How Many Communities Do We Really Need ?


If you do a search in internet for SAP communities, I am sure you will get a lot of hits. If you take the time to dig deeper, you will probably find significant overlap in their content and membership too. There will always be a loyalty/intertia factor that inhibits widespread adoption of a new community. Every time SAP acquires a company, this problem of integrating communities come up again. In short, I doubt the world is short on online communities.

Just to avoid annoying close friends – let me use a more neutral example. We saw Google+ arrive some time ago. Almost everyone I know who was active in twitter, jumped to G+. There were plenty of debates on whether twitter will die, and all action will be in G+. End of the day, they both survived, and peeps on twitter I followed are still more active on twitter than G+ by orders of magnitude. Sure there are nuances and all – but in general, world did not become a better place in a hurry because of G+ in my opinion. I wrote about it sometime ago too https://andvijaysays.wordpress.com/2011/07/24/google-plus-tribes-wont-follow-till-chiefs-jump-in-with-both-feet

Yesterday afternoon, I caught up a little with twitterverse. There was an interesting conversation going on there with my friends at SAP and my fellow SAP mentor Mico Yuk. The general topic was whether SCN was a comprehensive community.

Mico raised two points on SCN – apparently based on what she heard from her customers .

1. SCN is way too technical, and hence not a good place for business people to visit. So for people who sign the BI checks, as she put it, SCN does not fit the bill

2. The top ten contributors in SCN are “no-names” in BI.

Now, Mico holds strong views about SAP and its ecosystem, as I do too. I respect her for that. In this case, I have a slightly different view point.

It is true that SCN primarily has technical content. With great fanfare, SAP brought in a community for Business Process Experts (BPX) few years ago. I don’t know if it is alive or dead now, but in my mind it did not catch the imagination of majority of the community. May be SAP thinks other wise, and that is fine with me. I am just expressing my personal views here.

So do we need a separate community for Business ? In this context – I have some opinions on the Business/IT divide. http://https://andvijaysays.wordpress.com/2012/09/10/on-business-it-and-artificial-distinctions/

I do agree fully with Mico that business typically will tend to tune out of topics they don’t find an interest in. But that does not necessarily mean SCN does not have a place in the scheme of things, and that we need another community.

The way I have seen purchases happen in BI are in 2 ways – a “shadow IT” purchase by a department within a company (typically CFO office) , or an IT purchase by CIO organization. In shadow IT purchases, they typically depend on vendor references, a couple of analyst studies and probably google searches. The CIO purchases typically include more formal RFP type processes, and might include a buyer’s agent if it is a big decision. Of course this is a generalization.

In either case, the actual buyer in most cases may not get a lot of direct online community information. But he/she will be heavily influenced – on purpose – by people actively listening and/or participating in the online BI community. And that is where a community like SCN comes in. I have seen multiple business buyers resist the temptation of buying new departmental solutions, after someone in their organization points them to content in online communities that sheds less than favorable light on the solution. SCN does not get the credit it deserves due to many reasons – but it is still vastly influential amongst people who give their input to the ultimate buyers of BI software and consulting services.

There is no hard and fast distinction of business vs IT content , as it applies to a buying decisions, in my opinion. Things like security and scalability are important to both sides, but probably need to be expressed in different language for each audience. I would much rather have one community with content for everyone, and then strong filtering and search capabilities built in. Just as the world of canned BI reports and dashboards is shrinking, so is the world of content management changing. One of my biggest criticism about HANA content was that it was split between SCN and experience HANA website. I hear there is some integration happening now , but in general it did not hurt me much as long as I used Google as my starting point, instead of an SAP site.

Next , about the “no names” comment about top 10 BI contributors. If some customer of mine said that, I will go out and try to correct them. Everyone has an opinion, but this by no means makes it fair to criticize the top 10 contributors. They don’t always serve a technical purpose. I will take 2 names from mentor community in that list as an example. Ingo Hilgefort is an SAP employee who delivers excellent content on BOBJ. His audience at teched etc is technical. But I also know first hand that he deals with business users all the time at my clients, and gives them sound advice. Similarly, there is Tammy Powlas. She is an SAP customer. She is a total god-sent to BI community, and SAP should be sending her flowers and chocolates all the time in my opinion. It is not always that a customer takes time to post content on a vendor’s product. If I am a buyer, I would give a lot of weightage to her opinion, than content coming from an SAP Partner ( like yours truly). So unless I am mistaken on what was the rationale for the customer to make the no-names comment, my view is that that was an unfair assessment.

