Come together

The Oracle Application User Group held its first meeting earlier this year in Dubai and announced ambitious plans at the time. Five months later, ACN speaks to the group’s chairperson to find out how many have come true.

Tags: Kamal Osman JamjoomOracle CorporationUnited Arab EmiratesUser group
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Come together RIZVON: We feel that there is a dearth of events here, though Dubai is probably the location which has been spoilt the most. (Thanos Lazopoulos/ITP Images)
By  Imthishan Giado Published  October 11, 2009 Arabian Computer News Logo

It's never easy to follow up on early success. Just ask Orson Welles, who spent his entire career trying to recapture the lightning in a bottle that defined his classic debut Citizen Kane. If you're in IT, however, it can be even harder - after all, it's not often that one gets the chance to make an impression in technology or take a significant risk and watch it actually pay off. And when you do manage this feat, the inevitable follow up question is - what comes next?

That's the dilemma facing Mohammed Thameem Rizvon, group IT manager at retailer Kamal Osman Jamjoom. Earlier this year, he organised the successful meeting of the first Middle East chapter of the Oracle Application User Group (OAUG) at the Dhow Palace Hotel in the United Arab Emirates.

Long-time rival SAP has been organising similar events across the Gulf for years. According to Rizvon, however, the Oracle conference was the first opportunity that CIOs have had in nearly two decades to meet and discuss issues with the vendor's products, while exchanging best practices in an open arena free of marketing interference.

Now, plans are afoot for next year's event, Connection Point 2010. While Dubai will remain the location of choice for some years to come, Rizvon notes that the exact venue is still undecided.

"We may look at changing it in the future but probably for the next five years or so, we'll continue doing it in Dubai. We're planning to do it at the end of February, 2010, which will probably be a two day event. The venue is still under discussion. Dhow Palace is a probable venue. We're also looking at the Marriott and a couple of other places also," he says.

The more important aspect right now, Rizvon says, is determining the agenda of next year's event: "We have a monthly steering committee telecon where we have nominated one person as the chair for the agenda. We want to contribute our thoughts about what was good and not good this year and what is relevant for this region. Based on that, we collate inputs and then we identify the best speaker and then we put in a kind of agenda.

"Secondly, during GITEX and post-GITEX, we will start communicating about the event to people. We do need registrations, because it's got to be a self-funded event. We don't need to pay the speakers but there will be costs for their travel and stay, the venue and so on. The objective is not to make it a profitable event but it's got to be something that's going to be break even," he adds.

Unlike many other user group meetings in the region, OAUG requires a participation fee. Last year, Connection Point cost up to US$700 for both days of the event . It's a fee Rizvon justifies based on the fact that user group meetings of this kind are rare in this region.

"We feel that there is a dearth of events here, though Dubai is probably the place which has been spoilt. Events have been held in Atlantis and Burj Al Arab and people attend without paying anything. We wanted people to pay, because we want people to be committed and take it seriously and we also want to give them value back," he explains.

OAUG Middle East was first announced at the debut edition of Connection Point and now exists as a formal group with Rizvon as the chairperson. From Dubai, he counts five members with himself as the only representative end-user and the rest being system integrators. As Rizvon admits, it's not an ideal situation.

"We want more CIOs to come in. Everybody's interested, but it's difficult [to convert interest into action]. It's not about cost, it's about committing time and energy to it. Every CIO, apart from the current state where they are busy with things, they are also part of other forums, so they are not able to dedicate time to it. Ideally, we're talking about at least a couple of hours a month," he reckons.

Part of the problem is the geography - with Oracle users being so widely spread across the GCC, the logistics of bringing them together in one event is simply mindboggling. At this stage, Rizvon explains that the main driving force is to keep annual events such as Connection Point alive.

"If we have these Connection Point events every year, people will at least know that this is not a one-time thing. Post-Connection Point 2009, we have had people interacting. For example, we had a couple of speakers who had come and the attendees have actually started communicating to them, asking inputs and then they thank us for setting it up," he recalls.

"But it's going to take some time and set it up as a meaningful forum. I don't expect it to become a vibrant community for at least one or two years. What we want to do is collect as many members as possible and generate as much enthusiasm and positive energy into it," he continues.

One might think that the best way to reach the maximum number of users would be to tap in Oracle's 20 year database of customers and contact them directly with offers of membership - but Rizvon rebuffs this idea.

"We asked them - what they (Oracle) said is: First you have a plan, then give us the information you want to send out. Oracle is extremely protective of this database, which is fine with us also. So let's say that we have a newsletter which we want to send to a 1000 people; we will probably give it to Oracle, they will look at it and if it's apt, use their mail servers to send it across. Since it's a user community, Oracle is there to support, but they will not drive it because it has to be driven from the user community - otherwise it makes no sense." he explains.

Plans for a group website are already underway with a go-live date of early October predicted. The intention is to create an information repository in addition to a number of blogs and forums which members can participate and exchange ideas. The group is also linked to the IOUC - the International Oracle User Community, which certainly has its perks.

Rizvon relates: "Every day various discussions keep happening globally. If I want, I can join into the web conference. What do we talk about? We talk about product issues, product launches, and the functionality we are looking for. These are things we wanted and now we have it, it's just that we need to utilise it strongly."

A number of companies in the region already belong to the global Oracle user group. Rizvon believes, however, that there's plenty of value to belonging to the Middle East-specific chapter as well.

"You don't have a voice to the user group. For example with localisation of the Oracle product, today I know every single company has been telling Oracle that they need things locally relevant to them. If I as an individual go to Oracle and request some additional functionality, it doesn't give might to my requirement so they will not do it. But if we as the Middle East go to Oracle and say we want it, they will look at it seriously," he believes.

In the end, OAUG's success and failure as the first fully-functional regional Oracle user group in the Middle East will stand and fall on how much the users contribute to the collective effort - and how the group can benefit the individuals who comprise it.

"We want to create a user community which is independent of Oracle and system integrators, where we as users can come and talk about issues and how we have resolved it through continued innovation."

"Today if I need anything about Oracle, I have to go to my system integrator or Oracle. Of course, they will be giving me the right information, but I always have a concern whether there was marketing talk in it. We are creating the user community so that people can go and talk about their experiences. If it was painful, you'll say it's painful, because you're not going to please anybody," he concludes.

How do you become a member of OAUG?

Mohammed Thameem Rizvon, group IT manager at retailer Kamal Osman Jamjoom, explains the the requirements for becoming an OAUG member: "Our funding requirements are very basic. We have two levels of membership. You cannot as a individual, become a member of OAUG. Only companies become members. For the Middle East, we have a US$300 annual fee for user companies. For system integrators, it's $1000.

"If I want to become a member of OAUG Global, it is actually $750. I can just get access to the Middle East user group and have all the rights except voting in the OAUG annual elections, which anyway people don't do in the region also," he continues.

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