Industry Leader Q&A with ISUG’s Mike Harrold

The past year has been a challenging one for businesses as well as user groups alike. Yet,  ISUG which serves the Sybase user community by acting as an information channel, an advocate for user issues, and as a force that helps to determine the product directions of Sybase, has offered new services and taken innovative approaches to provide training to its members. 5 Minute Briefing: Sybase talks with Mike Harrold, executive director of ISUG, about what ISUG is doing to support its members and what the user group hopes to accomplish in the year ahead.

The past year has been challenging for all businesses. What are the difficulties ISUG member are facing?
Harrold: Obviously, the primary concern of our members is for their economic future.  We have members who have lost their jobs in the past 12 months, members who by no choice of their own have been forced to change jobs, and members who have been forced to change their hiring and retention practices when it comes to their own employees.  That said, an economic climate such as the current one presents opportunities for those willing to embrace change and think outside of the box. We have members who have leveraged the current conditions to improve their economic futures, so it is not all bad news.

How is ISUG supporting its members in these tough economic times?
Harrold: ISUG itself is a medium for exchanging ideas, be that through our online forums, our user group meetings, and events. We are continually looking for additional ways to assist members in this manner. Among other initiatives this year, we have rolled out some new functionality on our member website to enable members to share more information about themselves with other members. 

In 2009, ISUG announced its Online PowerBuilder Training provided by ISUG and eLearnIT LLC Team Up. How has the online approach been accepted among members?
Harrold: The reception has been quite good. Most online training to date has been limited in scope because it has been provided by organizations that also provide full-scale live training.  Generally, the costs to attend that other training are quite high. As a result, the lower-priced online training is usually rather elementary and simplistic, probably because the training organizations are afraid to cannibalize the revenue from their existing offerings to fully embrace the e-Learning opportunities that are out there. Our offering is a comprehensive training course that is comparable to a full-scale live training program, but at a vastly reduced price. Given the current economic climate, businesses are looking for ways to train staff but keep costs low, and we have the perfect solution for them!

Will there be other online training programs offered in the future?
Harrold: Yes, we have several modules in the pipeline currently that are specifically designed to meet growing needs within the community. We'll begin rolling these out in the first half of 2010.

ISUG and Bradmark also sponsored a Six-City Data Management Tour this year for users of for users of Sybase Adaptive Server Enterprise, Replication Server and Sybase IQ. Tell us about why this tour was necessary and the needs it addressed in the community.
Harrold: The primary goal of the tour was to present technical information to attendees, information that they could take back to their offices and use straight away.  These were not marketing-oriented events; they were aimed at serving our existing members to help them do their jobs even better.  Our secondary goal was to expose the attendees to products and solutions that they may not have been using, which was why we combined several separate, yet connected topics in the one-day events.

Does ISUG feel that both online and in-person events and training are required to meet members' needs?
Harrold: Both styles are great at presenting information to their respective audiences, but the in-person events also enable members to interact with each other in a way that online events simply do not. There's something still to be said for human interaction in this ever-more-virtual world we live in.

In one of the latest member benefits, ISUG also announced a discount on all O'Reilly books for ISUG members.
Harrold: O'Reilly is a great publisher of technical information and covers dozens and dozens of topics with our members use on a daily basis.  This is one more way that makes a membership in ISUG so valuable.

ISUG now represents more than 6,000 members in more than 60 countries around the globe. How has ISUG changed since you first became a member?
Harrold: Well, for one it is a much larger organization that it was a decade ago!  But I also think that we've done a good job of embracing technology over the last few years in order to meet the needs of our members.

What are ISUG's plans for 2010 in terms of training and support for ISUG members? What needs are you seeking to address?
Harrold: We'll continue to grow our eLearning initiative as well as run our live events. In both instances we'll be looking to deliver the necessary information that our members need to be more successful with their jobs and careers.

What do you hope ISUG to accomplish in the coming year?
Harrold: We'll be increasing both the content and information delivered to our members, as well as the forms of delivery.  We're going to explore the mobile delivery options currently available and on the horizon, and see what fits with our current methods to best increase information availability.  We will also continue to grow our membership base, especially in Latin and South America which is a region that has been underrepresented in our membership for some time.