OAUG Gets Back to Basics - An Interview with David Ferguson

First elected to Oracle Applications Users Group board of directors in 2009, David Ferguson became president of the OAUG this year. He talks with DBTA this month about how the users group is getting "back to basics" with educational sessions and networking opportunities as well as the new approaches it is taking to meet its members' evolving needs.

DBTA: The IT landscape is constantly evolving and users groups must change with it. How is the OAUG changing under your leadership?
Ferguson: The landscape is changing - in very good ways. Oracle is expanding. They are acquiring companies and we are very excited about the new opportunities this provides to the user group.  It makes our invested partner Oracle a lot more competitive and stronger and it makes our user community more diverse and complex.

DBTA: Does this present challenges?
Ferguson: It is a very exciting time for us. Part of our challenge is the evolving user group landscape. We see that our members are spanning multiple user communities now and that the old model of support is not necessarily meeting all of their needs. We are looking to develop new support models for the membership and at times that means that we cross boundaries with our sister organizations.

DBTA: How does the OAUG work that out?
Ferguson: We have made a very concerted effort to plug and play with our sister organizations.  Traditionally, we have provided our services in somewhat of a vertical arrangement to the applications customers.  With Oracle's growth, they have users groups that span hardware to software and cover the storage stack up to the applications space - so there is a lot of potential overlap. We are trying to figure out our best fit and then how do we share the space with our sister organizations. 

DBTA: At last count there were 57 special interest groups (SIGs) within the OAUG. Is that still the right number?
Ferguson: We keep growing our footprint as well.  We added three SIGs this past year. PeopleSoft Financials and General Ledger are both new and OAUG specific and both were introduced at COLLABORATE. The third Sig we added was for Primavera. Customers running Primavera may be running many different applications as a part of their ERP system (SAP, JD Edwards, PeopleSoft, Siebel, EBS). The responsibility fell to Quest and OAUG to come up with a solution with both groups supporting the special interest area for Primavera customers. 

DBTA: Is it common for two users groups to support one SIG in the Oracle ecosystem?
Ferguson: I see it as the future for groups wanting to stay closely aligned with Oracle. It's a model which allows for a straddling of multiple groups, as opposed to one group having sole responsibility.  It's also more flexible for a member company that may not be solely invested in the applications any one group would support.

DBTA: Does that make things more complicated?
Ferguson: We are very excited about this new opportunity. It actually has made start-up a bit easier.  Quest and OAUG are both pouring a lot of time and effort in support of the SIG's new board. We have very good people from both organizations that are experienced and knowledgeable performers at the helm. 

DBTA: You were elected in February and have had about 6 months as president. What are your key objectives for the OAUG?
Ferguson: We have two very important strategic directions that we have set out on. OAUG offers a very broad spectrum of member benefits and we found through our feedback mechanisms, that there are a few that are extremely important to the membership. We put a program in place this year to get back to those basic value-adding benefits.  The spotlight is shining on educational opportunities. We have a wonderful relationship with ITC (Information Technology Convergence) promoting R12 workshops. We have face-to-face sessions on both coasts, in New York and San Francisco along with coverage in four other major metro areas... We also have a lot of e-learning opportunities presented with the help of our long time partner Solution Beacon for folks that prefer to learn virtually. Another part of this back-to-basics focus is networking events. We are creating more opportunities for people to get together, peer to peer, exchange the business cards, and leverage the value of that connection for years to come. 

DBTA: What are Connection Point events?
Ferguson: Connection Points are very focused, regional events, 1 to 2 days, maximum. We've had some real success with Hyperion and BI. We are doing another one in Dallas in November.  No need to travel far or stay long to get the benefit of very focused, high-intensity educational sessions as well as the opportunity to network with peers and subject matter experts. Oracle supports us at the event providing keynotes and presenters.

DBTA: Are those the key areas of the OAUG's back-to-basics approach?
Ferguson: Yes, along with the responsibility to represent the collective voice of the membership back to Oracle. When issues bubble up from the membership, we have a very strong connection back to the management team at Oracle. Those are the three areas that back to basics represents.                                                                                                               

DBTA: With Oracle OpenWorld coming up September 19-23, what is OAUG's conference focus?
Ferguson: We are heavily invested in Sunday at OpenWorld which is predominantly for the SIGs [pertaining to special interest areas] and Geos [who reside within a defined geographic region]. And throughout the week we are supporting well over 100 educational sessions by various contributing members.

DBTA: Are there specific technology areas of focus?
Ferguson:  Fusion is always a hot topic. It is really a broad and complex area for the membership. We had a wonderful session which we called Fusion Soup to Nuts at COLLABORATE. It ran from 10 am to 6 pm with presenters representing the community of user groups covering the various elements of the Fusion product set.  We are looking to do more of the same throughout the year including time at Oracle OpenWorld.  And, there is a lot of anticipation building around Fusion applications.   Oracle has been quite for a long time - for good  reasons - but we are always eager to learn what is coming  in the near future.

Outside of Fusion, there are the EBS R12 upgrades. That is always a hot topic. A large number of the papers that were submitted and approved for OpenWorld are on that topic

DBTA: What other areas are you focusing on at OpenWorld?
Ferguson: A very practical area that we might provide some help to the membership is licensing and maintenance agreements.  It is very confusing for customers and we are working together with Oracle to provide some clarity. With all the acquisitions that have taken place, the migration of all of these existing customers into new agreements that are now Oracle-based can create quite a complex environment.

Also, as Oracle re-bundles their products, the licensing is at time altered for customers. It's a complex subject that presents challenges for the membership.  Oracle has been very supportive in trying to structure sessions to help. They have an LMS [License Management Services] group that is very helpful and they are participating with us in committee to try and  bring clarity for the membership.

DBTA: What else do you see ahead at OpenWorld?
Ferguson: I think we are also going to hear a lot more about On-Demand. There was a quieter announcement that came out recently that the $300M data center in Utah has been reactivated. It was started about 2 years ago and came to a halt I believe in February of 2009. That work is progressing and this data center is reportedly dedicated to On Demand and software-as-a-service for Oracle.