Angus: You can’t go in the out.

Having been involved in several volunteer organizations over the last few years, I have discovered many similarities. I have identified four major groups of volunteers that are engaged in the activity. First, those whose entire identity is wrapped up in the task at hand. Second,those who have a need to belong to something, and this will do. Third, those who volunteer for the goodies – read, rewards. Fourth, those who do the work.

COMMON, A User’s Group (by name) is an organization that includes a lot of volunteers in most of its activities. Most of those are users with a common focus – primarily IBM Power Systems, and for most of its history – primarily IBM i. However, the volunteers come in many shapes and sizes in terms of what they offer, and it is one organization where there are not too many of the volunteer types 1 and 2.

Once upon a time, when COMMON was obviously a user group, and the twice annual conferences were a place to gather the user community together, volunteers were the heart of the organization. Eventually, the organization grew enough to engage a management company to facilitate the events, the membership etc. When COMMON felt like it could walk on its own two feet, it established its own staff for the management process. This allows COMMON to do much more than a regular user group, and it has become somewhat of a fixture in the iCommunity. The Annual Conference provides education that is unparalleled in its breadth. The Expo that is held with the Annual Conference is the largest in the Power Systems community.

So, what does that make COMMON now? There is a perception that it is not a user’s group when it seems to be run by a full-time staff. It offers credits to volunteers to help them to be engaged in the management of the events. It offers credits to speakers who are volunteers so they can afford to attend the conferences and teach the members. Attendees are not always members before they attend, and most of them are unaware of the additional cost of becoming a member that is attached to their conference registration.

Whatever COMMON has become, it is an anomaly in the Power Systems community. It has a similar model to the SHARE (z-related) user group, however, it also offers education outside of its annual conferences – again, appearing to compete directly with other education providers. Yet, most of the education providers in the iCommunity are prominent at COMMON. Which means, they consider it important to give back to the community, and consider COMMON a community organization.

And now, COMMON has reached a point where its financial future is in question. At the recent Annual conference, the Meeting of the Members (MOM) was the scene of the announcement of the drastic measures taken by the board to reduce costs for the next year. The members were told that this step was taken to allow COMMON to continue to pay its bills and secure its future. The reaction at the MOM was somewhat muffled and careful, and in fact, several members thanked the board for their openness in presenting the details in that manner.

Since then, there have been several reports by press and bloggers on the future of COMMON. Several prominent speakers and industry leaders discussed the fact that they were now being asked to pay more in order to attend and speak. The responses to their discussions have been all over the spectrum of shock, resignation, and support. And, one pundit was heard to comment on the “˜declining attendance’ of COMMON. Much of the information being spread has been very one-sided, albeit not overly negative.

This bodes well, I think. COMMON has a ominous task ahead. It must survive this recession, embrace the glorious past and and create a future that supports the needs of the members and the community. What that will be is to be decided by the board of directors who represent the members. Under these circumstances, there is a lot of advice from members, and the board has the responsibility to reflect the needs of the members and the organization.

While the “˜declining attendance’ story is simply not fact – attendance had been increasing recently, until the 2008-9 recession hit hard – it is important that current members maintain their support for COMMON by continuing to volunteer, providing more of their time (where they can) during this transition period, solicit support for COMMON from fellow members of their community, and market the educational and networking value of the COMMON conference events to their management.

One fellow speaker told me directly that their time was on offer to COMMON. Their contribution was to give of their time as a volunteer, but their personal finances were not something that could be rearranged to offer COMMON more than their existing commitment. Many of the key speakers have been reimbursed in one form or another by COMMON for their attendance at conferences, and given the recent changes to that policy, their personal costs would increase substantially to attend and speak. For speakers who attend on their company’s dime, this is less off an issue. Yet, if their company relied on that reimbursement to send that speaker, the costs have now increased for them as well.

For conference attendees who are not volunteers, the current set of reimbursement policies has no impact. Given the current economic outlook, most education conferences and events are expecting an increase (possibly small) in 2010, and if that holds true, how does COMMON tap into that? The difficult part is to counter the conversations about not being able to afford going to the next annual conference, with some positive conversations about the future of COMMON.

What is obvious is that, while some speakers will be unable to attend the next annual conference event, the effort of volunteers at COMMON seems to be undiminished. Many speakers who are personally responsible for their own attendance costs are volunteers inside the COMMON team. Their commitment to the organization, regardless of their possible attendance at future conferences, is strong. This story MUST be spread. This is the story that is one of the most effective marketing tools available to COMMON. This story is the positive twist needed to counter concerns that COMMON has no future because some of the same speakers won’t be there.

Without doubt, the next conference will be a challenge to schedule. With the reduction in the number of sessions, and a potential reduction in some name speakers, the education team will be working hard to provide a conference that includes a wide range of choices, with some in-depth education, and great speakers that provide excellent education value to the attendees. As a user group, there are many resources from which to draw. I say… watch this space.

In the meantime, what are you doing about the future of COMMON? What is your contribution? Can you give more time? Can you spread the word about COMMON, about its conferences, about its webcasts? Who are you going to call and talk into volunteering their own time? How many of your local user group events will you attend and talk loudly about COMMON? Can you spend some time to give back to the community that has been your life for this long?

Are you trying to go out the in door?

Get to it..


Jon ParisMay 17th, 2009 at 12:35 pm


For the most part I agree with you – but you fail to address what I still consider to be one of the most vital issues – and I’m tired of COMMON ignoring it. It is the question that is immediately triggered in my mind every time I hear a phrase like this one from your post:

“COMMON has a ominous task ahead. It must survive this recession”

The question is a very simple and fundamental one:

WHY _must_ COMMON survive?

It seems to me that until we answer that particular question, then all other questions are completely and utterly irrelevant.

COMMON needs to decide on it’s raison d’etre. In a day and age when even former industrial giants such as GM have to answer this question shouldn’t COMMON have to answer it too?

Trevor PerryMay 17th, 2009 at 1:00 pm


Among the many reasons COMMON should survive, the COMMON organization having a voice in this industry is strong. I feel there is no other group who can replace that voice, and without it, the IBM i community future is impacted.

If your question is, why should COMMON survive in its current form, I strongly support the asking of that question. It is my assertion that the board of directors, as the representatives of the organization, should be the ones who answer that question.

As a newly elected board member, I will be taking this question to the board. I expect that issue to be no longer ignored.


Aaron BartellMay 18th, 2009 at 1:54 pm

Thanks for summing up the COMMON stuff – it is helping me to organize my thoughts towards the matter.

I am also very interested to know how things proceed with you, Trevor, on the BOD as you aren’t one to be satisfied with “pat” answers. Granted I don’t know who you replaced and what their passions were, but I am interested to see where things go in the coming year.

One thing that I found of great value for myself this past COMMON is the networking aspect. COMMON seems to be THEE place to congregate if you want to meet up with people you have communicated with over the years. I never knew that to be true the first couple times I attended COMMON but now I find some solid value there (i.e. annual face-to-face networking).

Leave a comment

Your comment