Friday, 6 September 2013

The Changing face of UKOUG

I wanted to write a blog about the upcoming Applications and Technical conferences but thought I really needed to step back first and talk about UKOUG.

The most read posting on my blog is the one that explains the relationship between Oracle and User Groups, and I find myself referring to it a lot. There have been a lot of changes in UKOUG over the past two years and I keep being asked about them so thought I would try and explain them as I see them. There is information on the website about how it is today but this is more about the journey.

UKOUG is a not for profit organisation, but unlike most usergroups we have our own staff, we do not outsource the running of the membership and delivery of our offering, events etc. This means we are also a business.
Originally we had a simple board structure. This was fine; the board were elected by the members and were able to balance the legal running of the company with representing members. Life was much simpler then, Oracle was the database, forms and reports and E Business Suite. There we many, many companies who wanted to sponsor and exhibit at conferences. Companies who provided solutions around what Oracle offered.  

Then Oracle started to change, they went shopping, over 70+ companies in the last 8 years. This has consolidated the market, what Oracle covers is much, much wider and there are actually less partners to work with and also over this period we have moved into a global economy where everyone is tightening their belts. The world of social also means that much of what usergroups did traditionally is now available freely.  This meant the traditional board had to represent a now very diverse community and run a business that was much more difficult and on a much bigger scale. The reality was we spent all our time running the company at the expense of truly being engaged with our members.
So in 2011 we worked on how we could address this, we knew it had to change. In the good times the usergroup had through good financial management built up a reserve for lean times, which now we needed but it won’t last for ever; we needed to evolve and change, and stay relevant to the members. The proposal that was accepted was to have a council that elected representatives sat on, that worked on what members wanted, and three of the council joining an executive of three on a new, much smaller board that would be the legal requirement directing UKOUG. The executive was made up of 3 people looking after HR, Finance and Commercial. They would work with our full time staff to run the business.
After a year it was obvious this was not the right model either. The council also struggled to fairly represent the members and was too big to efficiently drive initiatives forward as one and the office felt they now had to answer to both the executive and the council. The board found it difficult to bring the two sides together and a number of volunteers resigned. It wasn’t a complete disaster, there were some great examples of working groups led by council members that were able to deliver and the executive were making inroads into reversing financial fortunes and membership numbers. 

We didn’t have any problem with finding volunteers who wanted to be elected to help, but what we did find was that we didn’t have people who had both the skills and the time to carry out some of the roles needed. The council needed to elect a president, one who could not only represent us with Oracle but also influence them on behalf of our members. This led to us co-opting a volunteer to be our President who has those skills; someone Oracle will listen to.

We needed to further evolve the 2011 change, keep what worked and change what didn’t. The council knew this was going to be ‘turkeys voting for Christmas’ but one thing we all share is a passion for the community and no one wanted UKOUG to fail. The 2013 evolution, was voted on by members at the AGM, and this time passed by a higher majority than in 2011.

So what has changed? 

Council has gone and we have given community representation to the people who really know our members, our volunteers; the SIG leaders and their deputies. The business will be run by a CEO, James Haslam. And the staff will answer to him and will be accountable and empowered to deliver what is needed. 

The board is made up of the CEO - James, Graham Spicer – Commercial and David Rowntree – Finance and then balanced with 3 representing members; David Warburton-Broadhurst our President, Fiona Martin - Member Chair and myself as an additional elected member. These roles are being carefully scoped by an Appointments Group led by Liz Penny with Carl Dudley responsible for ensuring those who put themselves forward have the skills we need and the time to devote to UKOUG. They are looking at things like roles and responsibilities for all board and appointments group roles  and ensuring we have both a succession plans and most importantly a President Elect; we don’t want to need to co-opt, we want transparency and voted for officers on the board.

We will gather member and community input by running all our initiatives in the form of projects. Each project will have a board sponsor, and office Project Manager and representative volunteers working as part of the working group, much as Apps 2013 and Tech 2013 have done this year. Members will be more involved.

This new model should reduce overheads and bureaucracy from Council and Executive, empower James and the Office, but most importantly allow interested volunteers to step up and engage around projects which are important to them, without having to commit to a full 3 year elected position.
Working groups have to make decisions that are right for UKOUG which may not suit every single member or stakeholder but we can only make the best decision when all stakeholders are part of those groups. So please if you don’t like the direction or individual decisions don’t criticise, get involved and be part of the answer. 

Personally I have devoted 14 years to UKOUG and my motivation is not to be constantly moaned at by unhappy people; I want users of Oracle technology that I believe in to get more out of their investment, learn from others and have a say in its direction. To do that we need a UKOUG that can deliver with the resources at its disposal, both financial and more importantly the community.
And let’s start with really successful Apps and Tech conferences coming very soon

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