Phil LaRochelle, Manager Business Applications, Dead River Company, as well as President of the ADD User Group, joins Brian Cohen, Multimedia Specialist and host of ADDcast, to discuss: the value that the AUG brings to ADD clients; the dialog that occurs between the AUG and the ADD team to help drive and prioritize product development; the importance of the monthly Best Practice Calls; opportunities for leadership roles within the group; as well as preview this year’s AUG Annual Meeting, which takes place virtually on Tuesday, May 17th, 2022.
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Brian Cohen: Welcome to ADDcast, I’m ADD Systems Multimedia Specialist, Brian Cohen. Today we’re joined by Phil LaRochelle, Manager of Business Applications at Dead River Company, as well as President of the ADD User Group (AUG). Phil, thanks so much for joining us today.
Phil LaRochelle: Yeah, absolutely. Thanks for having me here today, Brian, I appreciate it.
Brian: Our pleasure. Our pleasure. First, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself as well as your role at Dead River?
Phil: Yeah, so as you mentioned before, my name is Phil LaRochelle. I work in the IT Department at Dead River Company as Manager of Business Applications. That seems like a mouthful, but really what it is is my team and I work on the software side of things. We work with folks like you and the rest of the ADD organization that’s right within our wheelhouse with software. I’ve been with the company for a while. Actually, an interesting story there is that we were on an older version of ADD, and I was brought on board to help implement the newer E3 application into the organization. That was a lot of fun getting to travel around and work with different people to install the application across our regional footprint. That’s really what we focus on today: projects, software deployments, enhancements to software. We’ve got a great internal engineering team, too. We do a lot of work with them when it comes to custom software builds that we do.
Brian: Excellent. Now, how long have you personally, as well as Dead River as a company, been partnered with ADD systems?
Phil: Long before I joined we were on an older product from the company, so I’m actually not certain the entire length of the relationship. I can tell you, we’ve been on E3 for close to 15 years now.
Brian: One of the things ADD Systems finds extremely valuable is the ADD User Group, and you’re intricately involved with that group. So can you tell listeners a little bit about the AUG?
Phil: Regardless of what you are involved in with software, I’m always going to advocate to get involved in software user groups. That’s really what the ADD User Group is. It’s a software user group where customers who use that software can get together to bounce ideas off of each other and share information. I think the most important thing we do is not just building relationships across companies, but that we get to talk with folks from ADD Systems and provide direction in terms of where we want to see the product go. It’s a super powerful thing to not only talk about how we can use the product better, but to influence the product roadmap. We do that through the voting process and the enhancement process where people can contribute their ideas. We take a look at that and ask, “ how do we prioritize the ideas a lot of people are saying and get them in front of ADD Systems?” That’s a really great process, and it’s a lot of fun. It’s really empowering as a customer to be able to look at those things and say, “Hey ADD, here’s the top five to top 10 things we’d like you to get done for us, please.” And then to see those things come to life and be able to influence product direction so heavily is very fulfilling.
Brian: Now, can you talk a little bit about what your current role is with the AUG?
Phil: Yeah. So right now I have the president role of the AUG. As President, it’s my responsibility to help get the rest of the AUG leadership team together for the year and plan out a few different really important events. One is our May presentation where we go through our enhancement and voting process to get that product direction in place for the year. There’s also a handful of other things we might try to achieve within the year, whether it’s recruiting membership to make sure that we’ve got a good flux of new committee members coming in or others rotating out of their roles, folks who might be rotating out of their roles, and making sure each committee itself feels like they’ve got engagement from their committee members and direction on what they’re trying to do. Every once in a while we might make a change to our structure and how we operate to make improvements to what we’re trying to make happen. We also have different presentations we try to do to get engaged with the BTC conference, which is always exciting.
Brian: Excellent. Now for those that are listening who aren’t AUG members, can you talk about the process for joining the AUG?
Phil: Super easy. If you’re interested, and you’re a customer of ADD, you should sign up. You just email myself and/or Regina(email@example.com), who helps us with the AUG, and we will send you your Welcome Packet, and we’ll get you signed up. From there, if you have any questions on the different committees and ways to engage, we can answer those questions and see how we can get you involved in those different groups or however you want to participate.
