Out of the Blue: Midrange Perspectives

  • Smaller Small Medium Big Bigger
  • Default Helvetica Segoe Georgia Times

A wise man recently told me that enlightenment comes with seeing the paradox. If so, then IBM has an opportunity to become enlightened. As it struggles to remake itself within the soulless reality of commodity marketing, IBM straddles the contradiction of wanting to be viewed as a willing provider of customer service, while distancing itself from direct interaction with customers. But whether IBM sees the layers of business partners, dealers, agents and retailers as a paradox is not yet clear.

When Chairman Louis Gerstner spoke to stockholders (see August Significa), he told them he wanted to return the corporation to the legacy of Thomas Watson Jr., a legacy he characterized with the phrase: IBM means service. But that may be problematic if the experience of customers I've recently interviewed is pervasive. I spoke with several AS/400 users about their businesses, and their relationships with business partners and IBM.

Willamette Beverage (WB) of Oregon is a bottler and distributor for several soft drinks including 7Up, Dr. Pepper and Pepsi. It has 168 employees, gross sales of $30 million and a one-woman data processing department: Laura Cox. Ms. Cox is a former credit manager who got her start in data processing when her company bought a new computer system and needed someone to attend to it. She sits in a newly refurbished, agreeably cluttered office adjacent to a modest computer room that houses an E20.

Although the logo on the beige box is the familiar IBM, the vendor is software provider Informed Beverage Management of North Carolina. It appears to be a happy alliance, with Cox reporting excellent service and superior software. WB runs general ledger, sales, fixed assets, production and payroll; but the company's most important application is route accounting which identifies incoming orders, produces load-sheets for night-loaders who fill trucks with product for the next day's delivery, and then feeds sales information to the appropriate accounting systems.

As with the other AS/400 users with whom I spoke, the decision to buy IBM was fueled by the choice of software. The beverage company's only contacts with IBM were during the system installation phase and six weeks later when they experienced a rare disk crash. "Sudden infant death," the system engineer (SE) called it, but Ms. Cox was highly complimentary of the care and service he provided in recovering the system.

But beyond that gratitude, Cox expressed no IBM product or company loyalty, which may account for the fact that although peripherals were plentiful, they did not carry the IBM logo. Simple inattention to marketing opportunities may also be a factor in other revenue losses. For example, Cox indicated being unaware of the availability of IBM's AS/400 Technical Support Services although she would like to have technical assistance with PTFs.

Chambers Communication Corpo-ration (CCC) is an umbrella company sheltering, among other things, a construction firm, six cable TV companies spread across three states, and a vineyard. But locally it is best known as KEZI, the ABC television affiliate. Between its two office buildings sit four monstrous satellite dishes, tilted skyward like white Jurassic mushrooms.

Blond, bearded and bespectacled Conley Phillips manages a staff of two and the operations of an E45 supporting some 75 users in a heavy data communications environment. For Phillips, the AS/400 was something of a pleasant surprise. He reported having successfully avoided IBM for 20 years after early tilts with an IBM/360. But CCC chose to migrate from an HP3000 supporting in-house development to an AS/400 running packaged software. As in the case of Willamette Beverage, the business partner is remote. But, unlike his counterpart at WB, Phillips was not thrilled with the performance of his business partner, whom he felt was learning on the job at the expense and annoyance of Chambers Communication.

Since this particular business partner provides only software support, Phillips has more of an opportunity to interact with IBM and gives mixed reviews: high marks for initial data communications implementation; no solution for a V.35 interface with non-IBM data communications hardware; "outrageous" channel service unit/data service unit (CSU/DSU) costs; but excellent support upgrading from a D-model to an E-model.

Here, peripherals also abound (Panasonic, HP, Goldstar) but reflect no IBM bias. The AS/400 is seen as a reliable performer, but neither the business partner nor IBM seems to have inspired customer loyalty, except on a "case-by- case, item-by-item basis."

