User groups 'get your voice heard at the top'

As IT organisations struggle with tightening budgets during the recessions, it would be a mistake to cut back on membership of and involvement in user groups.

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As IT organisations struggle with tightening budgets during the recessions, it would be a mistake to cut back on membership of and involvement in user groups.

That is the message from the leaders of the two of the UK’s largest user groups for enterprise software.

Both Ronan Miles, chairman of the UK Oracle User Group, whose conference starts today, and Alan Bowling, chairman of the UK and Ireland SAP User Group, which held its annual conference last month, are highlighting a “strength in numbers” message.

Bowling and Miles both posit that user groups represent spectacular value for money for businesses facing tough economic times.

Miles said Oracle users in the UK had been highly influential in the development of Oracle Fusion Applications, which will bring together the suites of programmes from Oracle’s many acquisitions, including PeopleSoft, JD Edwards, BEA and Siebel.

This influence was set to grow stronger, he said. “In 2001, we began our annual user survey, and by 2004 Oracle said it was of positive use to them. By 2006, Oracle UK said it would act on the results,” Miles said.

“Now, Oracle is promising to positively engage with us on initiatives when we ask,” he said.

With the current recession, it is "vital" for IT managers to stay in user groups so that they can speak to other users and learn to make the most out of their systems, Miles said.

SAP User Group's Bowling has a very similar message. His organisation, along with Sugen - SAP User Group Executive Network, an alliance of user groups from around the world - work with SAP to reshape its controversial changes to its maintenance programme.

In the coming months the user groups will negotiate a set of key performance indicators (KPIs) with SAP that have to be met before the company can impose its proposed increase in maintenance charges in full.

“The KPI discussion will not be easy – from all sides – but it is a real opportunity for users, through the user groups, to have a say and to get a better product,” he said.

User groups are not just important for focussing pressure on the vendor, said Bowling. They play a vital role in an economic downturn. “The more users get involved, the more opportunity we have to influence SAP. It is a win-win situation for us both.

“That’s not all. User groups are the cheapest consulting you can buy,” he added. “For the cost of a consultant for half a day, £500 a year, we offer 48 special interest group events, where you can learn and share experience.”

Members of the SAP user group regularly solve and share technical and functionality issues that the company itself has not delivered. In addition, said Bowling, “The user group is one of the few channels to submit functionality requests to the company.”

 
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