Brian: Now, for you personally, what are some of the most valuable things the AUG has to offer?
Phil: Two things come to my mind immediately. There’s probably other things, Brian, but there’s two things that float to the top of my brain very quickly. One is the connections I make with other people in the industry. You might have this challenge or this thing that you’re thinking about, and it’s great to be able to make connections with other people in the industry and ask, “Hey have you run into this same thing? How are you handling it?” A lot of that kind of dovetails with our Best Practices User Group. We recently just did one on cybersecurity. That was a great sharing session on some best practices there and covered a topic that is probably top of mind for a lot of people lately. So to me, that’s one of the best things about the AUG. I would say it’s fair to say that any challenge you might be experiencing as an organization is probably not the first time someone’s gone through it. Reaching out to your friends and peers in the AUG is a great way to gain perspective and insight into new ideas. I’d say the second thing that I feel is very powerful about the AUG is the ability to influence the product direction. It’s extremely powerful. How does ADD know where to bring the product and what the vision of the product is? Part of it is customer feedback. The AUG is a great way to deliver that customer feedback. When we say “This is what we really value at the top of the list, and this is what we’d like to see ADD work on sooner rather than later,” we can reap the rewards several times over, because, if we didn’t go through that process, ADD might not prioritize an enhancement that we recognize value in and wait three or four years to work on it. Thanks to the AUG, we’ve been able to get things slid to the top of the list. Then, once you upgrade or once it’s available for use, you can take immediate advantage of that. That’s an awesome thing.
Brian: Now, can you talk about the dialogue that occurs between the AUG as well as the team and ADD Systems and how you feel that conversation leads to updates and product enhancements?
Phil: So I think there’s a couple things that happen there. We have a design Committee. The design committee is great because ADD reaches out to the design committee and says, “Hey, we’re working on something.” Maybe it’s something the AUG prioritizes, maybe it’s not, but they want feedback from customers as they start going through the design process. Once again, our ability to influence what’s going on through the design committee is a very excellent thing. The other thing that happens when we vote on what we would like to see prioritized is dialogue between, “Hey, here’s what we voted on” and then ADD does review and reaches back out and says, “Can we get a little bit more information? Let’s do a deeper dive into this to make sure we’re meeting the requirements.” That’s a great thing because you don’t want to make any assumptions. The back and forth is helpful to narrow in on what is being requested.
Brian Cohen: Now, one of the biggest aspects of the AUG are the monthly Best Practice calls. Can you talk about those and the importance they have for all the AUG members?
Phil: Yeah, that goes back to the sharing of information with peers and colleagues in the industry. It’s really interesting to hear what people have to say on those calls. It’s a great learning experience because you get a lot of smart people who are able to share their experiences and what they’ve done. Sometimes you’ll hear stuff like, “Oh, yeah, that’s what we’ve done, too!” and that’s validating. Other times, you’ll hear some stuff and think “Huh, that’s a really good idea! We should look into that and see what we should do there.” Within the industry there’s nuances and differences between businesses, but still hearing “this is how you can do this with the system to meet your needs” or “this is what we’ve tried” or, “this is a workaround that we’ve done” or “hey, have you looked at this part of the system? Are you using it?”
One of the things that I see happen a lot is that people won’t realize that the system does something and they’ll say “I wish it did XYZ.” What they end up realizing when they hear someone else say, “Well, we do that.” So, it could just be a training communication thing, or it could just be an upgrade to the next version to access the useful functionalities. People don’t always know what they don’t know. Joining those calls and hearing people say “this is something we’ve tried” or “have you tried this?” or “you just need to upgrade to get the thing that you want” can be really valuable for people. When you take a look at people in the industry, there tends to be people who wear a lot of hats. When you have many responsibilities, it can be hard to sit there and read through all the What’s New documentation for every version of ADD that’s out there. By spending a little bit of time on some of these pointed calls that interest you, you might learn some interesting things within that hour. I always encourage people to participate, too, not just listen in. There’s no judgment, all ideas are good and all comments are good. People should feel comfortable to join those calls to learn and share because someone else might have a question that they haven’t vocalized that you could help answer. Or, someone might say, “Wow, that’s really neat what that company is doing, we should think about doing that, too.”
