HP user groups plan merger to increase clout, lower costs

Three independent Hewlett-Packard user groups said Monday that they plan to merge into a single organization with more than 50,000 members in an effort to increase training opportunities and their clout with the IT vendor.

The groups also hope to reduce costs while using their combined resources to reach younger users of Hewlett-Packard Co.'s technologies through social networks and other Web 2.0 tools.

The planned merger involves Encompass, which originated as a group for users of the former Digital Equipment Corp.; HP-Interex EMEA, a Brussels-based surviving affiliate of Interex, a U.S. group that folded in 2005; and ITUG, which represents HP's NonStop user community.

ITUG stands for the International Tandem User Group, Tandem Computers Inc. being the original developer of the NonStop systems line, which HP acquired along with the remnants of Digital when it bought Compaq Computer Corp. in 2002.

Encompass and ITUG, which are both based in Chicago, have about 16,000 and 2,500 members, respectively, while HP-Interex EMEA has 33,000. The planned merger has been approved by the boards of the three user groups but still requires the approval of their memberships.

Officials from the groups said that they expect to have the new organization in place by HP's annual technical conference, which is scheduled for June in Las Vegas. Among the things still to be determined is a name for the combined group; for now, it's being referred to by the code name Endeavor.

"It's more than a merger -- it's creating a new organization, and the new organization is targeting the needs of a larger community," said Scott Healy, ITUG's chairman. Healy, who is vice president of industry solutions at GoldenGate Software Inc. in San Francisco, said that ITUG "will stay a strong community within the larger group."

But he added that many of ITUG's members are also responsible for systems other than NonStop machines, and that the merger of the user groups will help them gain access to a broader base of peers as well as more training programs.

Another goal for the combined user group is to grow membership overall, especially among a younger demographic, said Nina Buik, president of Encompass. It plans do that through the use of technologies such as podcasts and social networking tools, Buik added. To remain relevant and viable, "it's important that we grow," she said.

Buik, who works as a senior vice president at MindIQ Corp., an IT training firm in Norcross, Ga., indicated that the merger should also help with costs. "We are all basically paying for the same type of infrastructure," she said.

One HP user group that isn't involved in the planned merger is Vivit, a Boulder, Col.-based group that formerly was known as OpenView Forum International. Buik said Vivit, which focuses on OpenView and other HP software products, was asked if it was interested in joining the other three groups.

Vivit officials weren't immediately available for comment.

The merger would continue a consolidation of HP's user groups, following on the shutdown of the U.S. chapter of Interex three years ago. Interex, which was oriented around the HP e3000 minicomputer line and claimed more than 100,000 members at one point, closed its doors and filed for bankruptcy protection after HP announced plans to begin holding its own annual conference.

Prior to that, Interex had been getting a major share of the income that funded its operations from its own HP World conference. But the HP Technology Forum & Expo competed directly with the Interex event for attendees as well as trade-show booth bookings from technology vendors.

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Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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