Saturday 18 May 2013

Don't give up on UKOUG

Twitter is currently full of comments about UKOUG and it is very difficult to explain what I think in 140 characters so I'm writing this blog to try and explain.

I've worked with UKOUG on either its board or the council for the last 12 years and I'm passionate about what UKOUG stands for; ‘Serving the Oracle Community’. The Community is anybody touched by Oracle, and we reach much of that community, and UKOUG's new President David Warburton-Broadhurst is simply aiming to widen that reach.

To me UKOUG need to do 5 things:

  1.   Reach our target community
  2.   Represent our community
  3.   Deliver to our community
  4.   Influence Oracle
  5.   Manage a successful business

When I joined the user group in 2001, The Community was very simply defined; UKOUG were able to bring in more income than UKOUG required running the events UKOUG delivered.

Then things started to change, the community grew, the Oracle acquisition strategy meant that the community contained a lot of different Interest groups, a lot more people who want content from UKOUG and then came the economic downturn.

I believe David can not only help us with Reach but also with Influence and give us his expertise in managing a business.


Our Target Community

One of the areas that UKOUG have always wanted but never really been able to reach was that the top executives in our user organisations. A few years back UKOUG introduced our Business & Strategy sessions at the main conference and although this has given us more senior manager content it hasn't elevated as much as UKOUG would like. If you look at other user groups around the world they all have executive tracks.

Many years ago Ronan and I went to CIO connect and talked about UKOUG and all of the people that were in the room said that their organisations were members who sent their staff they didn't think there was any content for them and that's what David is saying; his company is a member of UKOUG, he pays for his IT people to attend UKOUG events. He must thinks there is great value for them as he continues to renew that membership.

But UKOUG had bigger problems, reaching higher within our existing membership is one thing, but UKOUG do not have all Oracle users, and as people tightened their belts, some of our existing members had dropped off.


Represent our Community

Unlike most other user groups UKOUG employ our own staff; UKOUG do not use a 3rd party. This makes us the envy of many but it also means UKOUG have a business to run, which I will come back to later, but just to say that as the business became more complicated the old board was spending more time on that and not enough representing the community. That was why UKOUG reduced the size of the board, created the Executive to work with the office and the Council to work with the Community.

You vote for the Council and I hope UKOUG are working with you closer.  


Deliver to our community


I hope the Council is working with the various communities to ensure UKOUG are delivering what you want.  UKOUG have a number of task groups to help deliver this and UKOUG have also reached out to other volunteers to be part of these.  This is the most important area and UKOUG will always find room for improvement and why it is so important to get your feedback and for volunteers to get involved.

UKOUG have outgrown Birmingham something else that really annoys me. In the UK we have such a lack of places that provide what UKOUG need, a place that can have a large plenary session, a large number of breakouts and a big enough exhibition area and UKOUG cannot continue in Birmingham. UKOUG have split the conference so that we can grow our reach, and can grow across all of the things that are part of what Oracle offers. I'm really sad that UKOUG are no longer having a single conference but that there is no way around it. I am so jealous of the user groups in the States and in other countries where their conference centres are plentiful, large and in many cases they are discounted by the local authority or by the local hospitality industry, that doesn't happen in the UK, we have to pay top dollar.

Our conferences will be fun, I am leading the group putting together the Applications conference and Fiona is pulling together the Technology conference; they are looking good but please, please don't walk away from UKOUG, give it a chance. 


Influence Oracle


UKOUG need to be able to influence Oracle, this is one of the most important reasons for being independent, to help shape the way that their products are going in the future.

From a feature point of view in the technology UKOUG are doing okay and can show this is a good examples in Technology, either through relationships between Special Interest Groups and Oracle Product Management, and UKOUG have many speakers who we count amongst our volunteers who participate in beta testing of technology.

At an applications level UKOUG had great traction in the early days of Fusion Applications but we need more in the wider applications communities. Working with Oracle at a global level UKOUG recently encouraged members to get involved in the Customer Advisory Panel.

Oracle wants to know what organisations need in their products, what will get them to increase their investment. They have Strategy Advisory Boards and CIO events, but UKOUG need to be part of this, to get the executive participation from Oracle and to get sponsorship and participation from the partners that work in this area. I’ve already said the big user groups who cover Applications have successful Executive programs and they do have more of an input into applications. 


Manage a successful business


I have left this to last but a hard reality is that UKOUG have to balance the books. Like it or not but UKOUG has to run a businesses and it has become more and more complicated because our revenue streams are not matching what it is that UKOUG want to deliver to our members and therefore UKOUG have to do some really strategic work to turn that around.

Our income comes from membership and sales of sponsorship and exhibition. Membership was dropping but over the last year UKOUG have reversed that trend but we need more organisations involved.

Sales have been hit badly, the economic pressures on organisations has hit their budgets which now need to cover many more streams of marketing, such as social media etc. The number of partners has also reduced, mainly through acquisition. In order to retain their marketing budget they have to show a return on their investment at the time, and the hard truth is that if they feel if they're not reaching the people who have got the money in an organisation and then not able to directly attribute any opportunities.

I have seen on Twitter that people have said it's the technical people influence and they are  absolutely that's right,  I seriously believe we wouldn't be buying Engineered Systems if we weren't listening to the Tanel, Doug and Alex’s of this world. However that does not give you a lead on the day of exhibiting, and that is what is being measured.

UKOUG through good management in the past has healthy reserves but we haven't managed to bring in enough revenue for the last three years and cannot continue to do that and so we need to make the hard decisions in our business just like your organisations have had to do and I hope David will help us with that.

So is David the right person for the job? I hope so, I really hope so and he looks to have the skills that UKOUG need to the business acumen to help our organisation grow and return to profitability; he also has the links in order to get us to step up and reach out to his peers and bring in the right additional content so UKOUG can influence Oracle at that top level.  His first interview with the press was not a great start but the emphasis is completely and utterly wrong, I think the second one is a lot better. But give him a chance, in this world we see the same news story reported as many different ways as there are articles, don’t write him off after just two.

UKOUG don't always get these things right first time, we did make major changes two years ago for the right reasons and they've done some very positive things, UKOUG need to continue to change, we need to be agile and do what is necessary to bring UKOUG not only is be a successful content giver, influence effectively but also be successful financially.

UKOUG needs our members to standby us, to support us and to help us; if you think of something else we need to do or if you think we're doing something wrong then please come and tell us. Twitter is a great way to give instant feedback but a quick way to bring us down and I really don't think UKOUG deserve that today. Please give UKOUG and David a chance.

Finally I also take this opportunity to ask for your help and support for the conferences this year. If I didn’t think it would work I would have left UKOUG. Yes, I have not left UKOUG I am still an elected and active member of the council.

Just to reiterate, this is Debra Lilley’s thoughts.  I'm so passionate about UKOUG I don't want it to die, we will get there and we will have most wonderful conferences and I look forward to meeting you there.