In the early 1960s, newly elected president John F. Kennedy motivated a generation by saying: "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country."
Well, this is 2001, and busy SAP professionals need more incentive, especially when it comes to joining user groups. When work is pulling you in 10 directions at once, carving out time to participate in a user group is difficult at best. What do you get out of it"
Professionals who have made the time say you can't afford not to participate. Here are seven key things users get out of user group participation, culled from interviews with leading members of Americas' SAP Users'Group (ASUG).
1.Free consulting with no hidden agenda. According to Kathy Rusch, an ASUG board member and senior business analyst at a major mining company in the Midwest, user groups provide the unvarnished truth about new SAP rollouts. "We're a midsize company with a small technical staff and a very active user group," she says. "We use ASUG as informal consultants. If you talk to professional consultants, they'll tell you everything will go wrong so you need to pay them to help you do it right. If you talk to SAP, they'll tell you everything will go perfectly. ASUG provides a truer sounding board."
2.Access to thousands of like-minded users who have already been there, done that. Rusch makes active use of ASUG's online discussion forums to get quick answers to even intricate SAP questions. "Say you have a question about how to integrate invoicing in the purchasing module," she says. "You can post the question, and get three or four responses the same day. I've never had to wait more than a week to find a solution."
3.Forgiving forum to hone business and presentation skills. Rusch also says ASUG is a good forum for perfecting business and communications skills. "This is key, especially for technical folks," she says. "Getting up in front of people, doing presentations or facilitating discussions, these are all skills you can bring back with you to help in your career."
4.Access to previews of future SAP releases. "These previews help us plan our next move," Rusch says. "If we weren't an ASUG member, we wouldn't have access to previews and planning would be much more difficult."
5.Aid for building U.S.-centric SAP extensions. Joanne Fischer, a business systems analyst for a major oil service company in Houston, says membership in ASUG has eased the process of building U.S.-friendly extensions to the HR module. "Compensation in Europe is handled very differently than in the U.S.," she says, citing SAP's lack of flexibility in this area. "SAP just wants compensation to be handled once annually and that's it." Fischer says she was able to meet with other companies as part of the HR process group in ASUG to ferret out best practices and avoid mistakes.
6.Strength in numbers. Fischer also says ASUG provides a strong voice that SAP is more likely to take seriously. "You're not just one lone voice crying in the wilderness," she says. "When thousands of companies are after SAP for a change, they're more likely to listen. And now, SAP even comes to us for input before they do things, and that wouldn't happen unless we were part of the user group."
7.Key information is pushed to you. In addition to online discussion forums, ASUG also pushes information to user group members, even before they ask. "As things change or new things are discovered, we can disseminate that information to the user companies who need to know," she says. "That way people can get answers to their questions, even before they've asked them."
For more information, see the ASUG web site at http://www.asug.com.
Cummings is a freelance writer in North Andover, MA. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.