Connect community, SATUG is looking to build a completely new franchise from the ground up.

There has always been a strong “networking” aspect to each year’s SATUG event – there’s always a welcoming dinner that brings together very senior executives from the user community. And for the last couple of years, there has been an evening river cruise on the final night. I have to admit that I will miss these occasions for open discussions with the community, and will be working on ways to return to the event in the years to come.

All the same, and even with the strong support they have today, there are still many issues to overcome, and it will be worth the time of other user groups to follow what transpires at SATUG. Anton didn’t hold his punches when he later emailed me to tell me that "to the other user groups out there.........remember it is the vendors and the delegates that make the conference and trade show a success. To find the harmony between satisfying the end-user and the vendors is where the gold lays. ... the board of SATUG has got a difficult road ahead, but we are all very excited about the road. On this road we will need friends all over the world to assist and help with this road."

The new Connect board tells me that they are committed to providing a lot more “T.L.C.” for the regional user groups as they develop new business models and accommodate membership other than just NonStop. The final make up of these communities, and the identity they adopt, will vary region to region. But it would behoove every committee member to find time to check-in on the progress SATUG makes as, given the track record they already have, they could very well become the model for what all future regional use groups look like. Just as it would behoove Connect to ensure the T.L.C. continues and is visible to all regional user groups.

There are no guarantees for success anywhere in the world of user communities, and SATUG acknowledges the difficulties that lie ahead – but at least they are trying and for this, I wish them every success as I wish them all the best for their event next week. And I hear they also organize motorcycle rides to the coast – now that’s a great tradition and just the ticket to ensure my participation in 2010!


Anonymous said...

Great blog, Richard. SATUG is indeed a unique and tremendously well run event. Everyone loves attending and we continue to support the show this year at XYPRO.


Richard Buckle said...

Thanks Lisa - and OK, so you finessed a reference to Xypro with it! But that's all right as really, SATUG’s success has been very much as a result of strong vendor support over the years – and I think that will continue even with the prospect of changes ahead.

Aviator said...

Exciting to see such change and growth in South Africa. I'm sorry I'll miss SATUG, It's a wonderful time.