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Let me start with my background.  Black & Decker staff went to ASUG events before I joined the company because they wanted to get the most out of the investment we were making.  After all, IT was betting the farm that we could get rid of the mainframe, beat the Y2K bug, and “outsource our software development” to Walldorf Germany.  So, meeting other SAP customers was a matter of hedging our bet, leveraging our influence and simply making it work.

At the time, online support was the Online Support System.  Need I say more?  Listservs have come and gone, or stayed.  Finally the SAP SDN network began to achieve critical mass.  But I didn’t have the motivation to “flip the channel” to SDN.  I had a rich network of people I’ve met through ASUG events for the past 10 years, inside SAP, outside SAP, and suppliers/vendors/partners.  I have kudos from coworkers on the knowledge I’ve brought back from events, both physical and virtual.  Others, like our friend Tom Jung, tuned into SDN early on because it gave them something they weren’t getting elsewhere.  Now, I’m blogging on SDN.  Seems like some tools on SDN work better than they do on the ASUG site.

So, what’s the use of multiple competing online SAP virtual user communities?  Will ASUG.COM be made irrelevant by SDN.SAP.COM?  Will SDN users shun ASUG members because we’re perceived as elitists because we charge membership fees?  Some analogies:

My son and I hiked a few trails while he worked on Boy Scout Eagle requirements; the most memorable was a long hike on a local trail during a day that a marathon was happening.  We saw the same runners pass us in one direction early, and the another direction later, and the laggards much later.  We saw the clear front runner coming toward us with an easy, rapid stride.  How are we different, and how are we alike?  We were all on the same path, the walkers, the runners, the joggers and the cyclists.  Perhaps on another day I’d be cycling rather than walking.  But I probably can’t do both modes at the same time.  So, I can post to ASUG one day and SDN the next, yet there’s not a clear technical path to an obvious overlap.  And we can get the best from both worlds even without a complete (and unlikely) merger.

So, change management.  Hmmm.  One of the pain points for web site users is the removal of functionality without an easy transition.  Those old bookmarks?  Toast.  That email list of user with shared interests?  Bouncing.  The tips and tricks for working the site search engine?  No hits.  How do manage through this?  Elbow grease, I’d say.  I’ve learned that SDN has photos, which appear on your business card, but those photos aren’t there for blog writer.  On ASUG.COM, we’ve uploaded our own photos, but are still a ways off from having “picons” for posters.  Small digression: I’ve had an online digital photo for years (i.e. since 1996/03) (face.xbm) and recently added it to my (G)AIM IM, as well as using it for web site “favicons”.  Why doesn’t everyone have one of these?

Change management related to product names.  Yes, software evolves.  Sometimes it’s more and better features, sometimes a slicker user interface, sometimes it’s more of a marketing production evolution, genetic drift, grafting of features from uncommon ancestors (I heard this once called “organ donation”).  What does that mean to user communities?  It’s a double edged sword, as changing names of our groups every time a marketing person has a brainstorm introduces churn for little gain, yet not adapting to new markets withers the reason users get together.  I’ve heard SDN faces the same kinds of issues ASUG does, but the names are different; instead of “what’s the new hot topic to be called,”, it’s “what’s the topic area for this blog” or “which expert forum should this post go into?”

The Usenet model for discussion areas grew out of someones idea of a taxonomy, where many of the topic names make sense, but not all.  And it’s possible for a group to hijack the traffic in another group (e.g., “kibo”) or divert the content into an area differing from the original intent.  I’ve also seen completely empty groups (except for the spammers) where evolution has left the topic deader than the dodo.

To rein in the chaos (mainly for myself, but also for ASUG members going to Tech Ed), I started an SAP to ASUG map.  Just for the few tracks, and few ASUG special interest groups (SIGs), this grew into a busy eye chart in no time.  I’ll share this during the upcoming ASUG BITI SAP Tech Ed sneak preview webcast (9/13 Noon Eastern, 11:00 AM Central) and hope this generates dialogue on our similarities and differences.

Kristen Dennis, the ASUG Systems Management SIG Program Chair, is setting up a base camp for that group to connect into SDN with a blog area.

Mutual Interest?  Mutual Assured non-Destruction?  Let’s build the Four Way Street (also apologies to CSNY).  It’s not a technical solution needed where ASUG posts show up on SDN or vice versa.  But there are technical areas to investigate, such as how to cross post, link URLs, combine talents with minimal duplication of effort.  It shouldn’t be too difficult to post cross-reference links in SDN to ASUG content so that members of both communities can go between easier.

What can ASUG do for an SDN/BPX user?  First, you don’t have to live in the Americas (North or South) to be an ASUG member.  Any company can join ASUG, which bestows all privileges on every employee.  So, Black & Decker’s 20,000 global workforce could hit the ASUG website, sign up for webcasts, and attend conferences (after paying the conference fee, hotel bill and airfair :0).

Second, ASUG chapter meetings are a terrific venue for face-to-face meetings with other users, vendors/consultants/partners, and ASUG volunteer organizers who typically have networked at other events.  Chapter meetings don’t charge admission, so potential ASUG members are welcome to attend.  We can work on advertising the schedule of these events.

Events are a key factor.  ASUG sponsors physical and virtual events; can SDN/BPX have a presence there?  Do we run co-sponsored webcasts?

Yes, maybe ASUG is the vehicle for those trail-blazers who have bicycles; maybe some ASUG members look down on SDN because it’s free, or chaotic, or noisy.  Maybe some SDN members think ASUG is like the corporate board room and things happen in secret.  ASUG is trying to find an equitable cost structure so event and virtual content can be produced and then attended by as may as possible.  Look for an “Individual” sign-up category in the near future if you are in a small firm that doesn’t have $5K per year for professional dues, deductible or not.

What’s in it for you? Or for me?  I think collaboration is a benefit to the users, as it always helps to walk in another’s shoes.  It can be a selling point to management when benefits accrue to your company.

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