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WE'RE GETTING into high summer. The User Group Madness has died down, temporarily, to resurge once again in September, October, and clear into the beginning of December. I'm going to Seville, Spain, and to Bahrain in November to speak to user groups. User groups are great! Honeywell, Emerson, Siemens, Rockwell, Invensys, and all the others are trying very hard to walk that fine line between empowering their customers and letting their customers walk all over them.
In my last editorial, I talked about Vendor vs. Vendor (Spy vs. Spy). I hope I didn't make it sound like the vendors were the only problem. Oh, far from it. While it’s true that there’s a fair share of "Evil Vendors," there’s a whopping, big number of "Evil Customers" too.
How about customers who deliberately write vague or misleading specs, so they can get what they want through no-charge change orders, and keep costs down? How about customers who don't buy hot spares, and then blame the vendor for the damages that occur when the device fails and their plant has to shut down? Evil enough for you? How about customers who insist that products have to be 10% cheaper every year?
There is an adversarial relationship between vendors and end-users that’s very hard to combat. Yet it must be resolved if we’re ever going to get best-value cooperation between vendors and end-users.
Some end users are working to make sure that standards bodies, user groups, and the like are increasingly devoted to solving end user problems, as opposed to just presenting vendors’ gee whiz solutions in a glitzy and powerful forum.
Some vendors are working, with no string attached, to empower end users of their products, so those users will develop the type of powerful brand loyalty that used to make plants "a [insert name of vendor] plant."
True brand loyalty can’t be bought, faked, or forced. It’s a measure of how well you walk your walk, how well your actions are congruent with your messaging, coupled with a measure of how valuable what you sell is to your end users. Just dragging a group of users to a user group meeting doesn't improve your branding, vendors. But because every vendor wants a user group now, the user community is becoming quite fragmented, and it’s difficult to get them to arrive at a consensus for action. This means that the vendors' "divide and conquer" strategy for user group marketing may be working.
What I'd like to see is a user group run by end users of many different kinds of products by many different vendors.
Oh, wait! There is one, or there used to be. It was called the ISA Expo. But ISA lost its way somewhere back when all its executive board wanted was to have a great tradeshow. When the end users figured out that there were no big benefits, they voted with their feet. This was perhaps not the best thing to do. It paved the way for competing user groups, and captive customers.
Well, end users, here's another challenge. If you think that having to go to each vendor's user group isn't a good use of your time, tell them. If you think it would be better if there was a single, unbiased user group, then I have to tell you that I agree with you. If we agree, and think that there ought to be a master user group again, then let's create one. If you think it can be saved, let's go back to ISA, take it back, and turn it into the huge unbiased user group it was in the beginning.
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