User groups enjoy resurgence on back of tech confidence

The tech economy has well and truly recovered with user groups reporting a renewed level of interest in peer-to-peer forums.

Pointing to IT's maturity as a key driver in the recent upswing, Sandra Potter, executive director of Hewlett-Packard user group, OpenView Forum International (OVFI), said there has been a real turn-around in user group support.

Potter said users are seeking out forums and opportunities for more face-to-face networking.

She said it is a far cry from a few years ago when interest in user groups was lagging after the dotcom crash.

"Today, it is a much better climate for user groups. There's a credibility in users delivering service rather than the vendor," she said.

"Of course users still want to know what vendors have to offer, but customers know that they tend to lean towards marketing."

The fallout from the poor tech climate and the heavy focus on cost cutting took a heavy toll on IT, impacting membership in user groups for a number of consecutive years.

One organization that is riding high on the resurgence in end user forums is the CIO Executive Council, which has seen its membership numbers double in the last three months.

Sue Bartlett, the council's Asia-Pacific director of operations, attributes the shift to a range of factors.

"Renewed confidence in the economy means organizations are expanding their use of IT, it isn't just about cost cutting," Bartlett said.

"Some IT professionals who had stayed away from user groups for a number of years have also found themselves isolated and recognize that to progress they need greater access to peers.

"It may sound a bit twee, but I don't think its just about learning from others; I think also that a real desire to help others has emerged."

During the tech recovery, industry pundits claimed membership to user groups was falling because IT professionals were sourcing more of their information online.

But Phil Kernick, president of the System Administrators Guild of Australia (Sage-au), said Google only beats user groups as a source of information if "you can phrase your question perfectly".

"Google is an adjunct to user groups, it certainly hasn't replaced us," Kernick said.

"Do a Google search and you get 500,00 responses to one question, but no answer."

Kernick said Sage-au memberships increase every year.

"Companies have been forced to wake up and live in the real world by spending more on security. IT is successfully riding on the coat-tails of that spending; it's certainly more upbeat today than it was in 2001," he added.

HP yet to deliver on the Adaptive Enterprise vision

Hewlett-Packard customers are buying into the Adaptive Enterprise vision, but are yet to see any real deliverables, Potter said, adding that better utlization of software, hardware and services is the next visionary wave of change.

"Users are buying into the vision but waiting to see what it entails. HP should deliver in the next 12 months," she said.

In preparation for the inaugural Asia-Pacific HP Software Forum in Sydney later this month, Potter outlined some of the main issues on the agenda for users. "Customers want to get more ROI out of the tools they already have, they want to make their investment work; what do we do next?" she said.

"IT service management was the vision five years ago and we've achieved that, so next on the agenda is the Adaptive Enterprise."

To hear the interview in full listen to Computerworld's special edition podcast at

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