One hundred and eighty-seven ASUG volunteers, ASUG staff, and SAP representatives gathered in Chicago late last month for the first in-person ASUG Volunteer Meeting in two years.

Held at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare Chicago from Jan. 27–28, the event featured a robust array of keynote addresses, breakout sessions, and networking opportunities, all intended to celebrate the strength of the united ASUG volunteer community.

Arriving Friday afternoon, attendees heard video appreciation messages from ASUG Board Directors and SAP points of contact that led into in-person leadership remarks. Carolyn Dolezal, COO at ASUG, then quizzed James A. Johnson, Board Chair at ASUG and VP and CIO at James Hardie Industries, and Kevin Hester, Board Director at ASUG and CCO at SAP North America, about professional journeys, current challenges, and ASUG value.

Johnson said his 30-plus years in IT were rooted early on when, at around age 5, he could reprogram his father’s digital watch, then setting his sights on becoming IBM’s CEO. An early career in mainframe programming led to an MBA in marketing and strategy and career in CIO roles, all in industrial manufacturing.

In each role, Johnson said he aims for teams to derive business value from their IT investments, “focused on value creation.”

Value Acceleration

When asked what’s on CIOs’ minds, Johnson said he is challenged to deliver value on an “accelerated basis” amidst “talent shortages and unprecedented demand from customers in the company.”

Hester also began in mainframe software yet shifted into the SAP ranks in 1994. He spent the bulk of his career in customer-facing roles where, he said, he “learned what customers do with [the] product and what SAP product really does.”

Hester said he appreciated being in the room with ASUG volunteers—all SAP customers—given his current role: “The chief customer office—we don’t have revenue numbers to hit, we don’t have a quota. We have a team of great people focused on customer outcomes.”

For Johnson, ASUG holds value in sharing experiences and best practices. “The opportunity with ASUG is to share best practices, partner with others who have already done that, and accelerate the journey for someone else.” Hester agreed, noting that the 200 event attendees represent a valuable “force multiplier.”

“We have a big challenge. We at SAP had a great solution, a great footprint with ERP. But it’s time for an overhaul. It means getting customers to a clean core…to pivot to the cloud…not just lift-and-shift, not just brownfield, not just deploying BTP,” Hester said, adding, “We can organize around common themes, around common problems, then bring everyone who’s trying to solve that problem together. We can bring the energy together.”

The opening general session also included 2022 volunteer awards. Among those recognized:

  • Think Tank Volunteer of the Year: Damean Chen
  • Influence Council Volunteer of the Year: Ryan Le
  • SAP Point of Contact: Vikas Lodha
  • Chapter Volunteer of the Year: Amy Her
ASUG volunteers, ASUG staff, and SAP representatives gather in the Rosemont Ballroom at the Hyatt Regency O'Hare Chicago.

Networking with a Purpose

As sessions continued into Saturday, volunteers heard from ASUG leaders, including Dolezal, who presented the day’s opening keynote while previewing the year ahead. Dolezal, who joined ASUG last August after a lengthy career in the technology industry, shared that she took the role to help the ASUG community solve business challenges, build careers, and bring up the next generation of IT business leaders.

Though the ASUG mission of helping customers get the most out of their SAP investments has not changed since 2020, its mindset has shifted. “Events are an important vehicle for us, but we understand that chapters, alliances, and community are the most important things we do,” Dolezal said.

Highlighting ASUG’s restructured Communities team, strategic research projects, increased collaboration with SAP around sourcing and streamlining content and speakers related to strategic topics for chapters and alliances, and plans to grow the ASUG community further, Dolezal emphasized that ASUG is listening through formal surveys, advisory groups, and focus groups to create an organization and experience that most reflects what volunteers need and value.

“The No. 1 value of membership for our members is networking with peers and networking with a purpose,” Dolezal said. “We know that all of you, our volunteers, are one team with us. We would not be able to do what we do without you. What we are doing, we are doing for you.”

“The Engine”

Gratitude was an oft-repeated word throughout the Volunteer Meeting. “None of this would be possible without all of you,” reflected Josh Kumin, VP of Sales at ASUG. “Thank you for being here. Thank you for being the engine that allows us to be successful.”

