By: Linda Rosencrance
Aaron Back is pretty tight-lipped about what the Dynamics GP User Group (GPUG) has in store for users for the 10th anniversary of its GPUG Summit event. But, says the chairman of the board, the group has some “surprises up its sleeve.”
As board chairman, Back, the IT team lead at CareSource in Dayton, Ohio, takes a leadership role in the direction of the user group as well as in its upcoming events, magazine content, topics for webinars, and more. He also represents GPUG through public speaking and meetings with Microsoft.
Additionally, Back has helped GPUG plan and prepare for successful annual Summit conferences, by providing direction on session topics and presenters.
Back talked to MSDynamicsWorld about his participation in this year’s GPUG Summit and what it means to him as a user.
MSDW: What is your involvement with GPUG and GPUG Summit?
Aaron Back: I’ve been involved with the user group for the past several years. I started off as a user and a member of the user group community and I enjoyed the webinars and the learning I got from it, so I decided to step up my involvement. I became a local chapter leader based out of Columbus, Ohio about three years ago, then became a member of the GPUG board and in 2014 I became chairman of the board.
Along the way I have participated in Summit in a couple ways. I was a speaker in 2013 and presented a couple sessions on SSRS (SQL Server Reporting Services). I’ve been speaking at Summit ever since. This year, I’m doing a couple sessions on Power BI. For the past couple years, I’ve also been part of the planning committee for Summit. I assist with the content, the tracks, the sessions and the speakers. This year there will be a little greater involvement as I’ll be helping with the opening general session.
What was the process for developing the educational tracks for Summit?
What we tried to do is use history as our guide as well as feedback from attendees. We found out from past Summits what has worked well, what people have liked, why they have returned and why they brought new attendees with them. We also looked at feedback about what didn’t work well and maybe remove session types or change our approach to some sessions or offer new types of sessions. We might also add new topics. This year there has been greater interest in Power BI, so we have several tracks on Power BI. So that’s what our approach has been to developing the tracks.
Why should GP Users attend Summit?
Summit has been around for several years and it has gained momentum as far as attendees are concerned because it’s what I call the premier conference targeted for users. There are other great Microsoft conferences with great content, but the sessions and content are only delivered from Microsoft’s perspective. But where Summit comes into play is that a high percentage of the sessions are led by, or the speakers are, the actual users of the application. So it’s that peer-to-peer knowledge sharing or peer-to-peer networking or connecting with others.
I think the higher attendee growth over the past several years is because people like that. Also the session sizes, the number of people attending, tend to be smaller and people don’t feel intimidated about asking questions. Summit is led by users and it’s a great place to connect with users who are in the same roles and who have gone through similar projects and can offer advice and recommendations.
How does Summit differ from other events?
Microsoft shifted gears this year and did away with Convergence in favor of Envision, which was geared more toward business decision-makers and executives. It was great in that context to see what Microsoft’s vision was and where they’re headed with their business strategies. But it doesn’t talk about a specific application or specific ways to use GP that can help me do my job better.
That’s where Summit differentiates itself – it’s specific topics about an application that people use every day. And they can find better ways to use it to be more efficient, or learn about new features coming out in the latest release or [how to] plan for an upgrade or make [their] backend systems run more efficiently. It’s getting that practical information versus this high-level roadmap information. That’s where you can see the dividing line between conferences. Summit is for the end users to gain the practical use knowledge that they can take back to the office.
As a GP user yourself, what is the value of Summit?
What I gain out of it and what I’ve always liked is the networking and connecting with other folks. I always like to learn from others about GP or I like helping somebody else out. Also, knowing that I’ve made solid connections. If some question should arise or I don’t understand something or I just want to bounce something off somebody, it’s nice to know that you have the network connections to do that through an email or a phone call. That for me is the value of making good connections with folks. We also get to give our direct feedback to Microsoft on the upcoming releases. Those key areas for me are invaluable.
Can you share some thoughts on the 10th anniversary of GPUG Summit?
I’ve been working with the [GPUG team] and we’ve been trying to develop some 10th anniversary themes leading up to Summit and content or activities that will happen during Summit. I don’t want to divulge too much because some of it is going to be a surprise for attendees. But I think it’s just going to garner more attention for GP to say, ‘Hey, look. Summit has been around for a while, it’s been growing by leaps and bounds and look at this great attendees it’s getting.’ We have some surprises up our sleeve regarding the anniversary, and I think it’s going to make it more fun and inviting for the attendees.