COMMUNITY: Up Close
A Northern Light
By Jeff Erickson
A Finnish user group leader becomes a beacon for user group harmony.
“I will never be president,” said Heli Helskyaho on the day in 2001 when she joined the board of Oracle User Group Finland (OUGF). But her energy and enthusiasm as a board member betrayed her. In 2007, when the sitting president moved to a non-Oracle company, Helskyaho was the obvious successor. “The board said, ‘You’re the one,’” she recalls. “‘You’re it.’” She has been president ever since.
Helskyaho’s guidance and energy have helped OUGF become a strong influence in the European user group community. I met her on the Oracle campus in Redwood Shores, California, in early 2010, where as a spokesperson for the Europe, Middle East, and Africa (EMEA) Oracle user community, she was meeting Oracle representatives and giving them EMEA’s user group feedback on support issues and product direction.
Helskyaho has thrived as a user group leader, and the group has thrived with her at the helm. Even during the economic challenges of the past few years, OUGF membership has grown, and sponsorships for its conferences have increased. And she loves brokering solutions to technical problems for users—making connections and smoothing pathways.
“I like it,” she says of OUGF leadership. “I like finding the right people to help others. If somebody is having a problem, I usually can’t help with the technical issue, but I know somebody who knows somebody who can.”
OUGF has served Finland’s Oracle users for 22 years, making it one of the world’s oldest Oracle user groups. Its 600 active members, consisting mostly of DBAs and developers, with a growing number of applications users, have two annual conferences to choose from—a large conference in the spring (EMEA Harmony 2010) and a smaller conference in the fall. Members can also attend special interest group meetings for Oracle Applications, Oracle’s Hyperion solutions, and MySQL.
EMEA Harmony 2010 was held in May in Tallinn, Estonia, just three hours from Helsinki by ferry, and it was hosted by four user groups: from Finland, Estonia, Latvia, and Russia. “Members of other Oracle user groups have often asked to attend our spring conference, and we have always said, ‘Of course, please come!’” says Helskyaho. “Then we thought, why not make it official? and so we made EMEA Harmony a regional conference.”
The conference is called EMEA Harmony “because anyone is welcome and because we hope it becomes a bigger event in the future,” Helskyaho says. Even the name of the conference speaks of intergroup cooperation. “Ronan Miles, the chair for U.K. Oracle User Group, came up with the name,” she explains.
Helskyaho believes there is room in EMEA for a large annual conference such as the COLLABORATE conference in the U.S., which is held by three cooperating user groups. “User groups work because when you’re having a technology problem, you aren’t the only one in the world with that problem,” she says. “In a small country, maybe no one has your same configuration, but someone from another country might have a similar configuration. So it’s good to bring more people together to share their problems and solutions.”
Part of the mission for any user group is to communicate its members’ experiences and needs to Oracle. “We get along with Oracle very well,” says Helskyaho. “For example, our members initially had problems with My Oracle Support, and instead of just complaining to each other, we organized a survey with other EMEA user groups and gave that feedback to our contact at Oracle for support issues. They were unbelievably great about engaging our members and giving us answers. Oracle is very appreciative that we provide that link into the user community.”
OUGF and Oracle have a solid working relationship. “When Oracle closed the Sun deal, Oracle Finland held a big welcome event for Sun people,” says Helskyaho. “One of my friends from Sun who was at the event sent me a text message that a director from Oracle was talking up our user group. Her message said, ‘We are all joining the user group now!’”
Jeff Erickson ( firstname.lastname@example.org ) is a senior editor with Oracle Publishing.