Talk, Listen, Learn
It’s amazing what happens when management, technical staff, engineers, and subject matter experts get together. They talk. They listen. And they learn. That is exactly what happened at the Hughes Users Group’s (HUG) annual meeting in March. Held outside Austin in the heart of Texas hill country at the Horseshoe Bay Marriott Resort, HUG 2006 brought together customers and Hughes representatives to discuss common issues, network with industry peers, and spur innovation. Now in its fifteenth year, the HUG is made up of Hughes North American enterprise customers who meet annually and stay connected throughout the year.
It’s All About Communication
Designed to keep Hughes and its customers in close collaboration, the HUG leverages customer knowledge, ideas, and experience to help Hughes better meet customer needs and help customers get the most out of Hughes products and services. “The HUG is all about open communication and creating an environment where people feel comfortable discussing issues common to Hughes enterprise customers or specific to a particular organization,” said Dave Zatloukal, senior vice president of network services, North America for Hughes. “Sharing ideas and experience stimulates creative problem-solving and leads to prioritizing issues that our customers want Hughes to work on.”
HUG membership, which is open to any Hughes enterprise customer, represents a cross-section of companies in a variety of sectors, including retail gas and convenience stores, restaurants, lotteries and entertainment. Governed by an elected board, the group includes Fortune 500 companies, more than 15 of which have been HUG members for over 10 years. This year, Rick Larsen from BP Products North America, Inc. was elected to serve as president for the next two-year term.
“Hughes is simply a member of HUG. The elected officials drive the users’ group,” said Zatloukal. “Hughes supports it in every way possible, but ultimately the members themselves define its objectives and success.” The HUG also works in cooperation with the Executive Advisory Council (EAC), a related group comprising C-level members who look at strategic business solutions.
The HUG 2006 meeting featured general sessions for Hughes to provide company updates, introduce the new HughesNet service brand, discuss topics such as program management and network operations, and demonstrate new technology, services, and products. But the real heart of the meeting resided in the roundtables where members could discuss common issues and success stories. Opportunities abounded for networking and sharing ideas among Hughes technical and business staff and their peers in customer organizations.
Behind Closed Doors
During the annual three-day meeting, the board conducts several private sessions, which are closed to Hughes participation. These sessions provide an opportunity to set the direction of what the group wants from Hughes during the meeting, and on the final day to prepare a report of common issues and the direction it would like Hughes to take during the coming year.
Around the Table
Because Hughes enterprise customers represent a diverse population, their requirements can be very different. But there are two things they all agree on—the value of the HUG and the use of roundtables as the optimum means of sharing ideas. Roundtable discussions offer the opportunity for members to meet in small groups to discuss topics of common interest with a Hughes subject matter expert. This year’s roundtable topics, which were selected by members in a pre-conference survey, ranged from security and engineering support to field maintenance and regulatory issues.
The Stage for Innovative Solutions
The annual HUG meeting also features a Hughes Tech Fair with live demonstrations of the newest products, services, and technologies. This year, the Tech Fair featured the introduction of the HughesNet service brand and three new services: High Availability Networks, Enhanced Network Management, and Digital Media, which generated considerable interest among the membership.
The HUG is much more than a single event. To keep the conversation going, it is important for the group to stay in touch throughout the year. Launched this year, hugusa.org is a blog that provides members a forum to continue discussions and gives Hughes an effective vehicle to provide updates in response to customer issues and ideas.
What Members Like About the HUG
“The HUG event is one of the most important networking opportunities for HUG members,” said Rick Larsen, service delivery manager, retail, of BP and president of the HUG. “Not only do we have the top management from Hughes available for three days, but we have our peers from diverse industries working towards a common goal—how we can be better. HUG gives us the opportunity to have open discussions on all facets of our very different networks—what works well and what doesn’t. And from those discussions we are able to submit to Hughes a set of common improvements.”
“Members tell us that roundtables are hands down the best feature of the annual HUG meeting,” said Ken Cohen, assistant vice president of marketing, North America for Hughes and facilitator responsible for day-to-day interaction between the HUG and Hughes.
“They have also expressed keen interest in hugusa.org as a means of expanding the value of the HUG to more easily stay connected throughout the year.”
After the last closed session of the annual HUG meeting, the board presents Hughes with a set of issues and actions that it would like Hughes to address. From this report, Hughes develops an action plan and communicates updates and activities. Based on input and direction from the HUG, the company has brought products and services to market that respond directly to the needs of customers.
“We heard loud and clear that customers wanted a partner who would deliver a set of managed services,” said Zatloukal. “To not only provide a transport service, but also to manage it, to let them know when there are issues with their network rather than having to tell us. We listened and now are bringing out a whole suite of managed network services. Customers also told us they needed high availability, so we’ve created a solution that maximizes the advantages of separate transport systems—satellite and terrestrial. It’s the most comprehensive and diverse network solution available in the telecommunications industry.”
With their record of driving innovation and exerting a strong influence on Hughes’ service delivery strategy, it’s no secret that HUG members will keep on doing what they do best—talking, listening, and learning. For more information about the HUG, please contact us at