In his 1986 song "The Boy in the Bubble," Paul Simon sings that "every generation throws a hero up the pop charts." In other words, while everyone thinks their situation is unique, the truth is that the names may change, but the circumstances around them remain the same. It's the same in the world of technology and with the Independent Oracle Users Group (IOUG), which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.
The IOUG launched in 1993 to give Oracle database administrators (DBAs) and other Oracle users a way to share knowledge and work together on problems they faced for their mutual benefit. The idea was for everyone to learn from like-minded peers and gain access to new technologies our organizations were considering, so we could educate ourselves and conduct hands-on trials before buying.
Of course, our problems were different then. Many organizations were still keeping paper records and using manual processes, so technology was considered a strategic advantage. Our idea of big data would probably fit on a flash drive today. If you talked about the cloud, it meant you were staring out the window while trying to figure out how to solve whatever issue you were working on at the moment. And the Internet was still a few years away from mass popularity, so while we still talked about security, the focus was more on inside threats.
Today, technology isn't a strategic advantage -- it's an integral part of the way business is conducted. The hot-button issues of this generation -- big data, the cloud, high availability, manageability, performance tuning and security (protecting data from without as well as from within) -- reflect that. The program for this year's Collaborate 13 -- IOUG Forum has evolved to reflect that reality as well, offering peer-based education for everyone, from newly minted DBAs to senior-level technical professionals.
It makes sense. Organizations are so heavily invested in their Oracle databases and technology solutions that the price of failure is exceedingly high. Yet the technology is so expansive and complex that it''s virtually impossible for any one person to be successful acting like the boy in the bubble -- squirreled away in an office, remaining isolated from the world.
That's why the type of peer-to-peer knowledge sharing that occurs at an Oracle users group conference is more critical than ever. Sure, social media makes it easy to connect with people from all over the world at a surface level. But according to 83% of businesspeople surveyed by Bizzabo, a developer of mobile apps for business events, nothing beats meeting person to person in a focused venue, like a conference, to build a deeper, more powerful relationship.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of IOUG becoming that connection point between users. And while the needs may have changed, the value has only increased.
Don't get me wrong. Vendor conferences such as Oracle OpenWorld are great for getting the product roadmap and the higher-level plan. But for hands-on, real-world experience you have to go to the users. And it's not just me who thinks so.
"Organizations are trying to manage more databases than ever before, only now they have fewer people," said Kim Floss, a past IOUG president, as well as senior manager of enterprise database services at a large consumer products goods manufacturer. "That's leading them to look at sourcing alternatives, some of which may not have the same years of experience or technical expertise as their current staff. It's a different model and a different talent pool than we had years ago. We used to write a lot of our own software then; now we're using more third-party vendors and implementing packages. Those vendors have requirements for hardware, software, security inside and outside the database, and access into our networks to provide remote support. It just isn't as easy to control the environment as it used to be.
"I've always had a big-company orientation," she continued. "I want to find out how others in big companies are using Oracle technology, what's working and what didn't. Things that work well with five databases don't always work so well with 500. Being able to talk to other users at conferences such as Collaborate 13 IOUG Forum, whether in formal sessions, at networking events or even just in the hallways, gives me ideas about new strategies, as well as the confidence to pursue them, because I already know they work.
"When you're chatting with a stranger at a basketball game, you can usually tell if they know anything about basketball or not," Floss said. "The same goes for a user conference. Listening to what people are doing, seeing how they've actually done it and studying the audience's reaction to the presenter based on their own experiences gives you a perspective you won't get in a typical online, or even live, training class."
Rich Niemiec, advisor to the Rolta International Board, former CEO of TUSC, past IOUG president and the author of several books on Oracle (including the top-selling book on performance tuning databases), said that it's about expanding beyond his known universe.
"When I first joined IOUG in 1993, I really didn't know anyone in the Oracle world outside of Chicago," Niemiec said. "That changed at the user conferences. I met Oracle people, some developers and project managers. What I liked was they were down-to-earth, smart people who were willing to give up their time to help anyone who wanted it. The IOUG people I met were great mentors to me. At conferences such as Collaborate 13 IOUG Forum you can make contacts that move with you throughout your career."
Niemiec also sees where the relationship between Oracle and IOUG has changed for the better since those early days.
"At first it wasn't clear what the relationship between Oracle and the Oracle users group was," he said. "Now the two have an incredibly close relationship. Oracle leverages IOUG to keep users up to date about their products, and IOUG serves as the 'voice of the community' back to Oracle, letting them know what we like and don't like. That is very valuable to all of us."
With technology, there are two constants. One, of course, is change. As new technologies are developed and business needs change, the industry has to change with it. Just look at the impact of cloud and mobile devices, and how much change the industry has undergone as a result. Five years ago, neither was a concern.
The other is that it makes little sense to go it alone when it comes to managing this constant change, especially as the role of the Oracle professional evolves from pure technologist to data scientist.
Rather than being the "boy in the bubble," relying on searches and written documentation to provide them with answers, Oracle professionals are wise to build out their peer networks with others who are in similar circumstances and have already solved (or are in the process of solving) the problems they're facing. The Collaborate 13 IOUG Forum is one of the best places to accomplish that. Because while the names of the issues may change, the song remains the same: improve processes, lower costs and deliver superior, actionable results.
John Matelski is president of the Independent Oracle Users Group, which represents the voice of Oracle technology and database professionals. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This was first published in March 2013