Selling iSeries to Your Management: How to Avoid Being Bob

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How many times has the iSeries or AS/400 in your shop been overlooked for new projects? Was it because of a lack of understanding of the capabilities of the architecture? Was it because your management team still views the black box with suspicion? Was it because the initial investment with a business partner overwhelmed an artificially low budget and another platform solution came in cheaper?

When it comes to the iSeries, loyal customers and programmers love to taunt IBM for its lack of marketing acumen. "If only IBM would market the iSeries more aggressively," they lament. "Then we could get our management to understand the hidden talent that we already have...."

But if the iSeries is to be used successfully to deliver new projects, your management needs more than "feel-good" marketing info. IT management needs to have a comprehensive automation strategy that includes a solid understanding of where the iSeries fits, what its strengths are, and how it can be an asset to the company's overall business goals.

What Management Thinks It Knows

Here is a homily that your management will recognize: Hardware rusts but software actually rots!

In IT, we expect that the hardware we purchase today will become the landfill of tomorrow. Obsolescence, whether it's planned by the manufacturer or dictated by the microchip industry, is simply a fact of life. We anticipate that the desktops, the printers, the laptops--all the wonderful devices we've convinced our organizations to buy--will someday be outmoded. It's the computer industry's mass-production economics that, in part, have driven our rapid office automation. Hardware rusts! We want it to rust! Why? Because we get to buy new toys every time our old equipment becomes obsolete!

But software rots! Its shrink-wrapped claims of superiority are as dated as the microwave dinners in your deep freeze. Even if you place that brand new box of software installation CDs on your bookshelf unopened, you can bet your bottom dollar that in six months to a year the value of the contents will have been superceded by a newer, enhanced version that will render obsolete the version that you own. Sitting there in its cellophane, that original box of software has rotted, has become useless, and needs to be purchased again.

Hardware Rusts, but Software Rots!

Now consider what these nuggets of IT conventional wisdom imply for applications written or purchased for the iSeries. Consider the case of Bob.

Who in their right mind would dream of running a DOS-based Word Perfect 5.0 on a 2 GHz laptop with 30 GB of disk space? A computer-illiterate? A word-processing masochist? A Luddite?

Bob would!

Bob is a very practical guy. He may be a Luddite, be he is also somebody with a very savvy software investment strategy. Someone who can prove to you, with hard numbers, that any productivity gain he might realize by moving to a more "modern" word processor is offset by the combined cost of training and converting the thousands of documents that are in his folders.

Now, is Bob really a Luddite? Well, on second thought maybe not, but, he is still a problem for IT. Unless Bob can be shown that he can improve his ROI or that he will miss out on capital-producing business opportunities, Bob will stay with WP 5.0 until it breaks or until he is the last person on earth to use it. Unless Bob changes, IT will get nowhere.

Do such people exist? Absolutely! Are they really a problem for IT? They can be!

The problem with Bob is that he has already found a solution to his business problem: Word Perfect 5.0. He isn't in the market for application software because he has already found what he needs. Unless IT can prove that Bob's solution no longer works, he will never move to a newer application software suite.

Being Bob

Now for the bigger problem. If you're unable to get management support for new projects on your iSeries, your management probably thinks your name is Bob.

Think about it! How else can they explain the fact that you're standing behind a 12-year-old computing architecture that allows you to run business applications that may be decades older? How else can they understand your dedication and loyalty to the iSeries?

After all, the IT industry has spent years training your management to understand the two underlying IT homilies above. "Hardware rusts but software rots!" And if you're running old applications on your iSeries, that machine must be rotten to the core! Therefore, from management's industry-prompted perspective, it's foolish to add anything new onto that rotting hulk that never goes down, that never takes any resources, and that nearly no one knows anything about. According to this conventional wisdom, it's a bad risk to bet on the iSeries.

Quick and Dirty Apps vs. Long-Lived Solution Success

Management's perspective on Bob is nothing that IBM or any vendor can fix.

Nor is it IBM's problem that management isn't hearing new little homilies about the iSeries on the radio or TV. Smart jingles could be blasting away every morning on the radio about the iSeries, and your management would sleep through the choruses. Besides, IBM doesn't sell servers; it sells solutions.

