Pete Helgren – COMMON BoD Candidate 2010

Editors note: This is the (hopefully) first in a series of posts by guest authors … all of whom are candidates for the COMMON Board of Directors. These articles will be posted in the order they are received, with no preference being given to anyone.

I love the i and the Power platform and I have grown increasingly fond of the user community that surrounds it. This community is as good as the hardware that binds it! In this disconnected, virtual, anonymous world we live in, it is pretty sweet to have a “real” community: A community of real people, dealing with real challenges, in real time. I think it is important to leverage this community to maximize our productivity in our jobs and maximize the joy we have in doing our jobs. As a board member of Common, I am looking forward to implementing the following goals for IBM i users specifically and Power system users in general:

  1. Encourage greater community participation in conferences, workshops and local user group meetings
    1. Conferences – As a board member I will promote finding smaller and less expensive venues for annual conferences. I will also promote the reinstatement of volunteer credits to help defray conference participate costs.
    2. Workshops – Although I am a great fan of face to face, instructor led workshops, I also appreciate the opportunity to learn online. I will promote the establishment of member led distance learning workshops where the member and Common can both benefit financially.
    3. Local User Groups – LUGS are extremely important to a vibrant i community. The difficulty is in managing these local user groups with limited resources. I will promote the use of Common’s infrastructure to provide support and resources to grow local User groups.
  2. Reinvigorate the IBM Power community’s interest in Common.
    1. Provide a “credit” system for earning credits that can be used for defraying the expense of participating in Common activities. This is an expansion of the credits given for volunteering at Common annual conferences. These “credits” can be earned in a variety of ways:
      1. Contributing to Common sponsored Open Source Projects
      2. Contributing to articles and blog posts in Common Connect and Common online
      3. Delivering online workshops, seminars and chats
      4. Speaking at the Common annual Conference, volunteering for Common positions.
      5. Moderating and responding to questions in Common sponsored forums.
    2. Provide more ways to directly communicate with the Common board.
    3. Develop a comprehensive plan to promote Common among IBM i Users specifically and IBM Power platform users generally

I believe that key to COMMON’s success is the leveraging of IBM i and Power community member resources to grow the Common community. These resources are experienced and motivated and should be given the opportunity to not only contribute, but earn “credit” for that participation that can be then used for further participation in the community. There is no other user community that so leverages their membership, and I believe that the success of Common was in the unique way of encouraging participation through using “credits” to help defray costs. I believe this system should be expanded because, properly managed, it can be a win-win situation: Both the members and Common can benefit.

I believe the best days of COMMON are still ahead. The Power platform and IBM i’s unique position on that platform is just beginning to be appreciated by the IT industry. They want a simpler and more power platform. I want a simpler and more powerful COMMON community and as a board member I will work hard to see that become a reality.


6 Replies to “Pete Helgren – COMMON BoD Candidate 2010”

  1. I pay my annual dues just to be able to vote. I’d like to hear a concrete proposal from the candidates with regard to how they will “recover” long time volunteers who left because they were fed up with the BS, disgusted with the direction of the organization, or worse, forced out by the politics.

    In other words, what are the proposals to take COMMON back to being a user group?

  2. I’d probably need some specific examples of “BS”, what specific direction is the problem, or of someone being forced out by politics (without a acrimonious flame war starting). I’ve only been a Common member for about 8 years, and in that time, I am not aware of anything along those lines. But, I have been sticking with volunteering instead of politicking (until now).

    My hope is that the changes I propose above, even if not fully implemented, will begin to attract lapsed members and new members to the Common fold as well as get folks who may be sitting on the sidelines to participate. I think we can do that by “rewarding” the involvement as I have outlined. People get involved for a variety of reasons but I would hope that offering incentives, both monetary and non-monetary will get more folks to jump in.

    This is a users group and I think the members should be driving the bus more. But first we need to engage the membership. I am hopeful these ideas, or something similar, would help get more folks involved in Common.

  3. Pete,

    First of all, thank you for running for the board. Common is a volunteer driven organization and it is important to have committed volunteers like you who are willing to lend their energies to this worthy cause. Volunteerism has always been the heart and soul of this organization, and in it’s heyday COMMON was able to accomplish much via the passion and commitment of volunteers like you.

    But this is not COMMON’s heyday. COMMON has experienced a steady decline in paid attendance at conferences, and a corresponding decline in revenue, for at least the last decade. And while this is a volunteer, and not for profit enterprise, that does not mean it can afford to lose revenue. While some consider revenue conversations vulgar and beneath consideration, in fact revenue is like oxygen to COMMON, It is not the purpose of COMMON’s life, but without it COMMON dies. The lack of revenue is what has driven the board’s decision to scale back on volunteer benefits that you promise to restore.

    With that being said, you use words like reinvigorate, encourage, and communicate as if those are the problems of COMMON, but in fact COMMON’s problem are revenue, relevance, and resources. As fewer new faces are attracted to COMMON conferences, COMMON experiences a decrease in revenue, a loss of resources, and a further deterioration of relevance. This cycle has dire consequences if it is not arrested soon.

    So please tell us what your plan is Pete. What strategy will you champion that is bold enough to alter COMMON’s course, yet sensible enough to convince staff and board members to buy into it. Everyone running for the board should be aware of the difficulty the organization is having and should have some clear sense of the difficulties they propose to wade into. Please address the serious issues of COMMON Pete and tell us how you would fix it.

    Thank you, and again, thank you for volunteering.


  4. Thanks John. At this point, without knowing more about the “business” operations I can’t weigh in much on the “revenue” problem except to say that if we can solve the “relevance” problem I think both the revenue and resource problems take care of themselves.

    So, focusing on the relevance issue: There has been a perfect storm of factors that have come together to put pressure on on User communities like Common. And although there are many factors, probably the two most significant are the ubiquity of the Internet as a source of IT information, support and problem solving and the decline in the install base of systems running IBM i. The former undermines the “traditional” role of a user community and the latter undermines the size of the potential membership. So, first dealing with the latter: Expanding outreach to the System p community has the potential to grow Common. The p (generally *NIX) community is large but fairly self sufficient but it also doesn’t have a centrally focused user organization offering things like workshops, seminars, webcasts and conferences. The question is, what can Common bring to the “p” table? I am hopeful that applying some of the same solutions to the p community as the i community will generate some growing involvement in Common. That is, offering workshops, seminars, webcasts and conferences that are of interest to the p community. Can this be done? Common is already testing the waters there. What we need are more p (*NIX) types involved that can offer good counsel on what those offerings should be. So, part of the “relevance” fix is reaching out to the p user community and organizing them which might help offset declines in the “i” community (although i is now a subset of p).

    The other part of the relevance issue is that there is so much available on the Internet that organizations that also provide information are competing with “free” resources on the Internet. So the challenge is to offer “value” information. Information worth paying for. I am at a bit of a disadvantage because I don’t know the cost of production for the information that Common provides, but I think that if we use member supplied information resources at a low price, delivered over the web, we can attract new members and reward “experienced” members for delivering that content. That could be a workshop, an article, or a webcast. I think people are willing to contribute for free and freely when the investment in time is minimal. For example, mailing lists like Midrange are easy (and free) to participate in because knocking out a quick answer doesn’t “cost” much. I don’t think Common should play in this arena (David does such a great job with Midrange anyway). But, if someone is going to invest time and effort to develop an open source solution or put together a step by step tutorial, or conduct an online workshop, that takes time and effort and should be “compensated”. I also believe that people will pay for that content. Members delivering quality content to members is a good way to attract new members and involve existing members by providing incentives for participation (and think broadly here to the p community as well).

    So I think you have identified the core issues and I think the “most core” issue IS the relevance. I propose to attack the “relevance” issue as I described above: Involving the broader (and currently disorganized) p community to offset declines in the traditional i community and to involve our membership more deeply by tapping into the experience and rewarding participation thus providing valuable information that isn’t generally available on the web. Beyond all of that, I would also like to promote the value of getting together in person, by continuing to mold the community aspects of the annual Conference (eg: Make them more fun ).

    Now, Common IS doing some of these things to some extent. I believe that I can help improve the process and my main method for doing that is to involve, in as many ways as I can, the general membership in the decision-making. Even though I think the “times” are about as challenging as they can be, I still believe that Common has much to offer to the i and p community and I think it will grow in the future as long as we continue to check in with our membership to keep it relevant.

  5. Pete,

    A thoughtful response – thank you. But I see a major flaw with this proposed remedy.

    “Expanding outreach to the System p community has the potential to grow Common. The p (generally *NIX) community is large but fairly self sufficient but it also doesn’t have a centrally focused user organization offering things like workshops, seminars, webcasts and conferences.”

    I agree that there is stagnation and/or decline in the System i marketplace however, I think we can agree that the decline in COMMON membership (and annual conference attendance) however is more pronounced than the overall decline in System i market.

    So if you are in a declining market and your business is flat, or if it mirrors the decline in the market, then it makes perfect sense to try to expand business that is adjacent to your core (System i) business. A p strategy would be wise under this scenario.

    But if our business is declining much more steeply than the decline in our market, then there is another (or more than one other) problem that is of greater concern than the decline in the overall market. And that is the core problem of relevance – as an organization we have not yet put our finger on why interest in COMMON is waning and how to arrest the decline. People are dis-investing in COMMON at greater rates than they are dis-investing in System i. My guess (!) is that some of the reason is certainly the internet (as you mentioned above), some of it is the aging population, some of it is cost control, some of it is the overall decline in face-to-face user groups in general, and most of it is that the format and packaging we offered in the 1980’s is no longer fresh enough for 2010. But I don’t really know for sure, and I submit that no one at COMMON really knows either.

    So where is the logic in this? We are all System i people, we know System i as well or better than anyone else in the world, yet we don’t know what is causing the decline in the worlds largest System i user group. So the proposed solution is to pour scarce resources into trying to grow a System p user group?

    What the hell does COMMON know about System p? What makes anyone think we can grow COMMON with System p when no one can correctly articulate why i is declining? What is the secret sauce we bring to the System p audience that is going to sweep these people off their feet and open their expense accounts?

    I am afraid the simple truth is that if we offer System p people what we are offering System i people (same packaging, same events, different content), System p people will stay away in droves as well.

    COMMON has a far better chance of solving the i problem first than solving the p riddle first. Stick to our knitting, get our core business back to relevant, and don’t expend scarce resources on a new market that COMMON understands less well than it’s core market. After we figure out why i people don’t come to COMMON, then we’ll have a prayer at attracting the p people.

    But that’s JMHO.


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