Brian: Excellent. So can you talk about the difference between the Best Practice calls as well as the monthly committee meetings? Because some people might be confused about the differences between the two.
Phil: Yeah, so that’s a great question. Each committee has a committee chair who’s responsible for engaging with the users on their committee. Those meetings have a couple of different purposes. One is shepherding the group through the enhancement process. If you’re engaged in the group, you’ll be able to review all the things that people have submitted for ideas that align with your group. Let’s say you’re part of the Raven/Delivery group. Over the course of the summer people are going to submit all of these ideas, let’s say 100 ideas. If you’re on that committee, you get a chance to see all those 100 things that people submitted and look through them to help prioritize what goes to the leadership committee for voting. There’s a lot of power in the monthly meetings to be able to do that. The meetings also reveal what people are talking about and what’s top of mind for people. The other thing that happens is that while the best practices call has a specific agenda each month that changes, the individual committees are focused on talking about their specific area of expertise on a monthly basis. So if you think “this Best Practice call on cybersecurity is pretty cool, but I really want to talk about delivery and Raven”, there’s a Delivery committee for that. You might want to join that committee to ask questions or share ideas about Raven. So as a member of a committee, not only do you get to see all the ideas people are submitting and are able to prioritize them, but you also get to have pointed conversations about that specific subject area. As a customer going through the process of implementing various components of ADD over time, it can be really beneficial to join specific committees to gain access to more pointed conversations related to the implementation your business is experiencing. Then, after the fact, as you work through it, you have the opportunity to suggest new features. We’ve implemented Pegasus and, since we’re on that committee, we can bring those things up, submit ideas, and then use that influence to create product improvements related to the committee we’re on.
Brian: So as the AUG president, what advice do you have for people who are thinking about or have just joined the AUG to make it the best possible experience for them?
Phil: I would say several things. One is to engage in the Best Practice calls, especially if there are subject matters coming up that you’re really interested in. Second is to participate in them and not just listen. Join a committee that you’re interested in. If you’re a part of the AUG and want to learn more about service, delivery, or business intelligence, then join one of those committees. Reach out to myself, Regina, or the committee chair and ask how you can get more involved. That’s really the power of the AUG to me. Going back to some statements I said before, engaging in the committee process to influence the product roadmap direction is a huge part of the AUG. You meet a lot of cool people, and you get to share a lot of good ideas. That’s where I would suggest spending your time as new committee members. Reach out, get to meet some people, figure out what committee you want to join. We can help you along the way. If you’ve got any questions, you can always email me. I’d be happy to help answer any questions and provide any direction that’s needed.
Brian Cohen: Excellent. Now for those people that are involved with the Best Practice Calls every month and are part of the AUG, but they want to take that next step to become part of the leadership team of the AUG that works hand in hand with you, how would they go about doing that? And what are the benefits of being part of that leadership team?
Phil: One of the best ways to start is to join a committee and be on that committee for a little bit. If you’d like to take a leadership role, you can always reach out to me, and we can talk about opportunities that are either available or coming up and see if any of those align with your interests. When that time is right, we can see about making that change. We actually have an opening right now on our Upgrade and Technical Performance and Security Committee. If anyone’s interested, they should reach out. We also have some recruiting that we’re trying to do. We have a BI Chair, but their term is coming due, so we’re recruiting for that. Same thing for Raven, we have a chair for our Raven/Delivery group, but their term is coming due, so we are actively trying to recruit for several of the committees. Feel free to reach out to me or the committee chairs for the ones that already have a chair and let them know about your interest. Here’s the huge benefit of being part of the leadership team: you get to be part of the final voting group to decide what gets prioritized to ADD Systems for the pipeline. I mentioned before that each committee gets to look through all the submissions and then you get to float the enhancements to the top that you submit to the leadership team. Then, the leadership team narrows that down even further to a reasonable amount that ADD can work on over the course of the development year. That’s really where you get to generate the most influence as being part of that leadership team. It’s also our job to help organize our own committees, and we create some presentations for our annual May meeting. We also get involved once again in the BTC. If you’re part of the leadership group, you have even more of a reason to join us at the BTC event. If you enjoy organizing events and having the ability to influence product roadmap direction, then it’s a great leadership opportunity. If you’re looking to expand your skill set and you’re looking to show that you’re doing more, you’re motivated to do more, and that you want to gain leadership experience to have more mobility within your company, then it’s a great idea to get involved in the committee as a leadership team member.