The trouble with twitter is that the 140 character limit does not allow meaningful conversations back and forth all the time. So my plan is to see if I can get Mico and Mark Finnern together for a few minutes at Teched next week and get a bitter grip on this discussion. Maybe some other mentors and community members including customers will join us? I know the community clubhouse usually has great coffee to go with such discussions .

 

 

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7 thoughts on “How Many Communities Do We Really Need ?

  1. One thing I find disappointing is that you called out individuals and have made an example of them publicly to make your point. Tweets come and go, but you now have a permanent piece that is perpetuating a single negative tweet and attaching two names to it who clearly were not specifically targeted.

    The primary focus of your post is a very important event happening in the ecosystem. There is a huge audience of SCN users who do care about what new features or widgets are now available in the latest service pack or product. There is however, specifically in the BI community, a huge lack of discussion about how and why we are using these tools to solve legitimate business problems. If there were not so many failing BI projects being implemented by SCN members, it would be a non-issue.

    Communities with a technology focus give us a common thread to have discussions and ensure users are up to date with how to use technology. SCN already does that to some extent. What Mico’s Tweets were highlighting, is a concern from certain IT stakeholders and business stakeholders (one whom Mico quoted that was clearly is not a reader of the SCN top 10) who need a place to engage each other and industry experts to increase their chances of success with Business Intelligence. It is a tall order and not a simple problem to be solved but a discussion that should be happening in the community.

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    • Tweets don’t come and go in my opinion . And we are all entitled to our opinions . I respect yours and Mico’s opinions , but have some differences too . The idea is to not perpetuate anything negative , rather to avoid negativity where we don’t have to be negative .

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  2. I see two core issues here.

    Firstly – history. SDN which has now become SCN started off life as a forum board. This attracted a certain type of consultant to use the site. Within the forum board the core theme is to answer questions from other consultants. This grew over time, however the core community was based on the spirit of people answering others questions.

    The blogs and insight section will attract a different user. The contributors have an opinion and want to share it. Some of this could be forward thinking which in turn updates the community. However the content is vastly different to the core Q&A described above.

    In terms of BPX, IMO the biggest issue is that it took the form of the Q&A forum board and not a blog and insight section. It is much easier to raise and promote business issues via technology via insight and blogs rather than Q&A.

    Secondly – SAP has grown. It is not longer dominated by the core ERP modules. It has grown into CRM, SCM and also products it has bought such as Business Objects, Sybase and Success Factors etc. With those acquisitions come the historical user communities and the way they collaborate will be different.

    So the audience has grown, the expectations have grown – but the core concept of SDN/ SCN has not fully evolved.

    One suggestion would be to split the insight and blogs away from the Q&A forum section to increase the scope of users who contribute to the community and at the same time provide them a more specialised area.

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  3. I have to also comment on Ingo and Tammy!They have honestly been so instrumental to the community! If I think of Ingo who always makes himself available for answering questions related to BO! It’s not everyday that you meet someone who goes out of their way to share his knowledge so freely!
    Tammy on the other hand is a gem! I remember meeting her in Autralia for the first time and how amazed I was at how welcoming she was! She really gives of herself and I know a lot of people who value her contribution to the community! I know I often ask her to review some of my content before publishing it as I know she has an analytical eye!
    I would like to thank both of them for the great work they have done and continue to do. They are truly an inspiration and yes The entire BI Community owes Tammy a big bunch of beautiful flowers and a case of beer for Ingo!

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  4. I think this is great point — and I appreciate the perspective of the “shadow influence” of IT and of the SCN in general. I really tend to believe were it not for SCN – for online communities in general, in so many respects – end-users would not have had as much of their own groundswell of influence, via voices on the community. This in my opinion has brought about profound changes in usability, design, and consumption of SAP solutions — dare I say of business software in general.

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  5. It is exactly due to the limitations of 140 chars on Twitter, I would advice you to get active on Google+ as well and also encourage others of BI Community. We can have lots of interesting discussions on Google+ without the hanging sword of 140 chars. And to ad on top of it the Google+ Mobile app is just getting better day by day. I think it is one of the best mobile app currently.

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