HP user groups join forces

Encompass, ITUG and HP Interex EMEA plan to merge and share resources to serve 50,000 members

HP independent user groups Encompass, ITUG, HP Interex EMEA plan to pool resources and offer worldwide members more educational, training and community services to more than 50,000 members.

There is strength in numbers, according to the leaders of three HP user groups, who this week announced they will seek approval to join forces and pool resources to better serve more than 50,000 members worldwide.

"As a much larger single organization our ability to be an advocate for our members to HP will be a real value to our members and to HP," says Nina Buik, president of Encompass, an HP technology user group, and senior vice president of MindIQ, a Norcross, Ga., IT training and eLearning company. (Read a column Buik wrote for Network World last fall on IT Horror Stories.)

Encompass, which has 16,000 members, serves IT professionals that work in complex, multi-system computing environments, focusing on HP (and legacy Compaq and Digital) products including HP-UX, Enterprise Storage, Enterprise Unix, OpenVMS, Linux and Windows. ITUG, an acronym which once stood for International Tandem Users Group, now goes by ITUG as the Tandem product line doesn't exist anymore. But the group of 3,500 members continued to share information on HP's NonStop-related solutions and services. HP Interex EMEA represents the largest network of HP customers in Europe, the Middle East and Africa and consists of 35,000 members across 45 countries.

Encompass, ITUG and HP Interex EMEA recently approached the boards of each independent user group and obtained approval to put a vote to the groups' membership this spring allowing the three to become one. The yet-to-be-named group hopes to have garnered membership approval in time for HP's Tech Forum and Software Forum conferences in Las Vegas this June, but more important is that HP independent user groups are able to better serve their communities with programs targeting young IT workers, says Scott Healy, as well as those in remote geographic locations. The group also intends to take advantage of Web 2.0 and social networking technologies to foster community among its members, says Healy, who is the chairman of ITUG and vice president of industry solutions at Golden Gate Software.

"We are really looking at how the new generation of technology professionals grew up and how they work together. We see this social networking phenomenon and see it as a great way to connect," Healy says. Sites such as MySpace, Facebook and LinkedIn seem to attract younger professionals and the user groups intend to put technology like that in place to connect its user community. "We have plans for new programs that would require funding to get recruitment and training resources in place for new people," he says.

The groups also want to target HP professionals living outside of areas with regional group chapters and better serve areas in which the presence of HP user groups has been lacking. "Areas we have not served include Latin American and parts of Asia,  such as China. We know we need to get programs there and they have to be localized," Healy says.

The move is partly because the technology areas that distinguished the groups started to become more heterogeneous and IT professionals needed to better relate to the business as a whole. "We saw a blurring of the lines among the constituencies we serve, and ITUG started thinking about heterogeneous environments and HP itself is moving toward industry standard hardware, processers and the like. We saw the real potential to get some synergy in training and events," Healy says.

While the merger will lower costs for the independent groups, Buik says the groups aren't coming together out of desperation. Instead by combining the efforts of each group, the new HP user group will help its membership face the changing demands of IT professionals while keeping up with HP's technology plans.

"All three groups are doing fine on their own, and coming to this from a perspective of strength, equity and opportunity," Buik says. "We also recognize that the world of IT has changed and the skills necessary to be effective today are different than they were a few years ago. IT today is being held accountable for business outcome, rather than just supporting business processes in the background. It is critical that we provide our members with the type of education they need to get to that point."

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