Software vendor chides IBM for allowing a marketing vacuum to develop around the IBM i platform.
The iManifest movement received a high-energy drink in one gulp last week as Business Computer Design (BCD) and its outspoken director of sales and marketing gave the organization a cash donation and committed to promoting the young organization's logo on all future marketing materials.
BCD gave iManifest its complete support in a move designed to counter what it perceives as a vacuum in leadership by IBM in marketing the IBM i platform. "I'm not down on IBM. I'm just disappointed," says Eric Figura, director of sales and marketing at BCD. "They have lost their marketing way with IBM i."
Figura says that ISVs and Business Partners with whom he keeps in regular contact all agree that IBM has failed to take advantage of the marketing opportunities for the IBM i platform and that IBM's emphasis solely on the converged Power Systems hardware platform has caused "a lot of angst and a lot of concern" in the marketplace.
iManifest is a movement by ISVs and other vendors who for years have made a living supporting customers and users of the IBM i platform. iManifest was first organized in Japan and later sprung up in Europe before recently forming a chapter in the U.S. Frank Soltis, a retired IBM chief scientist considered to be the father of the IBM i operating system, recently joined the organization as a spokesperson.
"IBM didn't make a mistake bringing in everything under one brand," says Figura, who this year celebrates his thirtieth year with BCD. "They made a mistake in not promoting each part of the whole as autonomous, not showing that each part can be successful. The IBM i operating system is a subset, and you can still market the subsets; and of course they should."
Figura notes that a number of the marketing campaigns that IBM formerly conducted to promote the "ecosystem" of the IBM i platform are no longer supported. "If IBM isn't going to do it, then someone else has to step up and do it," Figura says, adding that the company sometimes appears to "just go with the wind" when it comes to finding a direction for its IBM i marketing.
What will iManifest do to help address this lack of direction? "iManifest represents a long-term goal of helping to do the job that IBM has neglected to do over the past few years," says Figura. He says that BCD already has started to display the iManifest logo on its Web site and in its advertising, email campaigns, and literature to let people know "that we're an iManifest supporter."
Figura urged other ISVs and IBM i platform vendors to take up the iManifest banner and join the organization. Jeff Olen of Olen Business Consulting, Inc., who is spearheading the U.S. iManifest initiative, says that vendors are being asked to participate at whatever level they feel comfortable beyond a set minimum. With BCD's contribution, the organization has raised more than $40,000 toward its goal of $150,000 needed to cover the cost of what Olen is calling a "declaration" advertisement in a national publication, probably the Wall Street Journal. So far, nine organizations have joined iManifest United States, including DRV Technologies, LANSA, Linoma Software, NewGeneration Software (NGS), ProData, Quadrant, Raz-Lee, Xperia, and now BCD.
Figura raised the idea of expanding membership in the organization beyond just vendors in order to create what he called a "true community."
"I think it would be a great idea to have it be supported by the community of programmers, analysts, operators, directors, managers, and vice presidents," says Figura. "If everyone contributed a little something, then it could go a long way toward promoting the platform. Vendors can carry the biggest torch, but it should have IT managers, directors—why limit it to Business Partners?" asks Figura. "Everyone would benefit from something like that. The people I'm talking to are sure they are supporting this; it's in their best interests to. We're not trying to prop up something that doesn't have merit," he says. "This platform has all the merit in the world. We're not trying to create a market. The market is there; it just lacks marketing."
Olen says there surely will be a place for others besides vendors in the future of iManifest, but for the moment it's limited to vendors. "I agree with Eric that everyone and anyone who is involved with IBM i has a vested interest in the success of iManifest," says Olen.
"Everyone can be involved on some level. However, right now we are putting together a group of companies that are going to commit to leading this effort from both the standpoint of active participation and financial contributions. If that sounds like something for you or your company, then $1,500 is the minimum buy-in. If not, then that's OK too. Is there a place for the programmers, analysts, operators, and consultants? The simple answer is, 'yes.' The more complicated answer is, how do they get involved? How do they participate? These are questions that we don’t currently have the answers to, but we are working on them."
Figura not only urged other vendors to join but suggested customers should encourage their ISVs and supporting IBM Business Partners to sign up. "And what about IBM?" asks Figura. "Why don't they join? What is there to think about?"
Figura sees a long and bright future for the IBM i platform as long as vendors and users come together. "The idea is to be a community, be a good neighbor, and have a good sense of community all toward a common cause. The base is standing up for itself, and that's good to hear. It's like they're saying, 'I'm not taking their lackadaisical marketing anymore—or lack of marketing—let's do something about this.' "
While Figura expects young people to come onto the IBM i platform, he doesn't see large numbers of them using RPG. More likely it will be PHP and MySQL, he predicts. He points to a case study featured on the BCD Web site for theDieselStore.com in which a young Web developer with limited experience on the company's System i successfully creates an e-commerce site for the company using BCD's WebSmart PHP rapid application development (RAD) tool. The project winds up saving the company several hundred thousand dollars over a competing approach.
"The purpose of iManifest is to promote the success of the platform and let people know that everything you might wish to accomplish you can do right here," says Figura. "It's a matter of maintaining confidence in the platform and letting users know that we're reinvesting in the technology."