The Inside Track on Community Engagement
Two SAP Mentors pioneered a local community-based SAP conference that’s gone global
This is the second article in the 2012 informational series called “Meet the SAP Mentors.” SAP Mentors are a super-smart, engaged global cohort of nearly 110 professionals – customers, partners, employees, bloggers, consultants, business people and technical wizards – expert in all things SAP, nominated by peers in the SAP Community Network and selected by SAP. Every day, SAP Mentors demonstrate their personal and professional commitment to leadership by helping SAP customers and practitioners solve the business and technical challenges that come with achieving better business results via SAP-based solutions. As a byproduct, the SAP Mentor Initiative is enriching the culture of SAP with a more open and collaborative dialog between SAP decision-makers and stakeholders. A shared commitment to dialog, collaboration and customer success helps to make the SAP ecosystem a predictable source of competitive advantage to the world’s leading organizations.
In October of 2007, Nigel James, 41, an SAP Mentor then based in London, United Kingdom, and his colleague Darren Hague, 44, an SAP Mentor based near Windsor, United Kingdom, attended SAP TechEd in Munich, Germany.
As an extracurricular activity, the SAP consultants had signed up for a pre-conference side event – the grassroots SAP Community Day, which was inspired by Mark Finnern, who is today chief community evangelist for the SAP Community Network.
“I came up with the concept of the SAP Community Day,” says Finnern, “to bring the most passionate SCN community members together face to face and give them room to do their magic in an informal unconference-style setting.”
This is a major reason why James and Hague met for a whole day with about 100 other SAP professionals in a spirit of easy camaraderie in Munich.
James made a short presentation, while both shared among the group their experiences with SAP technology innovation and implementation.
“It was the best day [at SAP TechEd] for us,” says James, who now lives and works in Sydney, Australia. “The esprit de corps in the room was tremendous.
“Afterwards, Darren and I got together and we’re both thinking the same thing. If it was so good and so fun, why couldn’t we do that in more local-based type centers instead of waiting to go to TechEd once per year?”
Just do it
Hague told James that his company had an empty boardroom. Hague’s company generously donated that boardroom to them, and provided a budget for a catered lunch.
Held on a Saturday in April of 2008, they called it “SAP Community Day – London” and charged a nominal fee of £10 to cover costs and make sure registrants were fully committed to attending.
Upwards of 30 people arrived. The Saturday timing meant attendees were giving up a day of free time. It also meant they really wanted to be there.
“For Darren and me, holding the event on a Saturday was all about the buy in,” says James.
The un-conference-style event proved worthwhile and motivational for those who attended.
But for James and Hague there remained a nagging question.
They wondered why – given the valuable mix of great people, SAP-focused expertise, and a format that encouraged contextual learning, dialogue and collaboration – even more people didn’t sign up.
“We thought we could boost attendance,” says James.
What’s in a name?
So, the intrepid techies turned amateur branding sleuths and mapped out a new naming strategy.
“We thought ‘Community Day’ as a name might not be a good sell to a manager, so why don’t we call it something else?” recalls James.
They decided to rename the event something more company-friendly, which described the advantage of learning about SAP technologies from local SAP practitioners.
And thus was born “SAP Inside Track,” a grassroots un-conference brand encouraging collaboration and innovation among the local SAP community, including SAP Mentors.
In 2009 and 2010, James and Hague organized SAP Inside Track events at a larger venue – the offices of IBM in Southbank, London, on the Thames River.
Attendance had grown considerably with the new name, and the SAP Inside Track brand had become popular within the SAP community worldwide.
Amsterdam to Istanbul and beyond
By this point, SAP Inside Track had flourished and gone global.
In 2011, according to James, more than 20 SAP Inside Track events were held in cities as diverse as Amsterdam, the Netherlands; Bonn, Germany; Brussels, Belgium; Istanbul, Turkey; Kolkata, India; London, United Kingdom; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Sydney, Australia.
James and Hague feel fortunate to have inspired locally flavored events that have gone global with just the right mix of new people and very experienced people, all there to help others in whichever ways they can.
“What we did,” says James, “is organize the concept so it can be flexible, go global and make sense locally.
“We put ours on a Saturday and charged for it, but other SAP Inside Track organizers made their events free, and held them on a Friday in SAP offices or boardrooms.”
“Some events,” he adds, “have been streamed with questions via Twitter from half way around the world.”
James, whose independent SAP consultancy focuses on CRM applications, moved to Sydney, Australia, from London, England, in late 2010 and is still an SAP Mentor.
“I like to stay at the technical edge,” he says.
Hague, meanwhile, was recruited by SAP after the first SAP Inside Track event in 2008.
Today Hague is an SAP Mentor alumnus. At SAP, he works on the team that builds and manages the SAP Community Network site.
He’s also working on the SAP Identity (ID) Service initiative, which will provide a single sign-on for all of SAP’s cloud-based offerings.
According to Hague, the next thing that needs to happen for SAP Inside Track to have even greater impact is for there to be a better connection between the local conferences and SAP’s regional offices.
“There’s a strong bond between the center of SAP and SAP Mentors,” he says. “What SAP Mentors do is take in war stories from the grassroots level that are filtered through a positive attitude about SAP.
“Now we just need to close the gap at the regional level, so that regional field sales people can gain an appreciation from SAP Inside Track what are the field’s strengths and weaknesses.”
James and Hague would think it a fitting tribute if the next phase of local community engagement inspired by SAP Inside Track helps field offices learn valuable and profitable lessons from local “war stories” – or the inside “inside track.”
Nigel James’s Twitter handle
Darren Hague’s Twitter handle
SAP.info Article on Mentors at SAPPHIRE NOW
SAP Mentors: A Rare Breed – May 2, 2012
Other Articles in “Meet the SAP Mentors” Series
Advocating for Excellence – May 9, 2012
The Tree of Talent – April 16, 2012
Trust + Results = Success – December 21, 2011