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It’s hard to believe that another year has passed. In a couple of weeks, I’ll once again pack my bags and head off to support the annual user group conference for my company’s software. While there are user group activities throughout the year – Webcasts, newsletters, educational opportunities – I truly look forward to this event. It’s an opportunity to network and learn how companies are using our solutions. But most important, it’s a chance to spend three days with companies in my industry and learn about their challenges and successes. It’s also a time to reflect on the value that user groups bring to their member companies throughout the year.

Year-round Community

If you’re currently a member of a user group, you know how beneficial they can be. Through year-round activities, you can build peer relationships, share experiences – both good and bad, and learn about solutions. User groups host webcasts where industry peers talk about their software implementations and the benefits they’ve achieved. And when you need to solve a business issue, you can leverage the experience of your peer group to find an answer. Members ask questions, solve problems, and offer their experience for the benefit of others. Through this type of interaction, it’s easy to build your peer network and extend your list of contacts.

Let your voice be heard

User groups also offer channels to provide feedback to the solution provider. Customers inform software providers about the challenges facing their industry, and, in many cases, offer solutions. Smart vendors embrace these groups. It’s an opportunity to look at software solutions through the customer’s eyes. The recommendations from user groups can be used to develop enhancements and future functionality that enable customers to run better.

There might be a formal process to influence development. And there may be opportunities to participate in requirements gathering and usability testing. Through the combined voices of the user group members, positive change can be affected.

Gather ‘round

And then there’s the annual conference. I’ve often said that the first day of the conference is like a class reunion. For those who have attended for several years, it’s a chance to renew business acquaintances and make new ones. For first-time attendees, the opportunities are many, and may even be overwhelming.

Conferences typically include education sessions grouped into tracks around specific topics where companies talk about their implementation projects. While most of the stories have a happy ending, they don’t all start out that way. Some companies tell stories of an awkward process or outdated systems that existed before their particular project. And some tell of challenges they encountered as they worked to transform their business. These experiences are rich content for those in the audience, and can help others avoid the same issues. As the CIO of one small-sized company put it, “We can’t afford to make a 5-figure mistake.”

But the happy ending is really what everyone wants to hear. Speakers share their experiences around project management, decisions about scope and detailed technical information. There’s plenty of time for Q&A, too, and often these discussions carry on past the end of the presentation and spill into the hall where business cards are exchanged. The contacts you make add value to your business throughout the year.

Americas’ SAP Users Group

In my role at SAP, I’ve seen firsthand how our customers share and learn at these events. For SAP customers, the Americas’ SAP Users Group (ASUG) holds their annual conference each Spring (this year, June 5–7), and offers hundreds of sessions in dozens of process and industry areas. This event is a rich offering and one that will certainly attendees and their companies.  If you’re an ASUG member and are planning to attend, I’ll see you at the conference!

 

Lynn Lupo is the SAP Point of Contact for the ASUG Wholesale Distribution Special Interest Group.  she is also the Go-to-Market Lead with the SAP Global Wholesale Distribution Industry Business Unit.

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