Discussing Pulse of the SAP Customer Research findings, Marissa Gilbert, Research Director at ASUG, presented 2023 focus areas, led by integration between SAP and non-SAP systems (45%), moving to SAP S/4HANA (42%), standardizing business processes (42%), and dashboards/analytics (33%). Cybersecurity and data protection, automation, integration within SAP systems, customer experience, and supply chain management were also identified as topics of interest to SAP customers.

Gilbert presented findings related to customers’ SAP S/4HANA transformation journeys, technologies impacting digital transformation, and business challenges that SAP customers face. In addressing those challenges, 49% of respondents noted that SAP S/4HANA expertise needs improvement across their organizations. Digging further into that data, Gilbert noted that 48% of respondents identified the need for further training around everything related to SAP S/4HANA. Others noted depth or breadth of knowledge and specific functional and technical skillsets as areas for improvement at their organizations.

Gilbert was then joined on stage by David Wascom, Executive VP at ASUG; Taylor Wright, Membership Manager at ASUG; and Jonathan Lalla, Director of Growth at ASUG, for a stimulating ASUG Staff Q&A.

At one point, Kimberly Sharp, Senior Consulting Manager at Rizing, asked the panel how to engage customers meaningfully through local chapters. Wascom responded that volunteers should seek to not only address focus areas but to be specific in identifying which customers they’re seeking to attract, from practitioners to executives, by driving down into technology topics or innovating executive sessions within chapter meetings. “Make sure we’re driving the content to the audience we want to attract,” he advised.

ASUG Volunteer meeting 2023
ASUG volunteers listen to a presentation at the annual ASUG volunteer meeting in Chicago.

Breakout Sessions Abound

As volunteers fanned out to attend breakout sessions around chapter meetings, topics included:

  • Restructuring Community Alliances
  • Making events more interactive
  • Adding hands-on components to events
  • Enhancing networking activities

Discussing the Community Alliance restructure, three coordinators—Amanda McGathey, Community Alliances and Volunteer Services, ASUG; Erin Crain, Coordinator of Peer Group Programs and Volunteer Services, ASUG; and Mary Kate Scammahorn, Coordinator of Peer Group Programs, ASUG—detailed fundamental pillars of the ASUG Alliance communities, including task forces, influence councils, and town halls.

Ten Community Alliances launched in 2022, with an additional alliance planned for 2023. “This restructure was designed with our volunteers in mind,” said McGathey. “ASUG wants to make this new community a space where people and organizations can find the most value from their technology investments while creating a space where members have their questions answered and their voices heard.”

At the networking session, led by Kathy Sinnen, Director of Community Operations at ASUG, and Chavone Jacobs, Sr. SAP Strategy for Illumiti, attendees heard about engaging chapter meeting attendees in meaningful dialogue. Volunteers were encouraged to take attendees “from reticent to energized” by formulating open questions, providing activities for audience participation, and identifying opportunities for collaboration and growth with local organizations and universities.

“The Tip of the Spear”

For the panel discussion “How to Get the Most Value Volunteering with ASUG,” Dolezal returned to the stage with members of the ASUG Board of Directors—Ron Gilson, CIO of Organic Valley; Tony Caesar, Head of IT Market Area North America at Ericsson; Tara Gambill, IT Enterprise Architecture at Mod Pizza; and Dan Stuart, CTO at Southwire Company—to address the best ways that volunteers can contribute to their chapters, industries, and alliances through volunteering with ASUG.

“It’s about influence,” said Gilson, who volunteers with the ASUG Wisconsin chapter. “It’s about giving back and really understanding the value of networking and learning from others. It’s about taking your experience and trying to do better with it, to partner with and mentor other ASUG volunteers.”

In the candid conversation, panelists addressed challenges within their communities, organizations, and technologies, as well as the importance of leveraging events to grow their audiences and strengthening the relationship between ASUG and SAP.

Members of the ASUG Board of Directors—Ron Gilson, CIO, Organic Valley; Tony Caesar, Head of IT Market Area North America, Ericsson; Tara Gambill, IT Enterprise Architecture, Mod Pizza; and Dan Stuart, CTO, Southwire Company—speak with ASUG COO Carolyn Dolezal at the ASUG Volunteer Meeting.

Gambill said volunteering with ASUG comes back to people, processes, and technology, but she especially appreciates “the people with the ideas, the successes, the feedback, the challenges.” She added that, after the pandemic, “We want to spend more time with each other.” Stuart agreed that “bringing executives and practitioners back into a room together is going to be very powerful.”

