European midrange trends indicate foreign tongues converging into IBMspeak.
The trouble with going to Europe, someone once said, is that it's full of foreigners. And unfamiliar foreign things. So after you've gotten your fill of buttresses that fly, of towers that lean, of royal families with plebeian manners, of the opulent monotony of museums, it's time for something familiar.
If you're fortunate enough to be in Holland, try the Heineken brewery. When you tour the facility, don't be satisfied with just pounding down a few free samples. Insist on seeing the computer room. There, behind a few cases of empties, you will find a suspiciously happy operations staff and IBM's 200,000th AS/400.
In fact, IBM has pretty well seeded all of Western Europe with AS/400s. According to Bob Artemenko-a man with a title reminiscent of European royalty (Director of Product Management for Applications Business Systems for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa)-the European market accounts for 60 percent of IBM's AS/400 sales and a slightly smaller percentage of revenues.
By comparison, the United States accounts for only 30 percent of the AS/400 market, with 10 percent going to the mysterious nation of "other." Appropriately, systems for the European market are manufactured in Europe, in the city of Santa Palomba, Italy. IBM has taken care to replicate its Baldrige Award-winning Rochester manufacturing model in all of its non-U.S. facilities, including plants in Mexico, Brazil, the United Kingdom and Japan. So successful has the manufacturing process been, that AS/400 production-cycle times have been reduced by as much as 70 percent.
Germany and France have the largest AS/400 install base, with Italy close behind, followed by the United Kingdom. Artemenko indicated that Eastern Europe, newly emerging from beneath the collapsed iron curtain, is a significantly growing market, albeit one with a comparatively small install base.
Each nation has great autonomy in conducting IBM's business, asserts Artemenko, although their basic approach follows the same policies adopted in the United States. Abroad, as here in the states, IBM has invested heavily in the pursuit of quality, driven by customer demands as expressed in satisfaction surveys. IBM Europe is also moving aggressively to shift to alternate channels of distribution (read: business partners and agents), and is trying to consolidate support services through AS/400 support centers and the use of the European equivalent of 800 numbers.
Like the United States, Europe has not escaped the realities of a changing market. "Ten years ago," mused Artemenko, "I was glad to be in an industry where I didn't have to deal with margins on items like calculators and watches." Now, I suspect, he-and indeed IBM-look upon that decade with fond nostalgia. But as industry margins shrink, one solution to the profit-per-system dilemma is volume, and in Europe there are some notable successes.
The national railroads in Germany, Deutsche Bundesbahn and Deutsche Reichsbahn, maintain about 41,000 kilometers of track. Thirty thousand passenger trains a day carry 1.6 million people from hither to Bonn. Approximately 450 million tons of goods are transported each year. The two railroads employ nearly a half-million people, which makes for one big bratwurst of a personnel system. Enter Grosse Blau. (That's Big Blue, for you non-Deutsch sprechers.) The IBM marketing team must have seen "Mediterranean Vacation" printed on the foreheads of the railroad executives because the German national railroads are now the proud owners of no fewer than 760 AS/400s that support two major personnel applications. Fifteen other applications are under development and more AS/400s are expected to be added.
In The Netherlands, 30 kilometers from The Hague, stands the headquarters of the Volvo Importership. Its actual name in Dutch looks like something a squirrel typed while dancing on your keyboard, so I won't even attempt it. Every Volvo truck and bus importer factory throughout the world has an AS/400, each running the same standard software. They are all connected to Volvo's international communications network. In The Netherlands alone, there are 46 Volvo dealerships and service outlets connected to the headquarters' AS/400, which in turn talks to the home-office IBM system in Sweden and to another system at Volvo's Belgian plant. Customers can literally track their truck orders week by week as the factory builds them. Selected customers are also allowed access to Volvo's AS/400s via PCs. They can order parts directly and track availability in neighboring warehouses. In Italy, about 48 million people are eligible for social security in one form or another. The task of collecting social security contributions from Italian workers, recasting them as pension payments and distributing them in 20 regions throughout the country falls to the Istituto Nazionale della Providenza Sociale, or INPS. The AS/400 did for INPS what Mussolini purportedly did for Italy's trains. With at least one AS/400 now installed in each of INPS's 160 offices, social security recipients can have their problems resolved and their questions answered-on time and online. In Belgium, customs clearance was a two-day event. While papers were shuffled, goods sat idle in warehouses. Belgian authorities were concerned that such delays would prove disadvantageous under the free-trade provisions of the new unified European market. The Belgian Ministry of Finance solved the problem with the help of an IBM authorized agent and four AS/400s configured in a token ring network. Customers with AS/400s can now link directly to the customs office's host computer in Brussels. The entire verification process takes about 30 seconds, and goods are delayed no more than a half-hour.
If European unification seeks to make commerce less of an obstacle to human interaction, the subtleties of language can still be daunting. Some years ago, I worked for an MIS director who had freshly emigrated from England. He was, in the English fashion, somewhat formal, always proper and very respectful of his employees. We were therefore startled when he walked out of his office one day and asked his secretary in a clear, stylishly accented voice: "Got a rubber?" The woman, well into her middle years and not noted for her sense of humor, turned an extraordinary shade of pink, shot him a withering look and clutched protectively at the collar of her blouse. It was only later that we found out the unfortunate man was looking for an eraser.
Victor Rozek has 17 years of experience in the data processing industry, including seven years with IBM in the Operations Management and Systems Engineering areas.