States Industries (SI) is a hardwood plywood manufacturer with its own paradox. Situated in what is perhaps the timber breadbasket of the world, the Pacific Northwest, it imports hardwoods from the Northeast, Canada and Indonesia. SI's purchase of an AS/400 D20, displacing a Unisys system, was also software driven. According to DP Manager Al Schamber, applications software support provided by the business partner of record was, until recently, "atrocious." Schamber reports that during a rocky installation phase, a consultant was literally able to do in three days what the business partner couldn't accomplish in six months!

Like his counterparts, Schamber likes the AS/400. "It needs little support," he says, and it enabled SI to reduce the headcount of its DP department from six to one. IBM service? It once took IBM four days to hook up an ASCII controller and two modems, but the SEs eventually solved whatever problems hindered the installation; and if Schamber isn't wildly enthusiastic, neither is he particularly displeased.

Even the local IBM business unit, trying its best to provide the service that customers require, is itself affected by the paradox of service and marketing once-removed: its staff is now only about one-fourth of pre-downsizing levels.

The enlightenment here is that embracing this paradox is not without cost.

o Once-removed marketing deprives IBM of revenues, particularly from peripherals and service opportunities.

o Customers have mixed experience with business partners and that, to some degree, reflects on IBM.

o Business partners are devoted to IBM because they need a vehicle to showcase their software, which makes IBM vulnerable to competing, less-expensive platforms which may make the software package more attractive.

o Business partners are often remote. The customer is increasingly isolated from service providers.

And most important:

o There is no longer a central focus for customer loyalty.

Undeniably, having more than 20,000 business partners and software packages to choose from is a bonanza. Paradoxically, however, you can see the lights of customer loyalty flicking off as computers become as interchangeable as tires.

If Chairman Gerstner is to reclaim IBM's service roots, he will have to redefine service so that it is both acceptable to his customers and affordable to his corporation. The great danger to IBM is simply this: that customers will begin to feel about commodity providers what they feel about commodities: nothing.

Victor Rozek has 17 years of experience in the data processing industry, including seven years with IBM in Operations Management and Systems Engineering.



Support MC Press Online





  • White Paper: Node.js for Enterprise IBM i Modernization

    SB Profound WP 5539

    If your business is thinking about modernizing your legacy IBM i (also known as AS/400 or iSeries) applications, you will want to read this white paper first!

    Download this paper and learn how Node.js can ensure that you:
    - Modernize on-time and budget - no more lengthy, costly, disruptive app rewrites!
    - Retain your IBM i systems of record
    - Find and hire new development talent
    - Integrate new Node.js applications with your existing RPG, Java, .Net, and PHP apps
    - Extend your IBM i capabilties to include Watson API, Cloud, and Internet of Things

    Read Node.js for Enterprise IBM i Modernization Now!


  • Profound Logic Solution Guide

    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 companyare not aligned with the current IT environment.

    Get your copy of this important guide today!


  • 2022 IBM i Marketplace Survey Results

    Fortra2022 marks the eighth edition of the IBM i Marketplace Survey Results. Each year, Fortra captures data on how businesses use the IBM i platform and the IT and cybersecurity initiatives it supports.

    Over the years, this survey has become a true industry benchmark, revealing to readers the trends that are shaping and driving the market and providing insight into what the future may bring for this technology.

  • Brunswick bowls a perfect 300 with LANSA!

    FortraBrunswick is the leader in bowling products, services, and industry expertise for the development and renovation of new and existing bowling centers and mixed-use recreation facilities across the entertainment industry. However, the lifeblood of Brunswick’s capital equipment business was running on a 15-year-old software application written in Visual Basic 6 (VB6) with a SQL Server back-end. The application was at the end of its life and needed to be replaced.
    With the help of Visual LANSA, they found an easy-to-use, long-term platform that enabled their team to collaborate, innovate, and integrate with existing systems and databases within a single platform.
    Read the case study to learn how they achieved success and increased the speed of development by 30% with Visual LANSA.


