Author’s note: In the first published version of this post, I unintentionally neglected to mention some of the history of this community event, and the contributions others have made. To clarify, the article was written from my personal perspective, which included this community activity as well as several AvePoint-organized events while I visited South Africa. I have made some edits to the post below to better reflect the full experience.
Last October, I was invited to join a team of MVPs and influencers on the AvePoint #RedBus Tour of South Africa.
One of several bus tours organized by the community and sponsored by the AvePoint team over the past few years, what I love about the concept is that it is an opportunity for smaller cities and more remote regions to participate in the community discussion around SharePoint, Office 365, and Azure, and to meet some familiar names and faces from the MVP community.
I spent almost 3 weeks in South Africa meeting with the AvePoint team, regional Microsoft leaders, and partners and customers, engaging in two of my most favorite activities: road-tripping, and talking about technology.
The primary activities around which we built our schedule were the SharePoint Saturday events (www.spsevents.org) in Durban, Johannesburg, and Cape Town.
Between the Durban and Johannesburg SPS events, the AvePoint team organized several events with local partners Karabina and Mint, inviting me to give a keynote at each, and to spend time connecting with customers in both Cape Town and Johannesburg prior to the official start of the road trip. I always appreciate these opportunities to learn from customers, and hear their perspectives on where there are gaps in the technology, as well as their inspiring success stories.
Following SPS Johannesburg, the RedBus tour was “officially” underway, with planned stops in the towns of Bloemfontein, East London, and Port Elizabeth for small community events — and plenty of sightseeing between stops as we traveled south from Johannesburg down through the center of the country, at which point we turned west along South Africa’s rugged and beautiful coastline to make our way toward Cape Town.
Life on the Road
After arriving in-country and visiting with good friends and former colleagues, Warren Marks (AvePoint) and I were joined by fellow MVPs Tracy Van der Schyff and Alistair Pugin as made our way to the eastern coast of the country by car, recording short video segments along the way and enjoying the beautiful countryside, before making our way to the first event of the trip, SharePoint Saturday Durban (#SPSDBN).
I had attended the very first Durban event a few years back, and it was exciting to see the growth of the community and to meet several people whom I knew through social channels.
Admittedly, after the first day of driving — with the almost constant pranks being pulled on each other, and the inability to get stable cell coverage, much less internet coverage, a small part of me asked “What am I doing here?”
But that inner voice was quickly overrun by music, laughter, and great technology discussions with a group of friends that I just don’t get to spend enough time with.
What is the RedBus tour?
Unlike the popular SPS events that happen around the world, most of which include multiple content tracks and many different sessions and speakers, the RedBus event agenda was built around the topic of ‘Digital Transformation,’ with each of us contributing to the theme during the smaller half-day events. Joining me on this RedBus adventure across South Africa were fellow MVPs Tracy Van der Schyff, Jody Roberts, and Alistair Pugin, along with AvePoint experts Jonty Collins, Johan Myburgh, and Warren Marks, with members of the AvePoint marketing team supporting our adventures from afar.
We covered everything from personal productivity using Office 365, to cloud migration and automation using Azure. One of the core benefits of the RedBus model is that we provided an entire panel of experts around each topic — not just one speaker — allowing us to answer questions and provide specific examples and guidance as participants asked questions. I heard attendees say at every stop “I can’t believe we’re getting all of this free consulting!”
If you look back at the history of the SharePoint Saturday movement, the entire point of these events when they were launched in Virginia Beach, Virginia just over 10 years ago was to bring marquee speakers and up-to-date content to communities that would otherwise never see a huge conference within their cities.
Of course, SPS events happen in large cities and communities, as well. I helped organize annual SPS Redmond events on the Microsoft campus for 8 years before moving away, and currently sit on the organizing committee for SPS Utah here in my new home state.
And the RedBus tour, as with many similar community-organized events being organized around the world, continues with that tradition of bringing a small slice of SPS to under-served communities, in this case taking a small team of speakers and technology experts into regions that are too small for a SharePoint Saturday.
Of course, my participation would not have been possible without the sponsorship and support of the team at AvePoint. They have been part of the community since the beginning, and have offered their support to a number of initiatives over the years to reach SharePoint practitioners in some of the most remote communities in the world, demonstrating again and again that an important part of growing any community is giving back to that community.
You may see the RedBus in other locations, as well. From what I hear, AvePoint is planning to help support similar community initiatives in other regions — so be sure to watch the social feeds for updates!
These events are an incredible opportunity for members of the community to come out, meet the experts, and bring their specific questions. The event in East London was a perfect example, with several attendees from one company staying long to ask the panel a number of questions about their environment.
In fact, none of us knew the answer to a question about licensing — but we were able to reach out to our network in real-time, and provide an answer before we packed our belongings and headed back to the bus.
The real benefit of participating in this type of community activity is the personal connections that you make. The people who volunteer their time for the RedBus tour — or any of the SPS events — are doing so because we are passionate about community, and want to connect with individuals.
I am constantly telling people to not be shy, but to reach out with questions or comments. I may not know the answers to every question asked, but I know someone who does — and I’m always happy to make new connections and provide introductions.
The Future of the RedBus
The team at AvePoint is already planning more RedBus tours, so keep watching the social channels for updates.
With so much change happening within the Microsoft ecosystem, and the rapid pace of innovation around SharePoint and Office 365, the community needs more of these smaller and focused community events, giving users in under-served areas the chance to learn and ask questions, and make connections.
Personally, I hope to be back in South Africa this fall to participate in another RedBus tour, especially with the two Microsoft data centers being launched later this year. If you hear news of a RedBus tour in your area, I encourage you to find out more and participate, if you can.
Don’t miss this unique opportunity for a deep dive into SharePoint and Office 365 in your own home town!
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