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The new balance of power.

My first ever assignment as a journalist was to cover a meeting of DECUS UK, the Digital Equipment user group. Their special evening treat was an audience with Geoff Shingles, DEC's UK managing director.

Without compunction, he launched into a presentation on DEC's financial health that he had delivered to Wall Street analysts the week before. The relevance was lost on the audience - something that was evident from questions like 'When will the PDP/11 be phased out?' and 'What are DEC's plans for a relational database?' that followed the speech. Afterwards, talking to several of the audience, I found a cynical bunch who said they felt slightly insulted by Shingles' display of disrespect but were confident that as a powerful, independent user community they could sway major aspects of DEC's business - product schedules, R&D directions, support commitments - by telling fellow members to vote with their wallets.

After I wrote an analysis of the evening and these opinions, Shingles turned nasty. From that day, he turned down further interview requests and even pointedly walked away when approached at conferences and user meetings.

Vendors used to fear the power of user groups. But somewhere in the 1990s, they took the initiative, annexed the major users' conferences (for example, the International Oracle Users Group annual get together became the vendor's own Oracle Open-World), and undermined their power.

The humbling experience of a recession, however, has changed all that. The users are now wielding more power than ever before. As our cover story shows, they are dictating how much suppliers can charge for products and maintenance; they are pressurising them into extending support for key software by years; they are forming their own networks to create upgrades and add-ons for products that vendors have decided to mothball.

That sidestepping of vendors signals a new activism among users. It is not just inspired by the power that can be wielded in a buyer's market. It is also a symptom of a new attitude to IT vendors within business. Having been hostages to fortune in the build-up to Y2K and in the panic buying that characterised the Internet boom - and having seen the failure of numerous over-hyped products - business has no intention of letting the power balance slip back.
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Publication:Information Age (London, UK)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Dec 10, 2003
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