This week, I’m in the state of Connecticut, attending a users group meeting that isn’t ASUG, or one of the other easily recognized formal SAP-related organization. I’m with a peer group that formed about 3 years ago to address vexing problems in enterprise applications. It’s charter is not to solve problems as much as articulate them to SAP and other vendors, providing data critical to framing the issues so that resources can be targeted.
Some organizations have more formal charters, mission statements, or similar frameworks, and are national in scope, while other groups may be more regionally focused, either as a part of the national organizations or independent of them, and in other cases a “buddy system” forms around previous colleagues that maintain communication over time despite their dispersing to other entities and geographies. Each has their merits, and leveraging one or more of them to tackle specific application or technical challenges can ease the pain of specific problems.
Over the last few years, the explosion of social media has allowed for even more ad hoc mash ups of users from distinct locales to work together on common issues, though I’ve noticed that initiation of these groups can have varied reasons, and maintaining the inertia often depends on the resolve of the charter members, not to mention the stability of any underlying software platform chosen to host the communications. I’m deliberately omitting the SAP Community Network itself from the litany of “user groups” as I see this as more of a bulletin board site than a focused community; while there are exceptions to this my view is that SCN acts more as a facilitator than a catalyst.
From Linked In to Facebook to Twitter lists to whatever, there are any number of virtual communities out there in the SAP space. The most effective are those where face to face meetings have occurred, including conference calls and webcasts where people have the opportunity to communicate at levels above telegraphed messages to each other.
The meetings this week started with customers recounting changes from prior updates, or for new attendees, sharing environment details. This was intended to be 10 or 15 minutes each, but with questions, comments, list writing and more tangents, the 2 hours allotted turned into more like 6, including chats over lunch. Our slides were going to be short and sweet, less than 5 total, with very few words on each, but there were so many issues that we had to skip in the interest of time.
As soon as 2 or 3 updates were shared, common threads emerged that all face, such as application monitoring and problem determination. At the end of the day, we reviewed lists documented from the past 2 meetings, trying to decide if any are solvable, if they impact many customers, and how to clarify the topics for the vendors. With the lively discussions, we managed to talk about those brought up in 2009, but did not get to 2011. In some cases, a champion was identified to provide leadership for future discussions, but in other cases the issues were either so all encompassing (“too many SAP landscapes to manage”) or had perhaps diminished in strategic importance over time, or were impacting a minority rather than majority of customers.
I’ve decided I won’t share the specific list here, partly because it is not final yet, and because we did not discuss sharing these concepts in detail outside the group, and also because this may be a time where a small focus group can be more effective than a large unfocused one.
Once we complete our review of 2010 documents issues, we need to decide if additional discrete topics have emerged that should be addressed. Scope creep can be a concern for efforts like this, as it’s very easy to find new and different problems without having made progress on earlier ones. I suspect there won’t be many, or no, new topics chosen, based on what we heard today. However, I could be wrong.
Tomorrow and Thursday we’ll have speakers either in person or virtually from SAP, and other vendors. We may hear about Mobile, we may hear about HANA, and we may hear some future direction, though I suspect it won’t be any more revealing than what I’ve heard in SAP Mentor conference calls. One or two customers have mentioned HANA, a few talked about Business objects, maybe one offhand comment about Sybase, but no one mentioned Mobile, nor River, Gateway, REST, JSON, or Streamwork. I’m pleased to learn that this group is much more like the people I work with than a lot of the SAP sessions I have attended that concentrate on development tools or platforms quite foreign from the day-to-day needs of the average SAP shop.
And a gratuitous photo, not of myself, but of my full plate.