  • Progressive Web Apps: Create a Universal Experience Across All Devices

    LANSAProgressive Web Apps allow you to reach anyone, anywhere, and on any device with a single unified codebase. This means that your applications—regardless of browser, device, or platform—instantly become more reliable and consistent. They are the present and future of application development, and more and more businesses are catching on.
    Download this whitepaper and learn:

    • How PWAs support fast application development and streamline DevOps
    • How to give your business a competitive edge using PWAs
    • What makes progressive web apps so versatile, both online and offline



  • The Power of Coding in a Low-Code Solution

    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:

    • Discover the benefits of Low-code's quick application creation
    • Understand the differences in model-based and language-based Low-Code platforms
    • Explore the strengths of LANSA's Low-Code Solution to Low-Code’s biggest drawbacks



  • Why Migrate When You Can Modernize?

    LANSABusiness 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.
    In this white paper, you’ll learn how to think of these issues as opportunities rather than problems. We’ll explore motivations to migrate or modernize, their risks and considerations you should be aware of before embarking on a (migration or modernization) project.
    Lastly, we’ll discuss how modernizing IBM i applications with optimized business workflows, integration with other technologies and new mobile and web user interfaces will enable IT – and the business – to experience time-added value and much more.


  • UPDATED: Developer Kit: Making a Business Case for Modernization and Beyond

    Profound Logic Software, Inc.Having trouble getting management approval for modernization projects? The problem may be you're not speaking enough "business" to them.

    This Developer Kit provides you study-backed data and a ready-to-use business case template to help get your very next development project approved!

  • What to Do When Your AS/400 Talent Retires

    FortraIT managers hoping to find new IBM i talent are discovering that the pool of experienced RPG programmers and operators or administrators is small.

    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:

    • Why IBM i skills depletion is a top concern
    • How leading organizations are coping
    • Where automation will make the biggest impact


  • Node.js on IBM i Webinar Series Pt. 2: Setting Up Your Development Tools

    Profound Logic Software, Inc.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. In Part 2, Brian May teaches you the different tooling options available for writing code, debugging, and using Git for version control. Attend this webinar to learn:

    • Different tools to develop Node.js applications on IBM i
    • Debugging Node.js
    • The basics of Git and tools to help those new to it
    • Using as a pre-built development environment



  • Expert Tips for IBM i Security: Beyond the Basics

    SB PowerTech WC GenericIn this session, IBM i security expert Robin Tatam provides a quick recap of IBM i security basics and guides you through some advanced cybersecurity techniques that can help you take data protection to the next level. Robin will cover:

    • Reducing the risk posed by special authorities
    • Establishing object-level security
    • Overseeing user actions and data access

    Don't miss this chance to take your knowledge of IBM i security beyond the basics.



  • 5 IBM i Security Quick Wins

    SB PowerTech WC GenericIn today’s threat landscape, upper management is laser-focused on cybersecurity. You need to make progress in securing your systems—and make it fast.
    There’s no shortage of actions you could take, but what tactics will actually deliver the results you need? And how can you find a security strategy that fits your budget and time constraints?
    Join top IBM i security expert Robin Tatam as he outlines the five fastest and most impactful changes you can make to strengthen IBM i security this year.
    Your system didn’t become unsecure overnight and you won’t be able to turn it around overnight either. But quick wins are possible with IBM i security, and Robin Tatam will show you how to achieve them.

  • Security Bulletin: Malware Infection Discovered on IBM i Server!

    SB PowerTech WC GenericMalicious programs can bring entire businesses to their knees—and IBM i shops are not immune. It’s critical to grasp the true impact malware can have on IBM i and the network that connects to it. Attend this webinar to gain a thorough understanding of the relationships between:

    • Viruses, native objects, and the integrated file system (IFS)
    • Power Systems and Windows-based viruses and malware
    • PC-based anti-virus scanning versus native IBM i scanning

    There are a number of ways you can minimize your exposure to viruses. IBM i security expert Sandi Moore explains the facts, including how to ensure you're fully protected and compliant with regulations such as PCI.



