Quest International Users Group Moves to Address Changing Requirements of IT Professionals

Industry Leader Q&A with Michael L. Whitmer, President of the Quest International Users Group

Quest International Users Group (Quest) for Oracle PeopleSoft, JD Edwards and Oracle Utilities users is laying out an ambitious roadmap for the year ahead, incorporating new in-person product-focused events directed specifically at the needs of the JD Edwards and PeopleSoft communities, as well as expanding its offering of online learning opportunities. Michael L. Whitmer, president of Quest, joined by Jonathan Vaughn, Quest's executive director, talked with 5 Minute Briefing at Oracle OpenWorld in San Francisco about strategies for supporting members in 2012. There is a shift going on in IT and being technically competent is simply not enough anymore, says Whitmer. "The IT organizations that are going to be successful going forward are those that really move out of being the order-taker organization to being a true business strategy organization, in partnership with the business, and deliver IT in a way that provides business value."

What is ahead for Quest in 2012?
Whitmer: Quest in 2012 is looking to really drive more product-focused content and events - that is really what our membership is asking for - around the JD Edwards and PeopleSoft communities. I am actually the first ‘PeopleSoft' president of Quest. One of my objectives as president this year is to ensure that we really bring leverage and value to the PeopleSoft community more than we have in the past - not to slight JD Edwards in any way - we have a very strong community there. We provide tons of value there as we do PeopleSoft. But we want to maintain or improve slightly what we are doing for JD Edwards and increase the value that we bring to our PeopleSoft community.

What kinds of events are you planning?
Whitmer: We are looking to do a PeopleSoft-specific and a JD Edwards-specific event that are in addition to what we are involved with today. And those new events are going to try to dive deeper into the product sets around PeopleSoft and JD Edwards but also dig deeper into the softer components of utilizing the tool, and best practices and business issues related to these technologies in the organzation.

Would these be regional in-person or web events?
Whitmer: Face-to-face - probably smaller national events is what we are looking at.

Will people be able to travel to additional events?
Whitmer: We believe so; there are the national events today - Oracle OpenWorld and COLLABORATE are the two big ones. Those are at a much different price point than these other national events would be and we believe that, because of the product-focused specifics and not only the breadth but the depth that we will provide within the product set, there will be value in those. We also believe that it is really going to be two different types of attendees that come to these events, from a skill set role in their organizations and in terms of the information that they are looking for. We expect that the hands-on, senior professional skill set-type of person will go to these new national product-specific events; and then some of those folks as well, but also the managers, directors, and executives will go to events such as COLLABORATE and OpenWorld.

Vaughn: We are not abandoning our localized event opportunities. There will still be those localized regional users groups - RUGs - to  support those people that may not able to go to the national event. That support is still going to be there.

What has the initial feedback been to this new strategy?
Whitmer: We have gotten very good feedback.

Vaughn: Part of this an effort to consolidate some of these events so there are not so many. We are trying to create one home for PeopleSoft customers versus feeling like the community is so fractured.

What are other intiatives for 2012?
Whitmer: We are also driving improved online content and online learning. That is another initiative for 2012. We are going to be bringing more of this product-specific and best practices focus and organizational or industry-oriented topics, along with the technology information to our online content and online learning.

Would some of the in-person presentations also be offered online?
Whitmer: We are talking about filming the key sessions at some of our events and making that content available even from COLLABORATE or these regional events, or these new national events that we are talking about doing. That is a discussion and probably a direction we are going to go in. We will pick key, well-attended events at the conferences and then make that content available after the event as online learning opportunity. That is something that we are excited about as well from a content perspective.

What are the issues that are emerging for members?
Whitmer: On the business side, there is a shift going on. The IT organizations that are going to be successful going forward are those that really move out of being the order-taker organization to being a true business strategy organization, in partnership with the business, and deliver IT in a way that provides business value.

What do companies need to do?
Whitmer: Making sure your IT organization has the right skill set and the right people to be able to execute on that transition from order taker to business strategist is key. Unfortunately, there are two kinds of organizations - those that are order takers and those that are business strategists and I don't think there is any in-between.

There are a lot of IT organizations are filled with people that are technically competent - your environment goes down, they will have you back up and running in no time - but they couldn't have a relationship, or really form a bond with business leaders or speak their language. The managers and directors in IT really need to know the business as well as, or better than, the business people do, and that is really one of the key skill sets they are going to have to have.

How are those skills acquired by IT staff?
Whitmer: One of the things that I am driving in my own organization as a CIO is pushing staff into business roles, giving them assignments so that they can gain that business knowledge and really become part of the business and then when they rotate back into IT they really have that affiliation. For example, a program manager or project manager, or even a business analyst could rotate out for 6 months to a year - so they are using similar skill sets but they are applying their skills to business problems not technically-oriented problems. It is invaluable to us when they come back, and it is even more valuable to the business when they come back to the IT role.

What are other emerging issues for Quest members?
Whitmer: In the technical domain, it is really integration. With the cloud, with social media, with all of the various technologies that now exist within an organization, having integration skills is very key - understanding data sharing, understanding interfaces, APIs, RSS feeds, XML, with all the different technologies used to integrate applications, web services, etc. - those skills are going to be in high demand over the next 5 years as organizations have to address all these technologies.

How can organizations help their IT staffs become more proficient in these areas?
Whitmer: Quest is going to develop and deliver content through online learning focused on these trends and skill sets around relationship-building, integration, and business best practices as it relates to PeopleSoft Payroll, or SCM, or Financials, for example. Quest is going to work to facilitate this shift in skill sets through online learning and content that we provide.

It's not only the role of the IT professional that is changing; the role of Quest is also changing.
Whitmer: The current Quest board is very focused on evolving the organization. We are really looking at how we can get out front and bring value to our membership and user community along the PeopleSoft and JD Edwards product lines and it is not just the same old information about the technology. You have got to add in the softer information, the business-oriented side. We talk as a board about always trying to better ourselves and always trying to bring more value each year; to evolve and bring the best value we can to our constituency.

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