Nor can you point to the iSeries architecture, nor to IBM's lack of enthusiasm for the platform. The fact is, IBM continues to invest heavily in the underlying technology that supports the iSeries. It continues to deliver long-term software solutions and state-of-art facilities to the OS/400 operating system.

Witness the recent announcements of new hardware last month (http://www-1.ibm.com/servers/eserver/iseries/announce/index.html). How about the successful deployment of the Linux platform within Logical Partitions that made the iSeries the most-talked-about server at the recent LinuxWorld conference? (http://www.ibm.com/iseries/linux) And what about recent announcements of Lotus Sametime for the iSeries? (http://www-1.ibm.com/servers/eserver/iseries/sametime) Consider how IBM continually supports the advancement of Java for the iSeries (http://www-1.ibm.com/servers/eserver/iseries/ebusiness/java) and the development of WebSphere (http://www-1.ibm.com/servers/eserver/iseries/software/websphere/wsappserver)and DB2 (http://www-1.ibm.com/servers/eserver/iseries/db2). Look at what IBM Business Partners continue to bring to the iSeries platform (http://www-1.ibm.com/servers/eserver/iseries/institute/xt6entad.htm).

To whom is IBM targeting these iSeries advancements? It's simple! IBM is targeting those organizations that have a long-term IT investment strategy: companies that want long-lived solution successes, not short-term "quick and dirty" applications.

The Cost of Slam-Dunk Application Thinking

Unfortunately, too often IT management doesn't know how to evaluate the cost of its proposed solutions. Too often, in IT shops, the credo is "Try it out on something cheap. Later we can always consolidate."

A quick look at how your organization may have implemented email might be a case in point.

Email was once seen as a quick-and-dirty application that could be implemented with "slam-dunk" precision on Wintel. The same argument was used with UNIX. But depending on the size of the organization, by the time all was said and done, the number of servers and the complexity of the email network on those platforms may have far exceeded the cost of implementing a single scalable infrastructural solution on an iSeries: a solution that requires considerably less complexity and far fewer IT personnel.

Solution Lifecycle Thinking

Does it cost more to implement with the iSeries? Sometimes. Though IBM has done a reasonable job of lowering the costs for standard packaged solutions, iSeries solutions do, in fact, tend to cost more. Sometimes they cost a whole bunch more.

However, should the standard be based merely upon how much it costs to deliver the solution without evaluating how long the solution is to be used over time? If the solution is to be a real infrastructural addition--something that will support the business over the long haul--is your management placing a value on its longevity? On Wintel and UNIX boxes, the cost-to-benefit ratio of application software may be small, but the proven life-cycle of the applications are usually only three or four years. On the iSeries, however, the application solutions--solutions that have been designed for long-term use by iSeries customers--have often proven to be successful for a decade or more. Furthermore, each iSeries solution usually has a real track record over time, proving IBM's contention that the iSeries delivers the best ROI at the lowest total cost of ownership.

So what does this prove? Application software does, in fact, rot! But real infrastructural solutions should not. They should offer a basis upon which the company can build for the future. And that's where the iSeries offers real proven value to your organization.

Changing Management's Perspective

What I'm aiming at is that "making sense" to management sometimes goes against the wisdom they've received from industry pundits about what is a good IT business decision. In some managers' minds the iSeries is obsolete. It's WP 5.0. To get them to understand what makes real business sense, you've got to go beyond selling applications and connect with them by selling long-term "solutions." So, sometimes selling an iSeries to managment requires more than just making sense.

Choose Your Battles

Don't get me wrong! I'm not proposing that every solution your team builds should go on the iSeries. In fact, selecting a solution based merely upon some ability to run on an iSeries is perhaps the furthest thing from my mind. After all, when one considers that your organization can run Windows, UNIX, and Linux applications on an iSeries--as well as native OS/400 application software--what would be the point?

What I am suggesting is that there is a legitimate space in your management's IT strategy for using the iSeries, and that profile is defined by long-term business goals and serious infrastructural information needs. It's a profile that identifies "growth" as an operative word, "stable" as a critical parameter, and "robust" as a descriptive adjective.

Given that the iSeries fits that profile perfectly--and has the track record to prove it--you should be able to choose your management battles wisely and win more than your fair share of projects for your iSeries installation.

Thomas M. Stockwell is Editor in Chief of MCMagOnline. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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