What IBM i Execs Don't Know

IBM i (OS/400, i5/OS)
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I probably shouldn't do this piece, but I'm frustrated by many of the clients I've worked with over the last five years. Maybe they're not representative of the i community. But maybe they are.


Maybe you're like me. In which case, I am sincerely sorry.


Or maybe you're normal but a little like me. Maybe you just think about things from weird directions sometimes. And for me, right now, the question I am wresting with is this: What are some i CIOs thinking? That is, did you ever wonder why so many decisions made by executive types seem so wrongat least as far as technology is concerned?


Execs Are Not Stupider Than We Are

Now if you're an executive, don't get mad. I have always felt that most people are pretty much equally stupid, regardless of their spot on the corporate hierarchy.


Oh, sorry. Would you feel better if I said that you're just as smart as we are?


Either way, it's the same. The bottom line is that, when it comes to making "good" decisions (that is, decisions that I would agree with), I don't think it's a matter of intelligence at all. In fact, I think intelligence has very little to do with what generally happens in the business world. I think that it's much more a matter of "feelings."



I'm not talking about feelings like being happy or sad or thinking that someone in a long, grey coat is following you everywhere. I'm talking about how you feel about stuff. The gut feel you have about something. Your intuition. Your biases. Or prejudices, if you will.


In the end, no matter how smart someone thinks they are, or actually is, we all tend to act first on our beliefs and second on our knowledge. I guess it's the business equivalent of "following your heart." And in romantic comedies this often works out just swell. But I'm not sure that carries over to the business world.


So what's the problem? From a theoretical point of view, everything should be decided based on solid logic. Mr. Spock and all that. So why isn't it like that?


We're Not Wired That Way

I think that no matter how much we like to think to the contrary, people are just not logical creatures. We are emotional beings. All of us, except maybe for Sheldon, but even that's up for grabs in the last two seasons.


We think with our desires first, our minds second. At least about big things. I see it every day in the company I'm contracting with now, at the top level of the company, where you do have some of the very smartest people in the organization (and I'm not being facetious here). But when they look at an issue facing the company, they almost always come down on the side of "we can do everything for everyone," rather than a more practical "there are limits to what we can do, so let's decide who we really are." This more pragmatic position is generally taken by those at lower levels of the company who are they derided for not having "vision."


No matter how you slice it, we're not hardwired for logic. We're hardwired for emotion.


But that's not all.


Network vs. i

The other side of it is that most of the IBM i executives that I've seen recently don't come from the i world. They come from networking.


Let's face it; that's a different orientation. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but...


I can understand why network people are in demand. After all, where are most of the problems in a modern IT environment? They're in the network, of course. So, if you want someone to manage your entire system, who better to choose than someone who's an expert in that part of the process?


The problem is that network people think of everything from a Windows point of view. That's what networking is about. It's about starting maybe with a mainframe (and that includes the i) but providing the user interface via some sort of "other" infrastructure. It might be AIX or even UNIX but most probably is Windows.


When you think that way, you shift the playing field. The i becomes subsidiary. A marginal player, not the center of what's going on.


But Even With That

But even with that (things being slanted to a Windows viewpoint and feelings being more important than thoughts), there are other things that prevent the i CIO from looking at things the same way I would. And I think that some of these other, more cultural factors, may actually be more important than the mainframe (the i is a mainframe) vs. network divide.


There's Too Much to Think About

Please, tell me I'm wrong, but I believe that today there's too much to think about. Too many topics, too many tools, too many three- and four-digit acronyms. So we end up not thinking about the most important things. We think about the simplest, the least important things first.


And the least important thing is what we have to pay right now. And when we look at cost, how do we look at it?


Are you going to be on your computer system for only a few days? Heck fire no, boy. You're going to be on it for the next five years minimum. So why do we look at the upfront cost rather than the total cost of ownership?


Because if we look at the upfront cost, there's less to think about. It's easy to explain to those above us.


Great. So the main decision-making item is how to think the least about the most significant thing? Yeah, try to teach that at the Wharton School of Business. But yet, that's what we do. And so we look past the i because the upfront cost is larger.


And We Want to Think Quickly

What was it the White Rabbit said? "No time to say hello, goodbye. I'm late, I'm late, I'm late." He was in a hurry. Unfortunately, Alice in Wonderland has become inextricably linked with drug abuse and the San Francisco scene of Grace Slick and the Jefferson Airplane. But what it has to say is true even if you strip all that away.


Making quick decisions based on limited information and understanding is not the same as dynamic wisdom. But that's what most modern managers are required to do. They may "think" about things for six months, but the total amount of real thought is very small and is constrained by the need to "make a decision."


And It's Not Stuff You Can Learn Quickly

The problem with that is that nothing is easy to learn anymore.


If you're old enough, remember when the world was simple? You had an i (actually, back then an AS/400) and you had dumb terminals connected via Twinax. You didn't have half a dozen network people. You had a system operator. One who did everything you needed. And it wasn't that much.


Oh, give it a rest. I know that we have more functionality at our disposal now, but it comes with a cost. And the cost is not just dollars. It's a cost of time. Time to learn several divergent technologies and then try to fit them together. And in the end, that adds up to money.


And We Think We Already Know It (Especially About IT)

But the worst thing is, we think we already know it. Or at least, we want to already know it, so we don't have to think about it.


And what we know is, what is important to the company is the bottom line for the next year (or quarter). So how can you commit to a technology that will save you money in the future but cost you money now?


Plus, many IT executives feel they already know everything about IT. Yep, there are facts and figures they can learn, but they have all the basics. And that's at odds with the way I view things; I always seem to be learning something new, something significant. And I think that's a very definite difference between a Windows or server environment and an IBM i environment.


Am I Wrong?

I know this is one of the most negative articles I have ever written. Is it the Andy Rooney syndrome? Am I just becoming a curmudgeon? Nothing is as good as it once was?


Would I go back to 1985? Heck fire no, boy. I didn't have email to see what kinds of special business financing I could get and there were no emails of YouTube videos to amuse me during the day.


But I would like a greater realization on the part of people who did not grow up with the AS/400 about how powerful the i is.


Is that too much to ask? To ask people who are now in the i world who grew up with Windows to see the advantages the i offers?


I'll be honest. I've spent much of the last five years working with clients who were not exactly at the top of the apple barrel. And maybe I'm jaded by that. And maybe that's part of the reason why I'm now more involved in business project management than in the technical world of the i.


Or maybe it's simply time for me to stop talking. It just seems that for a lot of the companies I know, the right decisions (in terms of cost and reliability) are not being made. Is that wrong? Do you think that's my fault?