Many of us are packing our bags to travel to Berlin for the European leg of SAP TechEd && d-code 2014. After the recent Las Vegas conference, there was some discussion about the role of the community at TechEd && d-code. I don’t want to reiterate the discussion, much of which can be found in the insightful comments to my recent blog post 2014 – The Year SAP Forgot About the Community, but here are just a few key words:

  • The community had a very strong presence: Many of the people who made visible or even prominent contributions to the conference, such as keynote guest speakers, DemoJam attendees, community speakers, hosts of Experts Networking Sessions, were community grown and raised as active members of the SAP Community.
  • SAP Community != SCN Community, but there is a huge overlap and in my view, SCN is a kind of focus point and incubator for the wider SAP Community.
  • SAP’s SCN community managers for whom SCN is their day job and who manage the platform in such roles as Community Advocate, Editor, Senior Manager, etc., had a very reduced presence compared to previous conferences. This seems to be due to the fact that TechEd and SCN used to be run by the same organization inside SAP, but this year one part of the organization manages TechEd && d-code and another part manages SCN; so a reduced SCN presence is only natural and a bigger focus on code and developer relations is natural and probably intended, too.
  • With the reduced presence of the SCN team at the conference, special occasions such as DemoJam were no longer used as a platform to convey inspirational messages with which to promote community engagement, such as “Pay it forward”

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Fig.: Community building

In my recent blog post, I expressed some concern that SAP might forget the community. It might be an exaggerated fear – but I can’t look inside the organization and I can’t read people’s minds. All I have are my impressions from the conference, which I described in the blog post. To boil it down:

  • reduced presence of the SCN team, and reduced community-related messaging
  • increased presence of community-grown people in key roles at the conference

The community building effort is paying off

I am certain there is one thing we can definitely observe: SAP’s efforts towards building a community that supports personal and professional growth, through encouragement and mentorship, has paid off tremendously. The years of tireless work of the likes of Marilyn Pratt, Mark Finnern, and their many colleagues and the executives behind them are paying off. There is a rich harvest of SAP experts who make great contribution to the SAP scene, raising the state of the art and increasing the overall level of quality in the SAP industry with their contributions. Everybody who is in the SAP business profits from this alike: customers, partners, and SAP itself.

Has it been enough?

Another question is: Now that the community is as strong as it clearly showed itself at TechEd && d-code Las Vegas, does it even need further nurturing? Has it reached the point where it has become self-sustaining and no longer needs input, support, budget, inspiration, encouragement, etc. from SAP?

I like to think that the community has learned to do many things on its own. SAP Inside Tracks are organized by volunteers, frequently without financial support from SAP. More and more SAP-related content is available on web pages and platforms that are not run by SAP. The community is learning to utilize other tools beyond SAP, and that means its level of independence from the original incubator, SAP’s SCN and community team, is growing. If SAP were to stop its community engagement altogether now, I believe it would be a very hard blow but the community would find a way to take the blow and rebound. It would survive. This would not have been the case five years ago, so we’re in a much better position than before.

“That thing you do”

Despite these optimistic words, I am convinced that both SAP and the rest of the ecosystem have even more to gain if SAP keeps nurturing the community. Their efforts have paid off, their model has proven to be hugely successful. They shouldn’t stop doing that thing they do, and most of all the fact that it works so well shouldn’t be a reason to stop doing it. However, this seems like a good time to change it.

Time to reinvent

A change in the organization, senior managers leaving SAP and new blood coming in present a great opportunity to rethink even a highly successful model. Nobody should keep doing the same thing over and over again, even if it is a huge success. To look at the recent changes in a positive way, SAP has proven that it’s on its feet and looking for opportunities to make community engagement even better. SAP has also proven time and again that they listen to the community, and I know that the discussion following my recent blog has reached the right people at SAP. Surely they’ll have some interesting surprises in store for us – every conference is a little different, and I’d be more than surprised if Berlin were exactly like Las Vegas.

Conclusion

I am confident that the community will show that it is the backbone of the SAP ecosystem at TechEd && d-code Berlin, and I’m optimistic that SAP will keep exploring ways to foster this community, and that the conference will be a platform on which to do this.

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