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Encompass, Euro Interex, ITUG Connect users

Four user groups became as one this week when the Encompass, Interex Europe, ITUG NonStop and Encompass Pacific joined hands as Connect. The new name is a result of the research required to acquire Web addresses and trademarks, according to president Nina Buik. But the user group alliance, now 50,000 strong, took its name as part of its primary mission.

"That's what we do," Buik said. "We connect members to each other, we connect members to HP and HP's partners, we connect members to education — so we thought it was a very appropriate name for the new organization." She invited members and the HP IT community to visit hpusercommunity.org to get "the feel of the new networking tools." The HP Technology Forum employed user networking tools in its 2007 conference.

It took 27 directors of the allied user groups to decide on things like names and committees, but only a dozen will be serving on the Connect board. Board representation includes members from each of the founding users groups. Buik, former president of Encompass, will lead the board as president. Margo Holen will serve as vice president, Glen Kuykendall was elected secretary/treasurer, and Scott Healy, former ITUG president, will serve as immediate past president. Newly elected directors include Steve Davidek — formerly of the Interex advocacy committee, and an HP 3000 site manager — Bill Johnson, Jay McLaughlin, Henk Pomper, Joe Ramos, Dr. Michael Rossbach, Gerhard Wedenig and Brad Harwell (HP).

Buik said that seating a vendor official on a user group board is not new to the ITUG members, but it's a novel appointment among most user groups' leadership. The HP user group Interex never had an HP employee on its board in 30 years, but had an HP liasion each year.

"We maintain numerous executive relationships," Buik said. "Brad Harwell is an HP executive and was named as the liaison to the new board. For clarity, David Parsons is a director." Parsons is an executive VP of Hewlett-Packard and ran point for the Technology Forum in its first year, when Interex had folded. Harwell is director of marketing in the Technical Solutions Group for the Americas at HP.

Advocacy efforts will be "stronger than ever" for the Connect group, which calls HP its strategic business partner. Encompass embraced the enterprise customer base as "an independent, pre-eminent worldwide community of users of HP enterprise technologies." The Connect advocacy to HP on behalf of the 3000 enterprise community might not be able to reverse HP's decision to drop MPE/iX certifications next month.

Buik has been on several conference calls to discuss the certifications, she said. "HP is aware of the expiring HP 3000 certifications, as I have been on several calls discussing this very issue.  As you know, certifications change as the technologies change. It's not always a popular decision."

Joining together to create a single user group has been HP's desire. "We congratulate the groups on this significant accomplishment," said HP's Harwell. "It will provide HP a direct, unified customer forum representing the greater HP user community interests worldwide.” Harwell said the combined groups will help customers worldwide "access an expanding portfolio of HP technologies."

However much ease HP has gained in working with a single group, the amassed customers will be working on raising the user voice to the vendor. "We look at multiple ways to get our voice 'Hurd,' " Buik said. "Please see my [Encompass] blog for more on this. There is an Adocacy Committee and the chair of this and all Connect committees will be volunteers! Board members will serve as liaisons for each committee."

Committee leaders were not decided when Connect made its alliance announcement yesterday.

Members of each user group will have complimentary membership in Connect through the end of 2008. The official launch celebration for Connect will take place at next month's HP Technology Forum & Expo, which kicks off June 16 for four days in Las Vegas.