Joel, Culminis would like to thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions for The VOICE.
Q. Culminis participated in the TechDays event in Paris this year and were very much impressed by your inclusion of user groups as part of the event. You actually made them a focal point being located in an area that put them on seemingly equal footing with the vendors and not overshadowed by them as we see in other parts of the world. This is a very positive move from our standpoint and appeared to work extremely well. The leaders we spoke with were very pleased with the way the event was set up and handled and nearly all comments we received have been very positive. What was the catalyst and thought process that led you and your team to creating this wonderful idea for connecting and partnering with the user group community?
Answer : Two years ago when we started first brainstorming this session internally at Microsoft we identified naturally online and offline Communities as one of the key partners for this big IT event regrouping more than 10K unique visitors and 16K visits on three days. The connecting and partnering with user groups was essential for Microsoft TechDays because it was a consecration of what we can do together in a win-win approach. More and more users, customers and partners are connected especially with professional User Groups in France on infrastructure and dev tools products to benefit sharing of experience and the networking. In additional, because Microsoft France always considered and recognized the relationship with user groups like a partnership we can’t imagine TechDays without the expertise, the passion, the influence and independent voice that user groups represent for IT people. Finally, the proposal to all leaders of TOP12 user groups to participate in Microsoft TechDays 2008 in a booth to promote their network on a Village which was dedicated to them is a way for us to thank them for their involvement and commitment to the community. 37 community experts were speakers for more than 60 technical sessions. What is not necessarily understood, I think, is that we also enlisted the help of the communities with our communication plan to recruit attendees in giving them materials and messages at the very beginning to promote MSTD08.
Q. You have set up a network for the Microsoft centric user groups in France. This new network is referred to as MUG (Microsoft User Groups). It appears to be a very popular idea with more than 70 groups now participating. How did you develop the idea for this new organization and what are your next steps?
Answer: The idea of MUG (Microsoft User Groups) is at the beginning a necessity to connect all user groups centric on our products but with individual approach with their own events/briefing with difficulty to have more than 50 attendees per event. Another important point was that today we have user groups centric on one Microsoft product and we see difficulty to have solution and transversal approach individually like on collaborative environment. So the evidence was that together it would be easier to organize events and have a valuable scenario of presentations to interest largest audiences and thus get more attendees. Even if we are speaking about MUG since more than one year we decided to crystallize the idea on TechDays this year in creating new identity and Village (12 user group booths) to unite them during the 3 days. The next steps are 1) orchestration of a big WebTV showing MUG value and visibility and 2) organization of a big independent event after having defined business model with partners and sponsors.
Q. Microsoft has obviously dedicated a good bit of effort and time in working with user groups in France. Can you tell us some of the positives that you have gotten from this commitment and effort? Also, can you see any downside to working with the community as you have?
Answer: We learned a lot from user groups for 6 years and we humbly now are able to initiate and start creation new user groups ourselves if needed. Another essential study consists of being partner of user groups and not sponsor to guaranty durability of our relation and independence of their opinion. I didn’t see any downside to working with community and especially with user groups because I think the French community team success and never meet issues with community because we are particularly attentive about win-win balance. Open mind!
Q. Culminis has refined and deployed 5 Core Services that are being embraced by user groups throughout the world including many in France. Do you feel that the Culminis Core Services are of value to the user groups in France and are there any of the Core Services that you feel are particularly valuable?
Answer: Since Culminis has refined and deployed new core services we’ve seen sincere interest of user groups in France about the sponsoring system which is the most appreciated and particularly valuable because targeting the main need for the development of groups. However all others core services are very useful and valuable for user groups because fully complementary of services proposed by the Microsoft community team.
Q. Going forward, can you tell us where you see the community effort in France going over the next 3-5 years?
Answer : I really think globally user groups will play a more important role over the next 3-5 years on Microsoft events like TechDays or non-Microsoft events. I am also convinced we will see more and more vertical user group initiatives rather than product or technology oriented. Because user groups in France are valuable for customers and partners who use heterogeneous systems we all need the connection of Microsoft communities with competitive ones to share the experience of the interoperable environment, otherwise our particular community effort will be to support user groups to organize independent big events and Microsoft will become a partner and not the host/owner.
Thanks so much for your willingness to work with us in doing this interview and for allowing us to let the world know of the great work that you and your team are doing in France.