Sun, Dec
0 New Articles

IBM Partnering: Panacea or Peril?

Analysis of News Events
  • Smaller Small Medium Big Bigger
  • Default Helvetica Segoe Georgia Times

Lately, IBM has been on an outsourcing spree, particularly with things that are core to the IBM i. How does that make you feel? Can we talk?

It all started last summer. That feeling of queasiness, of uncertainty, a feeling that things just weren't quite right.

It's easy for me to feel that way. I'm pretty much a "glass half empty and cracked on the bottom to boot" sort of person. And living in the IBM i world probably hasn't helped alleviate that tendency.

What was it that started my downward spiral? It was the announcement that IBM was handing over at least part of the development for a couple of pretty important IBM i products to HelpSystems. Specifically, HelpSystems was going to be taking over some (to my mind that meant "a lot") of the development work for Backup, Recovery and Media Services (BRMS), PowerHA SystemMirror for i, and Rational Developer for i (RDi) - three very strategic components of the IBM i arsenal.

IBM Good, Help Systems "Gooder"

Now let me say right off the bat that I have no problem with HelpSystems.

I have dealt with them many times over the past 20 years, and they have always been great to work with. And you certainly can't complain about their products, products that have filled a real need for IBM i customers who wanted a bit more automation or functionality in certain areas of the system.

But at the same time, it did scare me a bit to hear that IBM was turning over development to someone else. Isn't that what you do when you're about to make something less strategic than it used to be? Or maybe when you're going to sell it off to Microsoft? Or maybe just kill the whole product line?

As you can see, I panic easily, and the road from wondering to War of the Worlds paranoia can be surprisingly short.

It's Not "Outsourcing"; It's "Partnering"

But then, slowly, I began to get a grip on myself, and I started to do some research.

The first thing I learned, especially after talking with HelpSystems, is that the accepted term for this kind of business relationship is "partnering," not "outsourcing." You have to admit the former does sound much nicer than the latter.

Normally, I am skittish of using word choices to change the way a situation is represented, but as I found out more about how the work is going to be divided between IBM and HelpSystems, it truly does seem closer to a partnership than to an outsource.

It's Not Something New

It turns out that the IBM i is not the only area where IBM is partnering with external resources. IBM has also announced a partnership with the Indian company HCL Technologies for development in the Notes/Domino area, with much of the work for Release 10 to be done by the partners in consultation with IBM.

Nor is it even a new process for IBM to do such partnerships. As Dexter Henderson, Vice President of Power Systems, was quoted in the IT Jungle article on the HelpSystems partnership, the mainframe and software sides of IBM have been doing this kind of outsourcing for 20 years. It has only been in the last year or two that it has spread to the IBM i group. So that's good news. After all, the mainframe side is still in business.

How Will It Be Controlled?

Of course, one question remains to be answered: How will HelpSystems and IBM work together? That is, when we say "partnering," what does that really mean? Is HelpSystems free to just do whatever they want? On one hand, that might be good because of their close connections with the i user base. But on the other hand, what if they go rogue?

Fortunately, after talking with some of the folks at HelpSystems - specifically, Mike Devine (Vice President of Marketing), Tim Woodfield (Senior Manager of Development), Tom Huntington (Executive Vice President of Technical Solutions), and Chris Heim (CEO) - I feel much better about it.

The HelpSystems team in Minneapolis will be working in very close coordination with a similar IBM team in Rochester. Ideas for enhancements to the software will come in from both sides: IBM's Request for Enhancement (RFE) list as well as whatever suggestions HelpSystems comes up with on their own or gets from their broad customer base.

Most of the development work will be handled by HelpSystems, but it will be closely coordinated with the IBM delivery schedule and overall five-year roadmap.

So Maybe This Will Work Out

All in all, when you think about it and get over the fact that IBM is not going to be handling everything from start to finish, it turns out that this partnership may be the best thing that has happened to the i in a long time.

More Resources Committed to the i

The first positive to this is that it means more development and enhancement resources will now be committed to the i. And that's a key part of adding more functionality to the platform.

And when we're talking "more resources," we aren't just talking about numbers. We are also talking about focus. I can't prove it, of course, and maybe it isn't true, but it certainly seems that right now IBM's focus is on Watson and the whole cognitive, machine-learning shtick. I know it's a big company, and I know everyone isn't working on Watson, yet I feel that it somehow draws attention and manpower from other areas, the i being one of those areas affected.

At HelpSystems, on the other hand, the focus is fully on the i and its user base.

