COMMUNITY: Up Close
Serving the Oracle User CommunityBy Jeff Erickson
Three IOUG past presidents reflect on industry changes and discuss what’s next.
Rich Niemiec, Kim Floss, and Ari Kaplan, past presidents of the Independent Oracle Users Group (IOUG), talked to Oracle Magazine about the growth of the IOUG, the changes they saw in the organization during their tenure, and what challenges the organization and its members face today. The conversation was held on April 15, 2008, in Denver at COLLABORATE 08—an annual conference for members of the IOUG, the Oracle Applications Users Group (OAUG), and Quest International Users Group.
Oracle Magazine: When were you each IOUG president?
Floss: I was president from 2003 to 2005. I took over from Rich, and I passed the baton over to Ari. I was on the board for about three years before that.
Niemiec: So I would have been president from 1999 to 2003.
Kaplan: I’m just finishing up my third term as president. [ Editors’ note: Ian Abramson became president of the IOUG on May 13, 2008. See In the Field.] I came on in 2005, and I was on the board for three years before that.
Oracle Magazine: And how many members did the IOUG serve when you were president?
Niemiec: When I started, maybe 5,000. By the end of my tenure, about 10,000.
Kaplan: Right now, in 2008, the membership is 22,000. It’s grown about 25 percent in the last three years.
Oracle Magazine: When you were president, what were the major issues facing the organization or its members?
Niemiec: The dot-com crash came in 2000. Companies did not want to send people to user groups. They didn’t even want to pay to be a part of a user group, so there was a huge membership drop in 2000. The IOUG spent a lot of time brainstorming on how to retrench and pull in more people. After 9/11 was even worse. The economy tanked, and driving membership for that next IOUG conference was very difficult. We had many meetings with Oracle, where we talked about how we could start to build things that may not benefit us this year, or even next year, but they’ll benefit us the year after and the year after that.
Kaplan: Now the IOUG is seeing some of those benefits. One big change in the last three years was that we started the colocation of the COLLABORATE event—we colocated our major annual event with two other user groups—Quest and the OAUG. Another big change was having more collaboration—not just at the event but year-round—with other user groups.
Floss: Service integration.
Kaplan: Yes, because as of COLLABORATE 08, Oracle has acquired 43 companies and has spent billions of dollars on internal R&D, so there’s been a huge proliferation of technology and products. Each acquisition has its own customer base, so IOUG members are trying to understand how these acquisitions fit within Oracle. What is it? What does it do? Is it applicable to my business? And if so, what can I do to get started? We’re trying to educate the overall community on what all these new pieces of technology and suites of solutions do. COLLABORATE is a good place to learn more—it’s the largest Oracle user group event in the world, with more than 250 exhibitors and more than 400 educational sessions just from the IOUG.
Oracle Magazine: What are some of the biggest issues or challenges facing the Oracle user community today?
Niemiec: One major issue is figuring out what the next thing is. For example, years ago the mainframe people—those guys tucked behind the glass walls in the climate-controlled rooms—were rather insulated. Half the time when you asked a question, they made you feel like an idiot. So you were afraid to ask questions. The people coming up didn’t want to be part of the glass-house technology—they wanted to be part of what would be next. And ultimately the glass houses more or less disappeared and decentralization occurred, because the business needed agile solutions and glass-house technology wasn’t it.
I think the thing that’s needed most is getting over that IT gap where it takes so long to learn something that nobody can break in. It’s too hard, and it takes too long, and nobody will hire newcomers to be the DBA. When something is new, nobody knows it. So a company can hire anybody to do it, and then those people become great at it, and then you get this same ebb and flow of technology that causes this to occur. It’s hard for people coming out of college to get started in the technology field of what was last, but it’s very easy to get into what might be next. Getting young people engaged—I think that’s the biggest challenge.
