Lest anyone think that this job is all about the glamourous life...today started at 5 AM Paris time.  That's after going to bed somewhere around 1:30 AM Paris time, after a few conference calls back with the US last night.  That 5 AM wakeup lead to a 7:45 AM flight to Bremen, where I arrived at the Messe for the DNUG conference (Deutsche Notes User Group -- the German Lotus user community) around 10 AM.  I met some IBMers for breakfast immediately, a customer informally an hour later, and was presenting or participating in sessions at DNUG from 1 PM until 5 PM.  Then it was right back to Bremen airport, where the flight to Frankfurt was delayed to 7:30 PM.  The connecting flight to Dublin was then delayed to 10 PM, and we will be landing in Dublin after 11 PM Dublin time.  I'll finally get to a hotel about 20 hours after my day started, two countries and three flights later.  Hopefully, it's clear now why I was hesitant to try to do both DNUG and ILUG -- but I think it was more than worth it.

We had some great participation in the special interest group sessions at DNUG today.  The highlight for me was the discussion about the role of user groups in the Lotus community/ecosystem.  DNUG had worked with a PhD student from the University of Paderborn, Jessica Hünnies-Stemann, to conduct research on what DNUG members think about DNUG, DNUG's relationship with IBM, and IBM in general.  Jessica's research was very detailed and, at times, eye-opening.  I learned from her that DNUG members are generally satisfied or even very positive about all these areas, though of course there were some negatives as well.  Some of the points:

  • Business partners were generally more satisfied with IBM and IBM's relationship with DNUG than customers.  I attribute that to being able to directly measure how DNUG's efforts have impacted their business.
  • DNUG members are very happy to be part of DNUG, though they are not always quite as positive in how they communicate about DNUG in their organizations.  This may be to reduce any appearance of bias or self-interest.
  • DNUG members would like to see more influence from DNUG on IBM, but they do not consider this an important issue for the user group.
  • DNUG members value most things like conferences, workshops, and special interest groups.  This seemed very logical to me, that given that so much content and information about the products themselves is now available through a myriad of channels, a user group's most important function is networking and awareness.
  • One real surprise for me was that DNUG members did not feel that DNUG was providing access to IBM executives...the rating in this area was one of the lowest of the survey.  Considering that the last three Lotus general managers (Goyal, Rhodin, Picciano) have all spoken at multiple DNUG events, as well as longer-time contributors like Kevin Cavanaugh or, for that matter, me, I am not sure how we could improve upon this.  We had a lot of discussion about what that data meant, for sure...

Jürgen Zirke then asked me to speak about my personal perspective on user groups and what opportunities DNUG, or other groups, have to grow and contribute more to the Notes/Domino community.  We talked about different models in use worldwide, from the once-a-year meeting approach being used by ILUG or in Italy, the consortium approach in Japan, or the regional/local fragmentation that exists in markets like the US and Australia.  Of course we also discussed the role LotusUserGroup.org is playing, especially in reaching to customers who might not otherwise have ready access to a local/regional/national user group.

I think the bottom line is, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to making user groups successful.  ILUG has grown to a huge number of attendees 100% through grass-roots, as have similar efforts in Spain and Italy.  Formal structures work well in other areas such as for DNUG.  I advised that I think they should look at the services their users deemed less-useful/important -- such as content on the DNUG website -- and take to heart what the real areas are for investment and value going forward.

The last question in this session was, did I have a personal wish for DNUG.  Now, this is a group I have been working personally with for nine years, and walking the halls of the conference today I saw so many familiar faces that it is like family.  So I said that my one wish was that they would hold their conferences is in "tier 1" cities, so that we would have the mutual (DNUG+IBM) opportunity to consider drawing attendees from outside of Germany.  I am not sure that we will ever be able to drive a critical mass in Europe -- culture, language, and distance all are factors -- but we can certainly do much more in a city that is easier to get to than the lovely-but-challenging Karlsruhe of two years ago.

It appears I will get my opportunity.  Dr. Boldt told me on my way out that next spring's DNUG conference (2009) will be in Düsseldorf.  Heck, I can get there nonstop from Chicago, so attendees from Oslo or Bilbao or wherever becomes a real possibility.  We have some time to think about and plan for this.  With some good coordination, I think that will be an event worth attending.

For now, though, I need to concentrate on 400+ of my friends who await in Dublin in the morning.  I can't tell you how excited I am to be back at ILUG.  I just hope I get some sleep before another very long day.  If not, well, there's always that eight hour flight back to Chicago on Friday.

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