Thursday, January 21, 2010

What net communities do I live in?

Shel Israel asked me about strengths and weaknesses of communities I belong to. After rattling some brain cells around, here's my answer. But first, the questions:

  • ASUG vs. other communities (SAP Community Network, or SDN)
  • Are people in one or the other?
  • Why am I in more than 1?

ASUG vs.

I was an ASUG member before SDN existed, which might explain my feistiness when people say "are you going to SAPPHIRE" and I always reply "No, I'm going to the ASUG conference", co-located or co-opted by SAP Sapphire. I've put a lot of my personal and professional time into the Americas' SAP Users Group. I fully believe in our position as the "leading customer-run SAP resource in the world," " the largest independent, not-for-profit organization of SAP customers" and "the leading resource for SAP customer-driven education." We're regional, SDN is global. We're a non-profit organization (legally); SAP community network is run by SAP, a stockholder owned for-profit corporation. We're run by volunteers. SAP is run, by, well, a command and control German machine.

ASUG members are companies who run SAP, consultants who work in the SAP space, and SAP employees. Anyone who works for a member company can join ASUG, so while there is an annual fee, it should be a trivial cost per person. SDN is "free", although I could argue that it is subsidized by the software costs and maintenance fees paid by customers. ASUG volunteer leaders (folks like me who work at companies that use SAP software) choose content for the annual program; SAP content at TechEd and Sapphire is chosen by SAP marketing teams.

As for web site content, more serious differences appear, many to ASUG's disadvantage. SAP, being a huge global software firm, has an enormous infrastructure of hardware, application developers, and full time paid, world-class content managers. ASUG has a small footprint, both at the organization HQ, and in the volunteer cadre that attempts to keep the content timely and lively. We've seen a significant drop in web site traffic that can be traced to the growth of SCN.

I'm an SAP Mentor, an SCN Moderator, an SDN Top Contributor, and an ASUG Year-Round Community Facilitator. What does that mean? The first category are folks chosen (by SAP, but nominated by peers) to be a think tank. There are many pluses, but some minuses to this. It's a highly visible position, so the grumbling and ranting one might get away with in a small community doesn't fly well in the jet set. And there are times when SAP seems to want us more for marketing advantage than for focus-group or constructive criticism. I'm on the record objecting to their for-profit education and certification programs. Yes, good training is expensive, but a piece of paper (or electronic simulacra) is not a guarantee of quality. I'm not certified as anything, by the way. Mentors are supposed to be the top Nth percentile of the global SAP community.

SAP Mentor Initiative FAQs

Moderators are another breed, although there are some who act both as Mentors and as Moderators. I'm more active as a mentor, I guess, but try to keep busy moderating the forums, blogs and wikis on SDN. The die-hard moderators who deal with the hundreds of messages and posters, particularly the annoying minority who just don't get what a community network is, have my undying admiration. I don't believe the moderators get anywhere near the rewards that Mentors get (though I could be wrong); they're fighting the good fight because they believe in it, not for the recognition or glory.

Mentors get the "(!)"; moderators get the "[M]".

Top contributors are those recognized by SAP community network management as posting a lot of good material on the site. I've been in the top for the last couple years in the "Technical" category, as I write a lot about infrastructure, problem-solving, and software maintenance.

ASUG community facilitators were called group leaders before groups were renamed to be communities. They (groups or communities) consist of several special interest groups, which could be called communities in their own right, or maybe sub-communities. Like SCN, ASUG has sets of communities, organized into technical, process, and industry specific. We had process groups long before SAP came up with the business process expert label. And, we also have chapters, which SAP does not have, except maybe sales regions. ASUG has many geographic areas across the U.S. and Canada that run quarterly meetings, including networking, presentations, and vendor displays. SAP has recently begun having international "Inside SAP" meet-ups, often organized by SAP Mentors. My opinion is that we already have these in the U.S., and it's counterproductive to host competing sessions in the same area.

I could go on about how deep the knowledge is in our vertical communities, especially long-standing teams such as oil and gas, and utilities, but I'm going to hang my hat here, so to speak, with my video (shown at SAP TechEd 2009), the Many Hats of an SAP Mentor:

start video:

end video.

Are people in one or the other?

When we have software issues at work, we'll look on ASUG, SDN, OSS, or open a ticket with SAP support, probably in that order, although much depends on the nature of the issue. Software bugs, pop-up messages, etc., would drive someone to the online support system looking for an issue report. "How do I" questions might lead them to SDN, as long as the search doesn't take too long. But deeper strategic questions of "which module should we switch on" or "does this bolt-on cause side effects" are much more likely to be answered by savvy long-time SAP customers found via the ASUG site. We list their name and company, something SCN doesn't always force.

Whether all companies have the bandwidth to cast such wide nets I can't really answer, though I would guess not many are very active in both ASUG and SCN. I think once people latch onto a community that answers their needs, only high noise levels or traffic atrophying will drive them off. I know that I've brought several SCN contributors into ASUG conferences as speakers, including Richard Hirsch and Harald Reiter. Free admission to ASUG and Sapphire both for speaking? Sure!

Why am I in both?

It's definitely a result of the bridge-building by Marilyn Pratt that 6 of my fellow BITI volunteers are SAP Mentors. Without her forcing the question of "how can we all get along" we'd probably have continued our separate ways.

That's what started us down this path; why does it continue? First, I'm having a lot of fun with both groups. And they have their own rewards. Second, my management continues to see the value of having a global network to turn to for enterprise software management. We've had any number of volunteers drop by the wayside because they or their companies couldn't or wouldn't keep up the momentum.

Third, I'm stubborn. I'll hack and hammer at problems until they are vanquished. As Robert Plant and Sandy Denny sang in The Battle of Evermore:

Tired eyes on the sunrise,
Waitin' for the eastern glow.


Witalik said...

You wrote: "SDN is "free", although I could argue that it is subsidized by the software costs and maintenance fees paid by customers."
1) I bet it is paid from cost relief money from SAP Support! Imaging all this questions/problems flooding SAP Support - their response would be even worse!
2} SDB is not pure free, it has its own comercialization mission: to sell trial versions and premium content, i.e. recordings from TechEd.

In my opinon ASUG is great in direct contact activities. I do not know about your ASUG communities, but BI SIGs I quite shy with regards of on-line blogging and forums, but webinars, chapter meetings and monthly calls are great.

take care,

JSpath55 said...

Karin responded with a post of her own - see Car-ins blogs "What SAP communities do I live in?"