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Advocate: A tired term?

Now that the Connect user group's Web site is up and running, its content and comments are drawing notice here in my office. The group's president Nina Buik, who said in an interview with us at the HP Technology Forum that "advocacy" is being replaced by "community voice," elaborated on the strategy change in her blog at the Connect Web site. She said that many Connect members, including those who manage the HP 3000 replacement platform HP-UX, "have noticed there is no 'tab' marked 'advocacy' on the Connect Web site."

The term voice is important because it’s not Community Rant, Community Scream, or Community Gripe. The culture of Connect is not to be an adversarial watchdog of HP, but rather a positive forum where we can affect positive change to make the products and services we buy from HP even better. It is diplomacy versus combat, it is productive versus destructive.

Advocacy, Buik says, is a tired term "that in most minds reflects the outcome of some extensive survey." That has been true in the Interex user group, the community founded by HP 3000 customer/volunteers. But there were times when the extensive survey was only enough industry pioneers being able to see a problem that Hewlett-Packard could not. And complain about it in public to help HP see the clarity of the problem.

In the fullness of time, however, those Interex Management Roundtables — which gave HP VPs the opportunity to answer questions from a crowd of users in a ballroom — were replaced by that "extensive survey" kind of advocacy. The reviews on that kind of advocacy were pretty bad from the customers, vendors and industry pioneers. The survey was a vast document, with answers checked off on a 1-10 scale. It resulted in HP defending, answering and even admitting where it had gone wrong. The advocacy by that time had all of the dynamic of an infomercial.

But the old style of advocacy was alive at the recent Tech Forum in the HP-UX System Management Panel. Even though Connect needs to call the interchange "community voice," the Islander E room had more than a few customers venting about an unsatisfactory level of HP service and product for the Unix platform. We disagree with Buik and Connect on that point: For adults who can be civil, combat and conflict can result in resolutions.

OpenMPE is an advocacy group, or has been up to now, which goes to bat only about issues that impact the HP 3000 user. There's nothing wrong with either model — and from the looks of what Encompass/Connect has been able to do in getting close to HP management, it seems Hewlett-Packard sees more value in voice than advocacy. But OpenMPE has made a lot of difference in HP's end-game processes and plans for the 3000. But Connect's Buik says that "community voice"

...promises to be much more than the interpreter of an annual survey but a real-time voice to HP and HP’s partners. After meeting with several HP execs in Las Vegas [in June] at the HP Technology Forum & Expo, the goal for Connect is to provide an effective and efficient conduit for response and proposed actions by HP. This is happening, this is real, and this is your new Community Voice.

If anyone has become weary of "advocacy," it looks to be the community members and HP executives who want a positive perspective on the nature of selling computer products and services. It will up to the Connect members to decide if the user group's culture can accomplish what that rants and venting have not. Buik adds

At the first face-to-face Connect board meeting in Las Vegas, I delivered a presentation on Connect culture based on previous feedback and input from the Connect board. There was unanimous sentiment regarding focusing on the positive, objective leadership, open-mindedness and embracing (not just respecting) diversity in everything that we do.