Caesar, who will retire after six years as a board member, reflected upon efforts to “find the voice” for small and mid-sized organizations within the SAP organization, stressing the importance of idea sharing and speaking to the "entrepreneurial spirit” of the chapters. “In board meetings, we constantly remind the leadership team that the membership and the chapters are the tip of the spear,” said Caesar. “When I sense they’re forgetting that, I remind them: without the chapters, we’re nothing. Know that there are people in the backrooms who are thinking about you, who appreciate everything you do, and are fighting for you.”

Additional ASUG Sessions

Angelina Manos, Social Media Specialist at ASUG, and Mark Richardson, CTO of Rich Analytics, delivered a presentation on social media for Chapter and Alliance events, discussing the importance of using branded hashtags, sharing and retweeting content by other Chapter events, and documenting Chapter events via video and photo. Manos touched on LinkedIn brand enhancements and other opportunities for increasing awareness and participation at Chapter events, as well as participation in Alliances.

Additionally, expanding attendees’ knowledge of ASUG was a presentation on driving marketing success for Chapter and Alliance events by Fallyn Richmond, Membership Marketing Specialist at ASUG, and Chris Mitchell, Senior Membership Manager at ASUG. As Richmond and Mitchell addressed, volunteers can help extend marketing reach and impact by posting upcoming events on LinkedIn, building out Chapters’ private LinkedIn groups, sharing photos and testimonials from events, inviting teams and industry colleagues to attend events, inviting champions to events, and encouraging networks to update preferences and follow groups on

Other breakout sessions, moderated by Sinnen and McGathey, discussed how to build and lead successful Chapters and Alliances. In the latter session, which detailed efforts to build a robust Alliance centered around the SAP Business Technology Platform (BTP), the panelists—including Sharp; Tammy Powlas, Senior Business Analyst at Fairfax Water; Vikas Lodha, Chief Solution Advisor at SAP; Joyce Butler, IT for Business Intelligence/Data Warehouse at Univar Solutions; and Erich Leicht, J.J. Keller & Associates, Inc.—reflected on a wide range of topics related to community engagement and influence councils.

Rather than emphasize “safe spaces,” suggested Powlas, one should approach Alliances as “brave spaces” for attendees. “Tough conversations require bravery, and they require people to be a little bit vulnerable. To me, the way we start with interaction is to share our own stories. We are here because we're passionate about our topic areas: Why not share your own story first?” Through this interactivity, panelists agreed, Alliances can provide valuable spaces for celebrating small wins and working through shared challenges.

Added Powlas: “I always think I get so much more out of ASUG than I put in. It’s saved my company money so many times. There’s also a talent shortage; we’re feeling it where I work. We need more people to learn SAP, and I think ASUG is a great resource for that.”

American Paralympic swimmer Mallory Weggemann addresses the 2023 ASUG Volunteer Meeting.

We Move Forward

During her closing keynote for the Volunteer Meeting, “Grit, Resilience, and Triumph Over Any Obstacle,” guest speaker Mallory Weggemann discussed the path she traveled to become a 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Gold and Silver Medalist. Reflecting on the inevitability of change and discussing “sudden moments of impact” that alter the course of one’s life, Weggemann addressed her early days as a T-10 paraplegic following an epidural injection, her initial decision to get back in the pool, and her achievements since then.

“We don’t always get a choice,” Weggemann said, crediting her family with motivating her to push forward despite her injury. “What if I could swim again?” Weggemann asked her sister. “She said, ‘Why not?’” the athlete recalled. “What if never finding out what you could do was the worst-case scenario?”

Weggemann touched upon the importance of resilience over time, noting that the factors that propelled her to sports glory varied from year to year, requiring her to stay in touch with her passions and goals while remaining open to growth in all forms. It was this message of continuous improvement and determination that she most sought to impart to attendees.

“At different points in life, whether following adversity, a triumph, or a success, we find ourselves reevaluating where we are and where we are trying to go,” Weggemann said. “When adversity strikes, we yearn for normal. We yearn for this space in time that's comfortable for all of us: something that we know, that feels certain, that's familiar. But the reality is that normal is just a perception. It’s not reality. There’s only this space and moment in time and where we go when we move forward.”

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