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This article can be found in the June edition of the IBM Inspire Beyond Today’s Technology magazine. Download the magazine here.

Support is important, but that doesn’t just mean technical advisors and training manuals. Many small and medium-sized enterprises face common goals and challenges. So having somewhere to go to ask informal questions and share challenges with those who have the same experiences can be invaluable to IT professionals at all levels. That’s why thousands of our customers worldwide turn to COMMON user groups.

“What we provide is an environment of support and openness,” says Shrirang “Ranga” Deshpande, Vice-President of COMMON Belgium. “Our users can share challenges and brainstorm ideas with those who can really make a difference – people like themselves in other organizations.”

COMMON Belgium is part of COMMON Europe, a user group comprising 8,500 members across the continent – IT professionals in SMEs, along with independent software vendors and business partners. Through live networking events and information-sharing forums, members discuss the latest technologies and benchmark their own unique working environments with industry peers. They are also given a direct line to IBM providers, to ensure that real users’ needs are taken into account in the development of IBM products.

Recognizing the work of COMMON Europe’s volunteers
Worldwide, COMMON operates on an entirely non-profit basis, and its volunteer educators come from a wide variety of expert backgrounds. Deshpande, whose full-time role is as Honorary ICT Director of Institut Jules Bordet and the Comprehensive Cancer Centre at the University of Brussels, is one of these volunteers – and has recently been honored for his tireless work on behalf of COMMON Europe members by being named an IBM “Champion for Power systems”.

IBM Champions are nominated for their outstanding contributions to user communities, and the award allows those individuals to further expand their roles as mentors and educators within their groups. “Being recognized as a Champion for Power has been very humbling,” says Deshpande. “This community has given me my living, so I just do all I can to give something back to it. The chance to do that, both at a national level with COMMON Belgium and internationally with COMMON Europe, has always given me great pleasure.”

In addition to his stewardship of COMMON Belgium, Deshpande has been responsible for several notable projects in recent times. These include the foundation of the COMMON Europe Advisory Council (a select band of COMMON members who meet biannually and have monthly calls with IBM labs and executives to discuss the company’s strategic plans) and the “Top Concerns” project – an independent, multi-lingual, global survey of the most important issues facing IT professionals in today’s technology market. The Advisory Council and Top Concerns have allowed COMMON Europe members to communicate directly with IBM at the highest levels through independent facilitators, ensuring that the solutions IBM develops are tailored explicitly to customers’ requirements – whether in the modernization of legacy systems, affordable education and training, or improved collaboration between IT users at all corporate levels.

A bright future for COMMON
With the COMMON Europe Congress, COMMON North America Annual Meeting and other events on the horizon for 2013, the COMMON Europe community is going from strength to strength. IBM Champions are at the forefront of that progress – world class, independent educators with the passion and drive to ensure that the communities they serve receive the best possible support. A problem shared is a problem halved, and thanks to leaders like Deshpande and their work for COMMON Europe users, the future looks brighter than ever.

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