The newly appointed president of the Oracle Applications Users Group outlines the three key purposes of user groups
by Mark Clark, March 2011
Wikipedia defines a user group as a type of club focused on the use of a particular technology, usually computer-related. As accurate as it is, when describing any Oracle-related user group, there is so much more complexity than that definition suggests. A more appropriate definition for Oracle-related user groups is independent families of like-minded individuals devoted to helping members optimize the use, management and knowledge of a specific product or family of products.
Although the size, scope and focus of each user group differs, the common denominator shared by all is the focus on presenting information and experiences shared by real users to benefit the community at large. This level of impact can be broken down into three key areas: information exchange, networking and advocacy.
One major benefit of user groups is a focused exchange of information. In today’s digital age, Web users are inundated with countless sources of information. Sifting through to find the most credible, relevant content is exceedingly challenging. User groups provide a reservoir of high-quality, experienced resources at each member’s disposal. In a time of tight budgets and even tighter travel budgets, user groups can offer pertinent educational opportunities locally or via the Web.
Educational initiatives, workshops, boot camps, white papers and research studies are especially valuable to Oracle applications users when leveraged in ways that can directly affect productivity and return on investment. For example, Oracle E-Business Suite (EBS) customers currently facing the prospect of upgrading to Oracle EBS Release 12.1 can benefit from a myriad of user-group-presented programs designed for those planning and preparing for their upgrade, reimplementation or decision to remain on their current release.
Many Oracle user groups also work together to offer educational opportunities for their members on emerging issues, such as the anticipated migration to Fusion applications. Last year, several user groups worked with Oracle to present the program “Oracle Fusion Architecture: Soup to Nuts.” First presented during the “COLLABORATE 10: Technology and Applications Forum for the Oracle Community” conference, the program covered application development and customization, database, usability, and Oracle Fusion middleware to create a unified program that explored Oracle Fusion architecture from many perspectives. The jointly developed program delivered an event that was more comprehensive than any one users group could have presented independently. This popular program will be repeated during COLLABORATE 11 in Orlando, Florida, in April 2011.
Another way user groups continue to leave an indelible mark is through networking. Networking empowers members with knowledge about how others have solved similar IT problems, met new or changing statutory requirements, or stretched their budgets. User-led networking sessions are widely available at annual user conferences such as COLLABORATE. User groups actively contribute to networking opportunities and sharing of resources at Oracle’s annual conference, Oracle OpenWorld. These venues offer an incomparable opportunity for attendees to interact face to face and to share best practices.
As the role of user groups within the Oracle community continues to expand, it is vital to maintain strong relationships with other worldwide entities, including geographic (Geo) and special interest groups (SIGs). Whether the group works with a particular application or in a particular industry or region, Geos and SIGs provide highly specialized information in order for like-minded members to maximize their Oracle applications investment. These groups also promote membership in user groups and assist new members with the selection, implementation and ever-evolving use of Oracle products.
Arguably one of the most important roles of the user group is to act as a strong advocate of the user community to Oracle. User groups represent a unified, influential forum through which members can voice requests, concerns and actionable feedback to Oracle. The support and strength of the user group community can influence important issues such as product enhancements, usability, quality, support and statutory requirements. This direct, two-way dialogue between Oracle and its user groups ensures that member concerns are being addressed, and can influence how specific products and services are developed.
Advocacy to Oracle is a win-win for both user group members and Oracle. User groups were influential in Oracle’s decision to extend support value for customers. They negotiated the one-year waiver of support fees for a number of product lines, including Oracle’s E-Business Suite (EBS) 11i, through 2011, enabling customers to stay on their current major product releases during extremely challenging economic times. Many Oracle customers have been able to leverage the extra time to prepare for their upgrades to EBS Release 12.1.
No issue is a stand-alone issue; no problem is a stand-alone problem. User groups work together as leaders to make valuable imprints on the Oracle community at large. Oracle responds favorably to these forces of influence to make change that resonates with customers.
The OAUG specifically plans on focusing heavily on these three core pillars of education, networking, and interacting with and influencing Oracle. Last year, the Oracle Applications Users Group (OAUG) conducted a membership survey asking which offerings were most valuable, and these three staples were recurring themes that resonated most with our members. These pillars promote success, position user groups favorably in the Oracle community, and create lasting footprints of collective significance among user groups and the Oracle community at large.
Mark Clark is president of the Oracle Applications Users Group (OAUG).