We’re all friends, we’re all peers and that can be some of the most rewarding leadership opportunities. There’s no hierarchy. It’s not like anyone reports to me. Yes, I’m the President, but I don’t have control over anyone in the AUG. That’s not how it works. This is all us getting together as a user group to make things better as customers. It’s a lot of fun when you think about it that way, and you get some room to flex some leadership skills, which is great to add to your portfolio of your skill set.
Brian: Well, you mentioned the AUG Annual Meeting, and that’s coming up on Tuesday, May 17, 2022. Can you give a little preview about what attendees can expect at that?
Phil: Yeah, so more of me talking, unfortunately. So we do a presentation. This year, we’re doing it virtually like we have for the past several years. We have a PowerPoint, we go over an update and goals of what we are trying to accomplish. We get into some of the same questions you’ve asked me today like, What does the AUG do? Why is it important? Each committee team member gives an update over what they’re trying to accomplish and reviews the last year to show progress. If they have any announcements such as if they’re looking to recruit more people or replace themselves as a committee chair. There’s lots of fun stuff there about what’s going on in the world of the AUG. We’ll also give a couple other report outs about membership stats, and we’ll also plug any open chairs or recruiting opportunities that we’re looking to fill. ADD gives great product roadmap updates. I always love hearing that. There might be some breakout sessions at the end tailored to more specific areas that people might be interested in choosing to attend. That’s always very interesting. It’s always good to learn more and understand what ADD can provide their customers.
Brian: Well, next year the agenda will be changing, because in 2023, the AUG Annual Meeting will take place at the 2023 BTC. In person for the first time in a long time. Can you talk about what people can expect at that event?
Phil: The last time we had a BTC event was 2017 in Florida. May is a great time to go to Florida, for one thing, so that’s exciting. There were a lot of cool events to go to. You’d get to sign up for different sessions to learn more about specific ADD products. If you wanted to learn more about SmartConnect, Raven, or Wholesale you could find those specific events. There were a lot of knowledge sharing and information sessions you could go to. Last time, ADD asked several of their customers to help in the presentations as well, not just AUG members, but customers. That was really cool to be able to get up there and help ADD, do some presentations for different products.. That was a lot of fun. So you can expect a lot of presentations, a lot of good information, networking with good people, and have some fun in sunny Florida. Here’s the secondary benefit: a lot of people bring their families. There were some people that hung out in Florida for a few days after the BTC ended with their family. That’s really exciting for them. That makes it a multi-event approach, if you want to, by going for business and staying for some family fun enjoying Florida. I think one of the other things we did too is this big dinner luau which was a great time to hang out with folks in a non-business environment. Time to chill, have some fun, eat some great food, and talk with folks from ADD and a lot of other companies in a really relaxed environment. That was a lot of fun. It really was a good time.
Brian: We certainly look forward to seeing you there next year at the 2023 BTC! Now, you have mentioned throughout this interview that if people have questions for you, they could reach out to you. Why don’t you let them know how they can do that, in case they have any questions about the AUG or want to become more involved.
Phil: The best way to get ahold of me is firstname.lastname@example.org. Feel free to email me with any questions or to get more information on the AUG. I’m happy to reply to the email or schedule a time to jump on the phone. I look forward to it! We always like getting new members. Like I said, we’re recruiting right now, so if you’re interested in leading one of the groups, you should definitely reach out. It’s a lot of fun, it’s very rewarding. Plus, you want to go to Florida, right? Connect with me, and we can talk about it.
Brian: Well, Phil, we appreciate all you do for the AUG, and we thank you so much for joining us today.
Phil: You’re welcome. I appreciate it. This was fun.
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