VMUG: How Delivering Exceptional Member Value Builds a Vibrant Community
The VMware User Group (VMUG), a user group conceived in 2009, has followed a very simple, effective association strategy. By focusing on delivering great value to members, the organization has grown its membership to more than 80,000 active members from the 20,000 original customers participating with VMware at the launch. And by “active,” that means that they have taken advantage of at least one VMUG offering in the past 12 months. Today, with 195 chapters around the world, VMUG’s success provides lessons for other associations.
With revenue of more than $5 billion, VMware provides cloud and virtualization software and services that help manage the ever-growing mountains of IT data that are produced, sent and delivered, all day, every day, all over the world. VMUG is a user community “of the users, by the users, for the users.” Through an independent, global organization, its members believe they can strengthen their collective VMware and VMUG value proposition through expanded collaboration, member programs and benefits.
VMUG’s president and cloud ecosystem architecture lead, Mariano Maluf, said that what makes him and his organization most proud is not how many members they have nor how rapidly they have grown in a very short time. Instead, it is much more about how well VMUG engages its members who have an active interest in the many ways they can learn, share and grow – be they novice or expert.
“It’s the nature of the technology industry to grow,” Maluf said. “However, as VMware became an increasingly important topic in the IT industry, it was the company itself that came to realize that hosting seminars or meetings was not what they were best equipped to do. So, they took something of a ‘leap of faith’ and thought: Why not give that responsibility to the users themselves?”
So, it was then in 2010 that a board of directors was elected, bylaws were set and, in partnership with VMware at the executive level, VMUG was on its way to establishing a method to support users segmented by both need, level of expertise and location.
Maluf said that it is important to keep in mind that not only does any user group need to ensure it has the right structural backbone in place when it begins, but that it also takes the necessary steps to evolve and grow over time. “That is especially true for this industry with all the changes that are constantly taking place,” he said. “It was important from the beginning that we were dedicated to continually reinventing ourselves.”
The solution was to tweak the “build-it-and-they-will-come” strategy and make it more about “listen more and people will come and learn,” Maluf said. As a result of this direction, VMUG focused on how to best customize the learning opportunities for its diverse membership to ensure that every member’s attendance at every function was fulfilling. That has meant being particularly sensitive to the needs of all.
VMUG accomplished this in part by offering its members both local, in-person events, as well as virtual opportunities that fit their individual needs. In effect, VMUG leaves it up to its members to set their own VMUG agendas. By allowing that to happen, members often engage with people who share a similar level of expertise. They also interact with people from various vertical industries who are focused on similar issues. In addition, another important aspect is the collaboration with the partner ecosystem that is part of the overall virtualization and cloud infrastructure industry.
Concentrate on the Volunteer
Maluf said it is also important to remember that VMUG is a volunteer organization. “Our members share a passion for technology and enjoy being a part of this community. And, very importantly, they enjoy the interaction whether it’s virtual or personal.”
In fact, Maluf noted that members in high-tech user groups tend to not be afraid of sharing their expertise and solutions in ways that many other industries would not for fear that they might compromise a competitive advantage. Along this line, VMUG arranges trade show roundtables that are organized by topic so attendees can talk to people who are interested in the same issues. Maluf said that through these types of activities, “they make new connections while they help others. And for those who are looking for help, they’re getting their information first-hand from a fellow member, not from a vendor.”
At the same time, Maluf noted that VMUG respects the varying personality types of its membership. “Not everyone is comfortable asking questions or challenging what they hear,” Maluf said. “Some people are naturally shy, but that shouldn’t discourage them from asking the questions and getting the answers they need. We make sure that our roundtables are targeted to people who can share their issues comfortably with one another.”
Maluf’s passion around engaging the VMUG volunteer base is evident by the inclusion of “leadership development” as one of the organization’s key strategic priorities for 2014.
The Value Creation Continues
Maluf expects no fewer than about 385 meetings will take place throughout the world this year, which would be consistent with what was done in 2013.
“A major driver of our growth goes back to what we decided in the beginning and that was we would never be viewed as just another technical user group. We’re building communities of practice. Throughout the history of IT, the user groups with the strongest communities of practice are the ones that have thrived,” Maluf said.
Indeed, determining what is the true measure of an organization’s success is something other organizations might want to reassess when viewed comparatively to VMUG’s model.
“Some people like to make a determination about an association’s success by simply measuring its total membership,” Maluf said. “But we take a different approach. We believe it’s more important to be concerned with the quality of the members’ experience with the organization and the value they receive.”
VMUG has ensured a strong membership by expanding internationally and has made sure members feel that additional aspect adds value. Maluf said that the expansion has been executed very carefully.
“Our goal is to be sure that wherever the event might be, there is a global backbone of support. So, not only are best practices being followed, but we keep the local flavor,” Maluf said. “We never dictate how an event should be run. We simply provide them with the ‘guard rails,’ so to speak, to keep them on the right track.”
Looking ahead, Maluf is quick to note that the past is no prologue. He said VMUG will continuously improve by learning from and engaging its members.
“We do many surveys to ensure that we hear what our members want from us. You can’t operate an organization such as this in a vacuum because if you do, you’re on your way to creating an ivory tower for yourself. Success to me is simply a matter of how well we help put all these pieces together. And, going forward, we will continue to work hard to ensure our members benefit from being a part of our organization.”
FEBRUARY 2014 EDITION
| Board Forward is published 10 times a year by SmithBucklin, the association management and services company more organizations turn to than any other. SmithBucklin has served volunteer board members for more than 60 years.