Message From the President’s Desk – Michael Olin
You Have Been Nominated
Once again, in late November, I started received emails from both the Independent Oracle User Group (IOUG) and Oracle inviting me to a very special meeting. The first message, from Stacey Freeh, the IOUG’s Membership and Volunteer Engagement Coordinator, informed me that I would shortly be hearing from Oracle. The message began:
Dear IOUG Leader,
You have been recognized for outstanding leadership within your user group and IOUG has nominated you to attend the 2014 Oracle User Group Leaders’ Summit. The International Oracle User Group Community (IOUC) is a community of leaders representing Oracle user groups worldwide. The leaders of independent communities focused on Oracle products and technology meet in-person at IOUC every year to share ideas about fostering community growth, establish best practices and to learn more about current and upcoming Oracle products.
About a week and a half later, the “official” invitation arrived from May Lou Dopart, a Senior Director in Oracle’s Global Customer Programs office. Ms. Dopart is the Oracle executive who serves as liaison between Oracle and the worldwide user group community. Ms. Dopart’s invitation explained my “nomination” as follows:
I would like to invite you to attend the 2014 International Oracle User Group Community (IOUC) Summit, scheduled to take place Tuesday, January 21, 2014 through Thursday, January 23, 2014 at Oracle Headquarters in Redwood Shores, CA. You have been nominated to attend the Summit because of your role with your Oracle user group.
Both messages included information about the agenda of the meeting and this very important logistical detail:
Please be aware that all travel, accommodations and additional expenses are the responsibility of the attendee.
It seems that my leadership role in the Oracle user community provided me with the opportunity to travel to California, on my own time and at my own expense, to meet with other user group leaders who are also paying out of their own pockets, to do the following:
…share ideas about fostering community growth, establish best practices and to learn more about current and upcoming Oracle products
From my perspective, the only thing missing from this “nomination” is the opportunity to purchase a bound copy of a book listing all of the nominated luminaries from the user group community. I am sure that most of those invited would be happy to spend a few hundred dollars more to get their copy of “Who’s Who in the Oracle User Community.”
I did not reply to either message, which resulted in reminder messages from both the IOUG and Oracle, arriving back-to-back in mid-December. I am also sure that a “last chance” message will arrive just after New Year’s Day. If I were to reply, I suppose it would look something like this:
An Open Letter to the Organizers of the Oracle User Group Leaders’ Summit
I am writing to thank you for your invitation to participate in the 2014 Oracle User Group Leaders’ Summit. As President of NYOUG, one of the largest and most active Regional User Groups (RUG) in the Oracle User Community, I suppose that I should really give your invitation some consideration. Nevertheless, as I have since the inception of this event, I must once again decline. Although I do appreciate the fact that you have made changes to the format this year, reducing the length of the event to “two days to decrease leader time out of office,” I cannot help feeling that this event is more about getting Oracle’s message across rather than helping the user groups. Of course, having never attended, I could be completely wrong about the conference’s focus. However, I hope you can see how agenda items like this may give me that impression:
User group leaders will learn how to leverage Oracle messages and understand the priority campaigns that will be delivered in Q3-4 FY14. This will help the groups synch with Oracle on content delivery!
I wonder if the people who plan this “Summit” have any idea what attendance at such a meeting looks like to a true volunteer leader in the user community. I’ve been involved with NYOUG since its founding in the mid 1980’s. That is long before there was an IOUG (whether the “I” meant “International,” as it did originally, or “Independent,” the fig leaf that is currently employed), before Oracle had an executive responsible for managing interaction with user groups, and well before Oracle took over half of San Francisco so that some 60,000 people could attend Oracle OpenWorld. In all of those years, I have presented papers at several “International Oracle User Week” conferences, presented and run full-day sessions at 10 “East Coast Oracle (ECO)” conferences, attended and/or run well over 100 NYOUG General Meetings, planned NYOUG training days, and spent countless hours on conference calls and email related to managing a local users group. I have paid my own way for all of this, paid for my own IOUG membership and, while I don’t have to use my vacation days to cover the days that I am out of the office volunteering as a user group leader, the reason is because as an independent consultant, I don’t have any “vacation days” to use. If I am at a user group event, there is no client to bill for the time and I don’t get paid. The truth is that I am hardly alone in these circumstances. I know dozens of user group leaders throughout the US who have been doing the same thing that I have, many of them for just as many years.
It’s not that I don’t think meeting with other user group leaders is worth my time. I speak with leaders of other RUGs frequently and I think that there is quite a bit they could learn from what we do at NYOUG and just as much that we could learn from them. I’d probably be willing to give up a day or two of billing to meet with them and even sit through a couple of hours of Oracle product managers giving us their talking points for the coming year. However, asking me to foot the bill for my own travel, meals and accommodations at the (luxurious, I’m sure) Embassy Suites Hotel in Burlingame is – well frankly – insulting. I know how much it costs to run a two-day conference in New York City, and I’m sure that things are just as expensive in the Bay Area. I’m willing to bet that picking up all of the expenses for the user group leaders you invite to this event would amount to little more than a rounding error compared with what Oracle spends on Open World. Perhaps having one less band at the “Appreciation Event” would cover the costs. Larry Ellison could probably personally fund the User Group Leaders Summit for years with a contribution of perhaps 10% of the next quarterly dividend payment on his Oracle holdings (after taxes). The user group community has always been supportive of Oracle and dedicated to helping Oracle users in our local areas be successful in their use of the company’s products. If you truly believe that Oracle benefits from having a robust, independent, user group community, and you think that this Summit will help keep that community strong, it’s time to stop asking those volunteers who give so much of themselves to their local communities to pick up the tab.