COMMUNITY: Up Close
Multinational CollaborationBy Jeff Erickson
A Benelux leader guides the growth of his user group.
In 2002 Janny Ekelson was a content member of a PeopleSoft user group in Brussels, Belgium. He and his fellow members worked together to perfect their knowledge of the application. But after PeopleSoft acquired JD Edwards, and then Oracle acquired PeopleSoft, his group began to combine with other user groups in the surrounding region. Ekelson likes the exposure to the other groups and has enjoyed exploring a wider range of technologies, but he’s been vigilant to make sure that growth comes with benefits for his fellow members.
Ekelson’s PeopleSoft user group combined with a JD Edwards user group from the Netherlands to become the Benelux Regional User Group. Once Oracle acquired PeopleSoft, it began to make sense to join forces with other Oracle groups. In 2009 Ekelson’s group was again transformed by a merger with two large regional groups and became the current Oracle Benelux User Group (OBUG). OBUG is made up of more than 350 corporate members with more than 1,500 active users. It conducts business in three languages: Dutch, English, and French.
The Price of GrowthUser group leaders generally say that different-size groups offer different kinds of benefits. In a small regional group, a familiar band of members explores technology and members help each other manage regional quirks and local regulations. Larger user groups, on the other hand, offer one key advantage—more members. More members means there’s a better chance that you’ll find compatriots with architectures similar to yours so you can compare notes. Larger user groups also draw top speakers.
Ekelson, OBUG’s president, admits that growth is not without drawbacks. “When you expand a user group, your original group has to give up some of its own identity,” he says. “Every group has its own personality and its special way of doing things. With expansion, you have to be willing to give some of that up.”
But expansion also means larger gatherings. OBUG’s largest annual gathering is Benelux Connect, which drew 750 attendees in March 2010. “It was very successful,” says Ekelson. “I think Connect’s success lies in the balance between customer case studies and Oracle strategy and training sessions,” he adds. “This fall we’re starting a new tradition with the introduction of an Oracle OpenWorld debrief event.”
No More “Us Versus Them”Another benefit Ekelson has found from the growth of OBUG is a closer relationship with Oracle. “My attitude used to be ‘us versus them,’” says Ekelson, referring to his struggles to get PeopleSoft and then Oracle to listen to the needs of his user group members. “But our relationship with Oracle these days is very beneficial for us both.”
“Oracle knows that user group members are engaged customers, and we are often the superusers of their products,” he says. “We have good ideas about how to make them better.” OBUG leaders attend a quarterly alignment meeting with Oracle either in Belgium or the Netherlands. “It’s a good chance to understand where Oracle is going and what they’ve been doing to address our needs.”
At OBUG’s last Benelux Connect meeting, Oracle set up a usability lab to demonstrate its products and watch how group members reacted to new designs. “It was a very professional and interactive session,” says Ekelson.
Going TechOBUG has traditionally supported Oracle E-Business Suite and Oracle’s PeopleSoft, JD Edwards, Hyperion, Siebel, Primavera, and Agile applications, among others. In the last few years, however, the group has begun to support Oracle technologies. “We had several popular tech tracks at Benelux Connect on subjects such as business intelligence, database, middleware, and Oracle Application Express,” says Ekelson. OBUG’s new Oracle Application Express special interest group (SIG) is cooperating with the Oracle Development Tools User Group for an event on Oracle Application Express, and OBUG is busy building other SIGs around tech subjects. “The trick,” he adds, “is finding strong and willing SIG leaders.”
Jeff Erickson (email@example.com) is a senior editor with Oracle Publishing.
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