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I was asked an interesting question today when I was attending an ASUG event at SAP TechEd. The session was titled "ASUG Leadership 2.0 Panel Discussion" and I was pleasantly surprised when I arrived to not only be served a great lunch but also to find out that my fellow SAP Mentors jon.reed and greg.myers3 were "the Panel".

The topic of the day was around mentorship (note the lower-case 'm'), involvement and contribution to communities like ASUG, SCN, etc. There were some great topic areas discussed like the how, why, when and who of contributing to communities. Much of this related to the experiences of Jon and Greg in various user groups, special interest groups, SCN and the SAP Mentor program as you would expect.

There are many reasons that people are unable to contribute to communities like ASUG or SCN. Perhaps it is that we cannot afford the time, maybe our employer discourages it (or at least does not encourage it), we have other priorities, we feel we have nothing to offer or we are just too shy. Certainly active involvement in ASUG or SCN is not for everyone and there is nothing wrong with that. But as well as the difficulties of community involvement there are also the benefits - and one of those benefits is what I will call the "multiplier effect".

Jon raised this issue and, probably because he saw me paying more attention to my desert (chocolate tart with raspberries) than the discussion, asked me to describe the dialog the SAP Mentors and others have been having with SAP about SAP NetWeaver Gateway.

SAP NetWeaver Gateway was announced at SAP TechEd in 2010. I was very interested in this product, I wasn't alone, and immediately reached out to SAP to learn more and ask the usual question - "When can I get it?".

Over the next year or so as the product rapidly moved from concept to realisation we started to learn a bit more about how it would be delivered to customers. I, and many others, had some concerns and we started a dialog with SAP about this. It has to be said that the Gateway team set new standards in engagement with the SAP Mentors and the rest of the SAP Community to help us understand and appreciate both the substance and the vision of the product. This openness, sincerity and mutual respect set the tone for our discussions when hard questions started to be asked.

In October 2011 I posted the blog Thoughts on NetWeaver Gateway in which I tried to summarise my thoughts and perspective. There was a significant response both online and in back channels from this post. In fact the response was such a constant and high-quality stream at one stage I posted a tweet that said something like "Resisting the urge to respond to comments on my SAP Gateway blog as I do not want to disturb the force".

When things settled down after a few days I summarised the responses that had come in. The multiplier effect had kicked in. In many ways the comments had validated my thoughts on this subject - but they had also helped me to better understand the issues I raised from other perspectives. The best example of this was that I now understood that the licensing challenges raised were not simply an issue of cost for SAP customers. What was as important, in many cases even more important, was that SAP Customers wanted certainty about their licensing position so that they could comfortably roll-out new functionality and applications without having to be concerned that they might inadvertently step outside their existing licence agreements. The community had helped me to better understand and appreciate this issue from an alternative perspective and this knowledge helped us to better frame our discussions with SAP, better understand their position and that of their customers. In turn this helped us reach a greater audience inside SAP and better grab their attention.

In a meeting earlier this week sanjay.poonen discussed some of the challenges of his organisation and specifically the Product Management teams. The reality is that these people hear lots of suggestions, ideas and complaints from customers, partners, SAP employees and others. One of the primary tasks of the Product Managers is to identify "signal" out of all the "noise". (I'm stealing Sanjay's words here) The noise is all the stuff that is trivial, tangental, self-serving, plain dumb, unfixable, immovable, etc. But the signal is the important stuff - the things that matter and will make a difference. The things that need attention.

The multiplier effect had helped us to better frame and present our concerns. It also helped add weight to the validity of those concerns by showing they were shared by a large number of people.

In short the multiplier effect of the SAP Community had created a very clear signal.

I think that is pretty cool.

* Late news - at the time of writing this blog I was not in a position to discuss the changes SAP made to the SAP NW Gateway licensing as a result of the discussions I refer to above. If you are interested in these specifics my attempt to explain them can be found in this comment on my Thoughts on NetWeaver Gateway blog.