User Groups – They’re all about the users, but the vendor needs to recognize that!

Finally have the time to blog about a meeting I had at the recent IP Expo at Earls Court, London.  I had the great pleasure to meet up with Neil Spellings and Andrew Wood, steering committee leaders of the Citrix User Group here in the UK.  Julian Wood also joined us; as many of you know he’s a long term VMUG attendee and contributor, but he’s also attended some of the Citrix UGs as he – as with many VMUG members – has implemented both Citrix and VMware infrastructures.

We were discussing the merits of vendor involvement in user groups and how they can help, as well as hinder, community effort.  We discussed what is required from a vendor to make a successful user group.  Obviously being involved with a couple of VMware User Groups (London and UK), I have a good insight into what works well with a successful user group.  Observing from the outside in, I see a fundamental difference between what VMUGs receive from their eponymous vendor versus what Citrix provides, which appears very little.  On the other hand, I also see a striking similarity – and that is user passion.

The discussion got me wondering about why VMUG is so successful and why many other UGs stumble in its shadow.  I believe there are two intrinsic components to even get a UG started. One is the vendor’s belief in the value of supporting a UG and thus allocating a resource (preferably a dedicated one) as a ‘connector’ between the vendor’s relevant department(s) and the UG leaders.  Second, you have to have the passion and dedication from the users.  In VMUG’s case I believe this passion to border on (in a good way!) a cult-like following.  Without these 2 starting ingredients, you do not have a recipe for success.

If you look at what Citrix currently provides a focus on within its community – their CTPs (Citrix Technology Professionals) – it is too narrow in focus, as currently there are only 46 holders of this title.  Meanwhile VMware’s vExpert program has over 580 members and is highly focused on people evangelizing VMware and its technology and sharing within the community.

For me, VMware gets community, they invest in a team of people, including John Mark Troyer and Corey Romero, and originally help set up VMUG.  VMUG is now an independent, not-for-profit, organization run by the users for the users.  Although the London VMUG had been running long before VMUG was formed, by becoming a formal VMUG, we’ve been able to expand our meetings to all day and multiple tracks due to VMUG HQ taking the ‘back office’ burden off our shoulders – such as invoicing sponsors, paying the venue, etc. – enabling us to focus on securing the best speakers and relevant sponsors for our members’ enjoyment and edification and providing a networking forum that promotes further learning.

At last weekend’s E2EVC event, 2 of our prominent European VMUG members, Liselotte Foverskov (Danish VMUG) and Andrea Mauro (Italian VMUG) presented about VMware.  Their presentation was well received by the community in attendance at the event, which, from what I can tell, is predominantly Citrix/Microsoft focused.

Citrix has Perrine Crampton as their community programs manager – John Troyer recently interviewed her on Geek-Whisperers – it was great to hear about EMCElect, vExpert and CTP communities from the people that own the relationship within their respective vendors.  I think it would be great to see Citrix provide a deeper focus to their user group communities, expanding out from just a CTP focus.  I was recently asked by a senior Citrix marketing exec how much budget should they allocate to user groups.  My answer? None.  The funding comes from sponsors, but you need to provide the commitment of relevant speakers to attend the user groups and you need to connect with the leaders on a regular basis. And executive sponsorship is key – every VMworld has Pat Gelsinger or other senior executives mention VMUG.  While I’ve not attended a Citrix Synergy for a while now, I don’t ever recall Mark Templeton mention CUG………

A recent tweet from Julian Wood says it all:

and I hope other vendors can follow VMUG’s lead and provide THEIR users the commitment and dedication to supporting their user groups.  It’s all about the users you know 🙂

2 thoughts on “User Groups – They’re all about the users, but the vendor needs to recognize that!

  1. Jane,

    Always a pleasure to meet up. It was an incredibly useful chat, as chats with you always are.

    I was at the E2E Virtualization Conference too – and caught Andrea’s solo session and the joint one with Liselotte. Hopefully more VMUG presenters and vExperts will be at the next event in Brussels.

    I presented, along with fellow CTP Jim Moyle, a Citrix focused keynote. In there we had a section on how we through Citrix could do engagement across communities better. As you mention Perrine was also there and some of the wind of that rant was taken out as before the session we’d had a very informative and constructive discussion about where Citrix was going with its community program. “Some of the wind” mind 😉

    Change is afoot. Not fast change but Rome wasn’t built in a day. Definitely the VMUG model is one rightly recognized as an exemplar. Perrine had a great vision and focus to build on the work that has gone before. It was excellent to see the Newcastle UG event jump in attendees after our session, and also exciting to talk with people who want to set their own UG up after listening in. I understand MarkT has taken some leave at the moment, but we look forward to his attendance in the future.

    It is indeed about all about the users you know, and I look forward to attending more VMUG events and welcoming people to the CUG events too.

    • Thanks Andrew, glad it was a fruitful discussion. Laughed at the irony of Rome not being built in a day and with it being the venue for E2EVC 🙂 Yes, MarkT has taken a leave of absence – totally understandable – and I too hope on his return he will give a focus to CUG. Perhaps our discussion and the discussions you had at E2EVC will be the catalyst to change? Also, as a complete side note, you might want to mention to Jim his name is incorrectly spelt on the CTP page 🙂 See you in a couple of weeks at UKVMUG!

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