In the Wheelhouse: Effecting Change for IBM i

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COMMON just made the gathering of community feedback that much easier.


I've just returned from the COMMON Annual Meeting and Exposition in Anaheim, California. Wow! I was exhausted from the conference even before I took the red-eye flight from LAX on Wednesday night back toward the East Coast. My step-counter is proof of my sore feet, and my fuzzy decision-making whilst considering the expensive food at LAX is proof of information overload and lack of sleep, but I return home armed with information about hardware, strategies for backup and recovery, and even life lessons about managing change and stress. The great thing about COMMON is that it arms and invigorates you to head back and implement things that you learned. And when you tell your boss about those things and the ways you intend to apply them, you're helping to justify going back to COMMON next year.


The conference had an attendance that was par for the course of recent years, which is approximately 1000 people. I heard so many people talk about the labs, which were a huge success. Going to COMMON and learning and actually building something in the labs gives people not only the experience, but also the confidence to go back home and do it on their own.


There were a lot of familiars this conference. My favorite would have to be the conversations with many people in the hallways and outside the conference center. What makes COMMON great for me is the ability to sit down with people I've never met and talk about the challenges we each have in our shops. One conversation in particular left me thinking that I'm doing something completely wrong, and the topic will be up for internal discussion over the next few days. That's the best thing ever. I love knowing when I'm doing something wrong as soon as possible. Imagine if I did what I was doing for the next 10 years! That's unacceptable! I struck up that conversation outside the exposition doors. It was worth the price of admission to be challenged to change.


I did a session on IBM i Access for Web for about 25 people on Monday. Those people had never loaded the product, let alone used it. That's a great thing, though. They now have an opportunity to run with it when they get back. The exchanging of knowledge is what a user group is all about. It makes me want to resurrect our local user group in Atlantic Canada just so we can have dinner once a quarter. That's all a user group is at the foundation: users sharing information.


One of the familiars that was noticeably absent was the stack of "blue sheets" on the conference room tables. Blue sheets have historically been used to collect requirements (i.e., feature requests) of the COMMON community. At the end of each conference, a requirements subcommittee would sort through the blue sheets as candidate requirements and determine if they were legitimate; then they would be sent to the COMMON Americas Advisory Council (CAAC) to work with IBM on solutions. I've written about the purpose and functions of the CAAC as recently as January 2015, with the last CAAC meeting with IBM in Rochester, Minnesota, fresh in my mind.


Sometimes the solution to a CAAC requirement is as simple as education. This happens if the submitter isn't aware that the solution already exists. For example, a customer has a system on IBM i 6.1 and their ideal solution is already implemented on 7.1 or 7.2. It's the responsibility of the CAAC to then communicate back to that customer that the solution exists and it's available in a newer release. The time it takes to close a requirement can vary. Sometimes the back and forth between customer to CAAC to IBM can take months, depending on the work needed to be done to implement a requirement solution based on resources, complexity, and value. If the requirement benefits many people and it's an easy solution, then it can get addressed very fast. If the requirement benefits very few and it's a complex problem that really doesn't offer much value, then it's harder to justify to IBM that it's necessary to spend resources to find a solution. It's a balancing act of prioritization, but based on the results, it's very rewarding for the user base of COMMON.


The blue sheets were the lightening rod for requirements at COMMON for many years. Part of the challenge is that COMMON happens only twice a year, and not everyone can go, based on their own company's budget. Of course, the CAAC gets a few requirements via word of mouth or through social media and email, but the blue sheets typically yield much more input just because of the population concentration of IBM i professionals in one hotel.


The week before the Anaheim conference, COMMON went live with its new requirements website. There's a link for it on on the right side. However, I spoke with Phil McCullough at the "Ask the Experts" session and asked if we could get a direct URL to the requirements website, something like, that would be easy to tell people about. I'm assuming he talked with COMMON IT Manager Fred Pritchard and got this done because the link works just fine. Thanks, Phil and Fred!


IBM's Dawn May, who is also the IBM liaison to the CAAC, wrote a great piece on how to use the new website. Please check that out.


The best part about this website is that we don't have to wait until COMMON to get an influx of blue sheets from just the people in attendance. Every developer, operator, systems administrator, IT manager, and CIO in the IBM i community can enter their own requirements at any time. You don't even need to be a COMMON member to enter and view the requirements in the system either. You need to enter your name and contact information so that someone can get in touch with you about your request, but COMMON wanted to make this process as easy as possible. Getting feedback from the community that COMMON services is what's important.


It's an easy URL to remember too if people hear about it. That means I'm going to ask you for a favor, being the awesome IBM i peers and valued readers you are. So please do the following:


Share this link ( with every IBM i, AIX, and Power Systems professional you know.


If you're chatting with someone on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, or email about a feature you'd like to have but you don't think exists, you now have a direct mechanism to effect change.


The success rate of the work the CAAC and IBM speaks for itself. COMMON delivers approximately 70% of all requirements. You can be a part of it. The ideas of the community help make IBM i and Power Systems that much better.