The Early Years: Going Big (2000-2001)
For the first 10 years of AUGI/NAAUG's history, the membership had remained under 10,000 members. Moving into the new millennium, this was going to change. Bear in mind that this was not any indication of the organization's influence or success... most of these members were representatives, managers, and power users of the nation's strongest CAD-centric companies. However, once AUGI opened the floodgates to the universe of users by dropping its membership dues, the membership skyrocketed in size and this presented some pretty big challenges to the Board of Directors and the organization's current infrastructure.
AUGI had complete control over its budget and its website content now, it had the talents of members such as Stephen Cotton, Scott McFarlane, and other highly talented website and database management volunteers at its disposal, and AUGI's website began to explode into action. For starters, Email became the definitive means by which AUGI maintained contact with its membership (instead of the older published newsletter or through snail mailings). The Guilds became streamlined email forums for technical support on every major product Autodesk was putting out. The Local User Group online directory was completely overhauled to enable local user group contacts to maintain their own records for people to find them and know the latest information about them.
AUGI introduced HotNews, a regularly emailed newsletter enabling anyone using Autodesk products to stay in touch with the user community. The membership sign-up process was overhauled to create a serious database of user profiles so that industry groups and other focus groups within AUGI could finally be contacted according to discipline. The organization opened its E Store this year, offering those members who had always enjoyed AUGI's tangible benefits (tee-shirt, mug, etc) through membership dues to continue enjoying them by purchasing them online.
This was also the first year that Autodesk finally took AUGI's advice on holding the Autodesk University event and the AUGI Annual General Meeting in Las Vegas, Nevada. Not only was this city extremely cheap to fly to and stay in, but the conference facilities at MGM were a perfect fit for the event, the nighttime entertainment scene was ... FREE (anyone remember how expensive AUGI's single "night at Universal Studios" event was in a previous year? Fun, but OUCH).
Amazingly enough, news got out that year that certain higher-ups at Autodesk were actually thinking of dropping the Autodesk University event altogether for a variety of reasons that could only make sense to people who had never attended this event and had absolutely no grasp of its significance to their company. Fortunately, some of these same people experienced first-hand the overwhelming success of the Vegas event at the last minute and through customer and user outrage and obvious enthusiasm felt at the event itself, changed their minds about this decision.
Another highly significant change that took place this year was an overhaul of the Board of Directors model. How do you offer the most powerful positions in the organization to any member, and at the same time qualify members for those roles that demand vital skills sets unassociated with software proficiency? The answer: you create Board Member positions with no designated roles except voting power (reflective of the general membership's mandates of course), and you fill certain roles requiring certain skill sets with members who are qualified for them. Simple, and everyone wins. So now there are several Board Member positions into which any AUGI member can be elected, and there are certain positions requiring certain skills sets which can be filled by people qualified to do so.
When John Gibb came on board as President in 2001, he resolved a number of problems that had plagued AUGI since its inception. Here were a few of them:
- Position redundancy – if someone were to get "hit by a bus," who would take over their role? We needed a plan B.
- The rising cost of travel and board meetings. This was the year that monthly group phone meetings really took off.
- The need for some standard policies related to organizational flow and function.
One of the biggest crises this year was unreliable provider services and technologies that plagued the organization's website reliability and online resources, from unstable mail lists, which would send 19,000 copies of a newsletter to one member, to having the website completely crash. After trying out many new providers and spending a lot of hours beating on tech support staff, things finally stabilized in late fall.
Some of this chaos was due again to mind-boggling increases in membership making demands of online facilities that were simply underpowered to handle them, and some of it was due to outright incompetence on the provider's staff. We owe a great deal of gratitude to John and the Board this year for taking the heat (and we're grateful to membership for understanding our predicament). We also owe webmaster Stephen Cotton a big thank you for beating on the provider's doors when they failed to fix things time and time again, and to Scott McFarlane for shifting into "enough of this, we'll do it ourselves" mode and whipping this site into a powerful, data-driven machine.
With Autodesk giving AUGI less support through manpower, AUGI had to pick up the slack. Part of our agreement with Autodesk for the budget promises was that AUGI would hire a manager to cover the duties that previously had been done by Autodesk internally. Some of these responsibilities were key to the organization's success and included getting some behind-the-scenes work done for AUGI Board meetings such as arrangements for rooms, meeting facilities, travel, meals, etc. Other responsibilities included coordinating and maintaining contact information for projects and personnel within AUGI to projects and personnel within Autodesk. For this AUGI created the Logistic Liaison position.
Another MAJOR project was that of continuous growth and maintenance of our website. Someone had to not only be familiar with all the aspects of keeping a website such as ours growing, but also needed to be very familiar with AUGI as an organization. AUGI was very pleased to be able to contract a Web Manager this year as well.
For the second year in a row, AUGI held its Annual General Meeting in Las Vegas. The event happened only two months after the shocking September 11th event, and this next statistic may blow your mind. The facilities manager of the MGM told AUGI that more than 2/3 of the scheduled conferences for that season had been cancelled due to the airline crisis, and that the remaining 1/3 had more than 60 percent cancellations in attendance.
Now here's the amazing fact: our event, Autodesk University and the AUGI Annual General Meeting, not only did not get cancelled (a user-based, user-paid-for conference no less), but our attendance actually went up from the previous year by 15 percent. We had the single largest turnout of any Annual General Meeting in the history of the organization during the greatest tourism crisis Vegas had ever seen. And the manager's comment on the inexplicable attendance increase: "I had no idea software users could be this dedicated to a software conference. We knew you guys were serious last year, but I had no idea..."
The success was, no doubt, due to the success of the previous year's event (word spread like wildfire throughout the user community that things with AU and AUGI were back on track and stronger than ever after a dismal four-location AU event two years prior), the increased membership size of AUGI in attendance resulting from free membership and the fact that Vegas has been our most financially accessible venue for the event — ever.