Jeff West, president of Quest International Users Group, joined by Jonathan Vaughn, Quest's executive director, talked with DBTA at Oracle OpenWorld about what’s ahead for 2013. The group has launched smaller, product-concentrated events to support JD Edwards and PeopleSoft users’ specific areas of interest, and expanded its range of online offerings for users who may not be able take advantage of in-person conferences. Plans are underway to help members learn about PeopleSoft 9.2 coming in March and to prepare for the looming end of support for JD Edwards World. As always, says West, Quest continues to help get information to members from Oracle and their peers. “It is always about return on investment and aligning IT with the business. That is always on the top of people’s minds.”
How is the Quest International Users Group changing its approaches to support members’ evolving needs?
West: We have new initiatives around product-focused events specifically for PeopleSoft and JD Edwards customers. We have branded those RECONNECT for PeopleSoft since an earlier PeopleSoft conference was called Connect and that is something that resonates with them. We are calling the JD Edwards conference is INFOCUS since that conference years ago was called Focus. It is a play on words based on the names of their previous conferences. Focus and Connect were certainly pre-Oracle acquisition so it was a handful of years ago – perhaps 8 years ago.
Why are these additional conferences needed?
West: Our goal is to give the JD Edwards and PeopleSoft communities of users a place where they can gather and learn, and provide a vehicle for generating feedback to Oracle. This is part of the tiered approach to conferences that we have just started to execute on. OpenWorld is clearly at the top of the tier with the largest number of customers, products and technologies, Next would be COLLABORATE, which we present in partnership with two other Oracle user groups, and that provides more opportunity for cross-product exposure, and then the next step down is the product-focused events that we have launched this fall. Then, below those are the RUGs or regional user groups.
Vaughn: These smaller events provide the opportunity to network and make contacts and allow us to provide much more detailed information.
West: At RECONNECT, for example, you have the ability to get into the specifics, for example, of how a General Ledger Allocation process might work or an Accounts Payable configuration might be made, but at COLLABORATE, you get the product roadmap for HR or Financials suite of applications. And then, at OpenWorld, the information is much more broad. You might learn that you can run your ERP applications in the cloud or on-premise - those kinds of things. The smaller, more focused events really drill down within the categories. That was a niche we felt was lacking and we are trying to serve that niche by giving the practitioners a chance to reconnect and re-engage and to get more specific information.
Vaughn: We are finding that people really like being at an event that is focused on just their product and so as much of that as we can serve them, the better.
West: Within the PeopleSoft community we may find a group that is focused on Accounts Payable or High Volume Processing or other special interest groups. We are trying to gather up these people and bring their attention back to these smaller conferences.
How is the economy affecting attendance at all these events.
Vaughn: We have found that there is a lot of a lot of pent up demand because of the challenges that everyone has faced since 2009 and continuing forward but the meeting industry seems to have begun to rebound because people do want to come together for face-to-face exchange.
What is it that people are most concerned about now?
West: Our constituents within PeopleSoft and JD Edwards are always interested in learning about the next versions. PeopleSoft 9.2 is coming in March 2013 with new functionality and COLLABORATE will be right after the GA of 9.2 so there will be a lot of reasons for our members to get together to learn about that.
Vaughn: That will be a major release for PeopleSoft customers and will need information on the upgrade path, and we will likely have some early adopters at COLLABORATE sharing their stories.
West: In addition, there are upgrade options within the JD Edwards product family that people need to learn about. And there is always new functionality. We met with the JD Edwards leadership and they said that even when it is not a major release they have something new to talk about all the time whether it is a new patch or a new added bundle within the product. JD Edwards Enterprise One just went through a major release this past year but also JD Edwards World customer on older releases are facing an end of support deadline in December 2013 and they need to make decisions about what to do. Do they sit tight or upgrade to something else? We are hoping that INFOCUS can be vehicle for them to educate themselves on their options. And then there is always the issue of how do you use what you currently have and how do you take advantage of all the functionality that is delivered in the current product. Customers don’t always understand all that they have available to them today in their current releases.
How are new cloud options being received by users?
West: There are some interesting dynamics that are occurring in a lot of corporations with the newly offered cloud-based applications. IT may not even be part of the conversation because a business department can talk to a cloud vendor and ask about the functionality they need and all they require is a URL and a browser. That can create some challenges; there may be insufficient security, or integration issues. And so now more than ever, IT and the business need to be close and work hand in glove. The cloud really should not be used as a vehicle to exclude IT or the business from a conversation.
Quest has also put a sharp focus on creating a greater online presence.
West: Not all customers of course can come to every event. The idea of providing customer with what they want when they want it is really important. You can’t bring all of your project team to COLLABORATE. You may be able to bring one or two and what about the rest? So, trying to provide some online content, recorded sessions, online education and resources, even the ability to network online and have communities of information and talk about issues so others of similar minds can collaborate on a certain problem
Vaughn: Our conference is not always in sync with their schedules so we need to provide content so it is available when they need it so that they don’t have to wait for the next Quest conference to come around.
West: People who attend conferences may also want to share something they heard and this allows them to do that as well.
What are the other concerns PeopleSoft and JD Edwards users have right now?
West: It is always about return on investment and aligning IT with the business. That is always on the top of people’s minds. They want to get value for what they are investing - both in time and money. Whether you are running a payroll system or an ERP system, you want it provide good return. There is always a pressure to watch the dollars and to be frank these things are not trivial. There is a cost to it. And there is always someone willing to challenge what you doing and you need to be sure that you are getting value.
Vaughn: We want to help them make good, informed decisions and ensure that they are taking advantage of the full breadth of what the product provides.