By Stan Jakubik
Who doesn’t need help? Who hasn’t had an issue with an upgrade that they couldn’t quite figure out? Who hasn’t bought a new application or piece of middleware but hasn’t known where to start? What do you do? Pay for consulting? Look for help from the vendor? Go it alone and hope for the best?
There are many traditional approaches that offer a lot of value. Oracle has learning and networking options available, and you can find many solid consulting firms and individual consultants who can step forward with assistance. But there’s one option that offers off-the-charts ROI: user groups.
Today’s independent Oracle user groups are not your father’s user group. They aren’t made up of a few people taking a quick trip to some nice vacation spot to chat about their projects. Today’s user groups are sophisticated organizations that provide learning, networking, skill development, and, yes, lobbying services for their members, often 24/7 and 365 days a year. They have Enterprise 2.0-style technologies that encourage interaction, provide venues for collaboration, and create events that bring their members together—either in person or virtually—on a regular basis. They’ve expanded to MySpace, Twitter, and Facebook. Search for “Oracle user group” on Google and you will find thousands of entries. The annual conferences sponsored by some of the larger user groups provide an opportunity for thousands of Oracle customers in every industry and every region to learn about Oracle’s strategies and hear from third-party vendors and partners that supplement Oracle’s products and services. Regional conferences, Webinars, in-person seminars, training services, and Web sites packed with valuable information round out their ongoing services to members. The bottom line: user groups provide value in networking and sharing best practices with other professionals.
User groups have also advanced steadily into professional networking—both in person and through social networking technologies. If you want to see Oracle user groups in action, go to oracle.com/events and count the number of user group meetings worldwide on any given day. User groups also take very seriously their role in representing the needs and interests of their members to Oracle by providing the company with candid feedback on the quality of software, effectiveness of services, and future requirements. This feedback is critical to the long-term development of all of Oracle’s product and service offerings. Oracle, much to its credit, has accepted this feedback and now actively encourages direct input from the user groups. Oracle and its Global Customer Support group should be applauded for their recognition of the true value of the user groups to both Oracle and the user community.
Whether large or small, industry or product specific, regional or international, today’s user groups provide the best opportunity to become more informed and more influential within the Oracle ecosystem. Oracle has made a significant leap over the past few years in its understanding of the value that user groups bring to the customer experience. The company’s own research has shown that active membership in a user group results in a higher satisfaction rate with overall Oracle performance.
Our continued ability to work together toward the development of better products and more-satisfied customers creates a win-win for everyone. In recognition of this value, Oracle’s management has demonstrated its commitment to the user group concept by sponsoring the establishment of the International Oracle User Community (IOUC), a network of user group leaders representing more than 500 Oracle user groups worldwide. Led by a group of eight umbrella organizations made up of technology, applications, and industry groups whose executives form the core IOUC team, IOUC provides an environment for sharing feedback and information between groups and with Oracle, helps with knowledge transfer about the organization and management of user groups, and promotes a unified voice for customer input to Oracle on product strategy and development. You can track IOUC activities at www.iouc.org.
As president of Oracle’s Higher Education User Group (HEUG), I see every day how an association with an active user group saves its members time and money. Our 22,000 members from 28 countries are responsible for nearly 1 million interactions per month at our HEUG Web site (www.heug.org). Because of the huge volume of information created by our members on the site, it is often the first place that people go to get information or help. The networking capabilities alone that are created in this user group have enormous ROI potential because of the knowledge and experience of the broad group. HEUG, the other 500-plus user groups, and their related members—linked together through IOUC—all have a huge pool of resources to work with. If you are not already taking advantage of the value found in user groups, check it out. There are user groups formed around horizontal product lines, specific applications, geographic regions, and vertical industries. You will be amazed at the benefits that are readily available to you and your organization.
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