And Speaking of the User Base

Certainly, the RFE program provides IBM with a host of ideas for software enhancements, but you can never get too many points of view on a particular subject. By adding HelpSystems into the development mix, the combined team of IBMers and HelpSystems personnel can look at input from not only companies that have communicated with IBM but the broad user base of HelpSystems clients.

The result is a larger number of enhancements to choose from as well as a broader view of what a given enhancement should include. While it is true that "too many cooks etc." can indeed be a problem, when you're dealing with software enhancements, many times a wide variety of perspectives helps you build an addition that is broader in its scope and more flexible in allowing future development.

Close Tie-In to Technology Refreshes

Back in the olden days, everything came out in two- or three-year cycles in the form of a major release.

Over the past few years, however, IBM has been moving more and more items into a shorter cycle called a Technology Refresh. Certainly, this trend is in line with what is happening elsewhere in the software world with enhancements being released frequently rather than being stored up for months or years and released like an avalanche. The goal with this is twofold.

First, it's good to be able to get a particular enhancement into people's hands as soon as possible. This is especially significant today, when so many innovations seem to pop up suddenly and take the world by storm. Having a short lead time on new developments gives you a greater chance of being able to catch the latest wave and deliver real benefits.

Second, it makes the whole process of upgrading to the latest release more bite-sized. And that's particularly important today, when everyone seems to be shorthanded. Just the thought of installing a large upgrade (with the many modules it hits having to be tested to ensure things don't go all to pieces) is daunting. But a smaller - albeit more frequent - upgrade process just seems more palatable to most folks.

More Features in Base Code Versus Packages

One thing that software companies like HelpSystems do is provide transparent, bolt-on packages that augment what the standard software does. And typically, they will license and sell these packages separately from what the primary vendor is doing with the base code. They need to keep the packages up to date as the base code advances, but otherwise the two pieces of software can diverge as much as they want.

By having a company tied into the development process with IBM, there is a greater chance that some of those enhancements will be placed into the base code rather than ending up in a separate package that has to be purchased and installed.

Changing My Perspective

When you look at it from several directions, bringing traditional IBM i vendors into partnership with IBM may really jumpstart development for a number of products that we use to run our businesses.

So, all in all, I guess there wasn't really that much to worry about. Some people get all upset about nothing. If only everyone could just go with the flow, like I do.

David Shirey

David Shirey is president of Shirey Consulting Services, providing technical and business consulting services for the IBM i world. Among the services provided are IBM i technical support, including application design and programming services, ERP installation and support, and EDI setup and maintenance. With experience in a wide range of industries (food and beverage to electronics to hard manufacturing to drugs--the legal kind--to medical devices to fulfillment houses) and a wide range of business sizes served (from very large, like Fresh Express, to much smaller, like Labconco), SCS has the knowledge and experience to assist with your technical or business issues. You may contact Dave by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or by phone at (616) 304-2466.

MC Press books written by David Shirey available now on the MC Press Bookstore.

21st Century RPG: /Free, ILE, and MVC 21st Century RPG: /Free, ILE, and MVC
Boost your productivity, modernize your applications, and upgrade your skills with these powerful coding methods.
List Price $69.95

Now On Sale



Support MC Press Online

$0.00 Raised:

Book Reviews

Resource Center

  • SB Profound WC 5536 Have you been wondering about Node.js? Our free Node.js Webinar Series takes you from total beginner to creating a fully-functional IBM i Node.js business application. You can find Part 1 here. In Part 2 of our free Node.js Webinar Series, Brian May teaches you the different tooling options available for writing code, debugging, and using Git for version control. Brian will briefly discuss the different tools available, and demonstrate his preferred setup for Node development on IBM i or any platform. Attend this webinar to learn:

  • SB Profound WP 5539More than ever, there is a demand for IT to deliver innovation. Your IBM i has been an essential part of your business operations for years. However, your organization may struggle to maintain the current system and implement new projects. The thousands of customers we've worked with and surveyed state that expectations regarding the digital footprint and vision of the company are not aligned with the current IT environment.

  • SB HelpSystems ROBOT Generic IBM announced the E1080 servers using the latest Power10 processor in September 2021. The most powerful processor from IBM to date, Power10 is designed to handle the demands of doing business in today’s high-tech atmosphere, including running cloud applications, supporting big data, and managing AI workloads. But what does Power10 mean for your data center? In this recorded webinar, IBMers Dan Sundt and Dylan Boday join IBM Power Champion Tom Huntington for a discussion on why Power10 technology is the right strategic investment if you run IBM i, AIX, or Linux. In this action-packed hour, Tom will share trends from the IBM i and AIX user communities while Dan and Dylan dive into the tech specs for key hardware, including:

  • Magic MarkTRY the one package that solves all your document design and printing challenges on all your platforms. Produce bar code labels, electronic forms, ad hoc reports, and RFID tags – without programming! MarkMagic is the only document design and print solution that combines report writing, WYSIWYG label and forms design, and conditional printing in one integrated product. Make sure your data survives when catastrophe hits. Request your trial now!  Request Now.