Floss: The changing role of the DBA is a huge challenge. I’ve been on one or two panels so far at this COLLABORATE, and people are asking a lot of questions about how their role is changing with the integration of all the other companies that Oracle has acquired and the fact that now we need to know more about other spaces. We need to know more about storage, operating systems, and applications. The middleware space is huge, and a lot of DBAs are taking on that role.
Another key concern is business processes. IOUG members are asking how their colleagues are managing the business processes of handing off different pieces and taking in different pieces across teams, and what communication is needed between the business folks, the IT folks, and all the different teams within IT, because now all these pieces are coming together. For example, what does Oracle Fusion Middleware mean to me? Certainly the IOUG has taken a lead role in bringing that knowledge and those people together so that members can understand the future and where they need to go and what they still need to do and learn to get there. Members are looking for education and contacts, building relationships with other people to help figure out what other companies are doing.
Oracle Magazine: What brings IOUG members to COLLABORATE every year?
Kaplan: The two big things are the educational content and networking. There are more than a thousand sessions, plus hands-on opportunities, panels, and keynotes. Although people have the option of Webcasts, they prefer to attend so they can interact with the presenter and ask questions. And meeting your peers in social settings or roundtable discussions—even hallway chatter—is valuable.
Floss: I sat on three discussion panels and spoke at one session in the professional development track. The panels are very interactive, and people are asking a lot of questions. What can I do? What are other people doing? How are people handling the changes in companies relative to budgets? How do you justify a tool? The panels are important to helping people weather change—and of course building relationships—because you always want to have a wide network of people that you can ask for help of any kind. The broader the network that you have, the better chance you have that you’ll get assistance.
Kaplan: With the networking here at COLLABORATE, you have an opportunity to talk with someone and find out how they architected something or did the implementation. Just having a real customer go through a 10-step procedure is different and valuable.
Floss: In training classes, you learn all the ways you can do something, which is wonderful, and you have to learn that. You have to go to training. But when you hear the 10 steps of how somebody implemented XYZ, they’ll also tell you what they did that didn’t work. And if they had to do it all over again, what exactly are the things that they would do differently? Those are key components that you can’t get anywhere else.
Kaplan: Not even necessarily that they made something work. Maybe technically it worked, but then they changed this parameter or bought fibre channel disk and now it works five times as fast. The process was the same, but you tweaked one thing and you get a monumental change in the end result.
Floss: And that’s key information. One of the customers did a presentation on their implementation of SAP on Oracle Real Application Clusters, and he had pictures of the different data centers, how they were doing this. He listed the things that they tested that didn’t go right. Here’s what we did. Here’s what we expected. Here’s what we got, and here’s why we got that. Here’s where we went wrong in our setup, or here’s where we found a bug and here’s what we did to fix it, and then we tested it again, and it worked as designed. That kind of discussion is huge; you can’t get that anywhere else.
Kaplan: Oracle also sent really key executives to COLLABORATE, which pleased our members. They’re looking for insights on what they can do today that’s new or that will make their operations better, but they’re also looking for Oracle’s strategic direction, especially around Oracle Fusion Middleware and applications. That’s really where having [Oracle President] Charles Phillips give a keynote is an extra benefit.
Niemiec: Even if you didn’t know anything about Oracle, you could go to this conference and you’d benefit, because you’d learn why these people are leaders. And if you are in Oracle technology, you’re gaining the knowledge of hundreds of thousands of years of experience. You won’t get that density of brainpower in one spot elsewhere. If you learn just one thing here—five minutes of time can save you hundreds of thousands of dollars.
You get intangible benefits too. The IOUG has made a concerted effort to build a professional development track. I think if you look at what CEOs, CFOs, and CIOs say is missing from college graduates that go into technology, it’s that they don’t have the soft skills. They don’t have leadership skills.
What will make you successful in life? Two things. First, you have to be excellent in what you do, and if you’re not, you want to learn from people who are and find out how to get there. And then you need the character attributes—the things you learn from leadership books and professional development sessions. By giving attendees those two pieces, COLLABORATE has really expanded beyond technology.
Jeff Erickson is a senior editor with Oracle Publishing.