  • Encryption on IBM i Simplified

    SB PowerTech WC GenericDB2 Field Procedures (FieldProcs) were introduced in IBM i 7.1 and have greatly simplified encryption, often without requiring any application changes. Now you can quickly encrypt sensitive data on the IBM i including PII, PCI, PHI data in your physical files and tables.
    Watch this webinar to learn how you can quickly implement encryption on the IBM i. During the webinar, security expert Robin Tatam will show you how to:

    • Use Field Procedures to automate encryption and decryption
    • Restrict and mask field level access by user or group
    • Meet compliance requirements with effective key management and audit trails


  • Lessons Learned from IBM i Cyber Attacks

    SB PowerTech WC GenericDespite the many options IBM has provided to protect your systems and data, many organizations still struggle to apply appropriate security controls.
    In this webinar, you'll get insight into how the criminals accessed these systems, the fallout from these attacks, and how the incidents could have been avoided by following security best practices.

    • Learn which security gaps cyber criminals love most
    • Find out how other IBM i organizations have fallen victim
    • Get the details on policies and processes you can implement to protect your organization, even when staff works from home

    You will learn the steps you can take to avoid the mistakes made in these examples, as well as other inadequate and misconfigured settings that put businesses at risk.



  • The Power of Coding in a Low-Code Solution

    SB PowerTech WC GenericWhen 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:

    • Discover the benefits of Low-code's quick application creation
    • Understand the differences in model-based and language-based Low-Code platforms
    • Explore the strengths of LANSA's Low-Code Solution to Low-Code’s biggest drawbacks



  • Node Webinar Series Pt. 1: The World of Node.js on IBM i

    SB Profound WC GenericHave 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.
    Part 1 will teach you what Node.js is, why it's a great option for IBM i shops, and how to take advantage of the ecosystem surrounding Node.
    In addition to background information, our Director of Product Development Scott Klement will demonstrate applications that take advantage of the Node Package Manager (npm).
    Watch Now.

  • The Biggest Mistakes in IBM i Security

    SB Profound WC Generic The Biggest Mistakes in IBM i Security
    Here’s the harsh reality: cybersecurity pros have to get their jobs right every single day, while an attacker only has to succeed once to do incredible damage.
    Whether that’s thousands of exposed records, millions of dollars in fines and legal fees, or diminished share value, it’s easy to judge organizations that fall victim. IBM i enjoys an enviable reputation for security, but no system is impervious to mistakes.
    Join this webinar to learn about the biggest errors made when securing a Power Systems server.
    This knowledge is critical for ensuring integrity of your application data and preventing you from becoming the next Equifax. It’s also essential for complying with all formal regulations, including SOX, PCI, GDPR, and HIPAA
    Watch Now.

  • Comply in 5! Well, actually UNDER 5 minutes!!

    SB CYBRA PPL 5382

    TRY 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.

    Request your trial now!

  • Backup and Recovery on IBM i: Your Strategy for the Unexpected

    FortraRobot automates the routine 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:
    - Simplified backup procedures
    - Easy data encryption
    - Save media management
    - Guided restoration
    - Seamless product integration
    Make sure your data survives when catastrophe hits. Try the Robot Backup and Recovery Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • Manage IBM i Messages by Exception with Robot

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413Managing messages on your IBM i can be more than a full-time job if you have to do it manually. 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:
    - Automated message management
    - Tailored notifications and automatic escalation
    - System-wide control of your IBM i partitions
    - Two-way system notifications from your mobile device
    - Seamless product integration
    Try the Robot Message Management Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • Easiest Way to Save Money? Stop Printing IBM i Reports

    FortraRobot 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:

    - Automated report distribution
    - View online without delay
    - Browser interface to make notes
    - Custom retention capabilities
    - Seamless product integration
    Rerun another report? Never again. Try the Robot Report Management Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • Hassle-Free IBM i Operations around the Clock

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413For over 30 years, Robot has been a leader in systems management for IBM i.
    Manage your job schedule with the Robot Job Scheduling Solution. Key features include:
    - Automated batch, interactive, and cross-platform scheduling
    - Event-driven dependency processing
    - Centralized monitoring and reporting
    - Audit log and ready-to-use reports
    - Seamless product integration
    Scale your software, not your staff. Try the Robot Job Scheduling Solution FREE for 30 days.