  • SB HelpSystems ROBOT GenericForms of ransomware has been around for over 30 years, and with more and more organizations suffering attacks each year, it continues to endure. What has made ransomware such a durable threat and what is the best way to combat it? In order to prevent ransomware, organizations must first understand how it works.

  • SB HelpSystems ROBOT GenericIT security is a top priority for businesses around the world, but most IBM i pros don’t know where to begin—and most cybersecurity experts don’t know IBM i. In this session, Robin Tatam explores the business impact of lax IBM i security, the top vulnerabilities putting IBM i at risk, and the steps you can take to protect your organization. If you’re looking to avoid unexpected downtime or corrupted data, you don’t want to miss this session.

  • SB HelpSystems ROBOT GenericCan you trust all of your users all of the time? A typical end user receives 16 malicious emails each month, but only 17 percent of these phishing campaigns are reported to IT. Once an attack is underway, most organizations won’t discover the breach until six months later. A staggering amount of damage can occur in that time. Despite these risks, 93 percent of organizations are leaving their IBM i systems vulnerable to cybercrime. In this on-demand webinar, IBM i security experts Robin Tatam and Sandi Moore will reveal:

  • FORTRA Disaster protection is vital to every business. Yet, it often consists of patched together procedures that are prone to error. From automatic backups to data encryption to media management, Robot automates the routine (yet often complex) tasks of iSeries backup and recovery, saving you time and money and making the process safer and more reliable. Automate your backups with the Robot Backup and Recovery Solution. Key features include:

  • FORTRAManaging messages on your IBM i can be more than a full-time job if you have to do it manually. Messages need a response and resources must be monitored—often over multiple systems and across platforms. How can you be sure you won’t miss important system events? Automate your message center with the Robot Message Management Solution. Key features include:

  • FORTRAThe thought of printing, distributing, and storing iSeries reports manually may reduce you to tears. Paper and labor costs associated with report generation can spiral out of control. Mountains of paper threaten to swamp your files. Robot automates report bursting, distribution, bundling, and archiving, and offers secure, selective online report viewing. Manage your reports with the Robot Report Management Solution. Key features include:

  • FORTRAFor over 30 years, Robot has been a leader in systems management for IBM i. With batch job creation and scheduling at its core, the Robot Job Scheduling Solution reduces the opportunity for human error and helps you maintain service levels, automating even the biggest, most complex runbooks. Manage your job schedule with the Robot Job Scheduling Solution. Key features include:

  • LANSA Business users want new applications now. Market and regulatory pressures require faster application updates and delivery into production. Your IBM i developers may be approaching retirement, and you see no sure way to fill their positions with experienced developers. In addition, you may be caught between maintaining your existing applications and the uncertainty of moving to something new.

  • LANSAWhen it comes to creating your business applications, there are hundreds of coding platforms and programming languages to choose from. These options range from very complex traditional programming languages to Low-Code platforms where sometimes no traditional coding experience is needed. Download our whitepaper, The Power of Writing Code in a Low-Code Solution, and:

  • LANSASupply Chain is becoming increasingly complex and unpredictable. From raw materials for manufacturing to food supply chains, the journey from source to production to delivery to consumers is marred with inefficiencies, manual processes, shortages, recalls, counterfeits, and scandals. In this webinar, we discuss how:

  • The MC Resource Centers bring you the widest selection of white papers, trial software, and on-demand webcasts for you to choose from. >> Review the list of White Papers, Trial Software or On-Demand Webcast at the MC Press Resource Center. >> Add the items to yru Cart and complet he checkout process and submit

  • Profound Logic Have you been wondering about Node.js? Our free Node.js Webinar Series takes you from total beginner to creating a fully-functional IBM i Node.js business application.

  • SB Profound WC 5536Join us for this hour-long webcast that will explore:

  • Fortra IT managers hoping to find new IBM i talent are discovering that the pool of experienced RPG programmers and operators or administrators with intimate knowledge of the operating system and the applications that run on it is small. This begs the question: How will you manage the platform that supports such a big part of your business? This guide offers strategies and software suggestions to help you plan IT staffing and resources and smooth the transition after your AS/400 talent retires. Read on to learn: