First, I’d like to say “Thank you” to David Gibbs, who kindly offered this opportunity to this year’s Board of Directors candidates. Having an open platform for all of us to share our views on COMMON can only be a benefit to the electoral process.
Here we are, getting ready to celebrate COMMON’s 50th Anniversary, and like the IBM i platform itself, discussions surrounding COMMON’s future (many of them negative) continue. While bringing our concerns to light is appropriate, we must also look for solutions to the challenges we face.
The current Board has faced a number of difficult decisions in their term, and although most of us are more than willing to comment on the decisions made, we may not all be privy to the circumstances of each decision. I run not to place blame or to necessarily reverse any of their actions, but rather to lend my support and ideas to the discussion, for the benefit of COMMON and the IBM i community as a whole. There may not be one `right’ answer to the issues we face, however, we must act quickly to stem the tide of COMMON’s fiscal situation.
The largest issue facing COMMON is revenue. Although being a non-profit organization, COMMON needs to generate revenue to operate. Our conference attendance is down significantly, which directly impacts COMMON’s revenue base. We face competition from other education offerings, and other Internet resources. Our members are a generally self sufficient group, and faced with their own financial challenges, conference attendance may not be suitable at this time.
Interest in COMMON seems to have declined at a rate faster than any decline in IBM Power System business. We’re often compared to the Lotus Software community in terms of the passion we have for the product, and that market is thought by many to also be in decline. Yet Lotus Software counts over 5000 attendees each year at its Orlando Lotusphere conference. So, how is COMMON different?
The cost of attending our Annual Meeting is often quoted as the primary reason for a lack of attendance, yet comparably the conference cost is similar to other events of similar type. There are many factors involved in the cost, and everyone has to decide if and how they’re able to make attending viable. We seem to be in a bit of a “catch-22” situation. When we’re in cities with higher standard costs, such as Orlando, hotel rates go up. Yet when we go to a lower cost city, there are complaints about the location. We have members who choose a cheaper hotel alternative than the conference hotel, yet this can a direct impact on COMMON’s commitments to the conference hotel.
Volunteer and speaker benefits have also been a point of contention in the last year. As a speaker and volunteer I am keenly aware of the impact these benefit changes have on those looking to attend a COMMON Annual Meeting. Many of us are in the same situation, and not everyone has been able to continue attending. We have had a few generally popular speakers determine they cannot attend; we also have a few volunteers feel they have been `pushed out’ of the organization under today’s benefit limits. While we’d all prefer to keep the benefits we had previously, the stark reality is that COMMON must have a more solid fiscal picture before any reinstatement of those benefits as we knew them before can occur.
COMMON also seems to have identity confusion. Are we are a user’s group or a conference/education provider, and is this model still relevant in today’s market? I believe our identity as a users group is most important. The user community is what built COMMON and it is what I believe can sustain it. The organization should continue to exist for the purpose of uniting the IBM i community and providing them with a link to IBM and the education and skills necessary to grow themselves and their businesses.
There are a few areas which I believe offer opportunity for COMMON:
- Local User Groups (LUGs) – While we tend to be a rather independent group, driving more interest in LUGs would bring IBM i community members together and provide an opportunity to promote COMMON as well. Some geographies are more active than others and in that, expansion of LUGs would be beneficial to all.
- The Young i Professionals (YiPs) – This group seeks to promote interest in IBM i to IT professionals generally in the early stages of their careers. These are precisely the type of individuals who we need to further cultivate as COMMON members and future leaders.
- Requirements Process – Last year, IBM Lotus Software, along with ISV Elguji Software created an `IdeaJam’ which allowed the community to openly provide input to IBM on ideas to improve the Lotus portfolio. The program was a success and several items discussed in the Jam have been or will be implemented. I suggest this as an enhancement the existing Requirements advisory program we have in place today.
- Academic Outreach – With activities such as our new COMMON Certification Program, we’re working on ways to further engage COMMON with universities which can lead the way in developing the next generation of IBM i professionals. I believe we need to continue working with IBM on this effort and I’d hope that IBM will continue to commit resources in this area.
Through COMMON, the IBM i community has something which isn’t often times found in our industry, or any industry for that matter – a link to the vendor which provides customers with representation and advocacy. What is special about COMMON is that the concerns or issues members voice can and do have visibility with IBM in ways not usually possible unless you’re a significantly large IBM customer. This is why I believe COMMON still holds significant relevance in our marketplace.
I ask for your support in my efforts to join the COMMON Board of Directors and take up the important work of moving COMMON into its next 50 years of serving the IBM Power Systems community.