The iSociety: System i Users React
Published: September 25, 2006
by Mary Lou Roberts
Newcomers to the iSociety community that was announced last week at COMMON are invited to register to be part of that community. The registration process begins with the iSociety Creed, which states: "I believe in one system that fully integrates all things visible and invisible, and provides abundance to business everywhere. I believe that this only system was created to enlighten business people, and to free them from the tyranny of the technologists. And I believe that, one day, there will be just one system, and that all others will be pale imitations of it."
The visitor then has two choices. Clicking on "I Believe" takes one to the next stage of the registration process. Those misguided fools who click "I Don't Believe" follow a different path: They are treated to a quick trip to the biography of Bill Gates on the Microsoft site--suitable reading, presumably, for those who apparently deny the "Truth" known to all System i devotees.
Designed to succeed where iSeries Nation failed in bringing the evangelical System i community together, the iSociety (described in detail in last week's issue of The Four Hundred), hopes to pump up, bolster, and enthuse AS/400-iSeries-System i lovers worldwide by giving them a home of their own, a place where they can network, share, boast, ask questions, and generally sneer at the misguided souls who are busy reading the Gates biography.
Meanwhile, believers are treated to a host of capabilities, including special interest groups, the ability to find out who is online and enter into discussions and live chat (to be released in the next couple of weeks), the ability to post and access files, and lots more.
In fact, Trevor Perry, an IT strategist for Clear Technologies, says that even Mark Shearer, the general manager of the System i division in IBM's Systems and Technology Group, has offered his support, and the community is looking for ways to engage him with iSociety users, possibly including such things as periodic live chats. In fact, Perry says that the goal is to engage all of the senior IBM executives in the iSociety.
The reception of the iSociety by COMMON attendees was, by all accounts, enthusiastic. And why wouldn't it be? These are the folks whose companies are dedicated enough to the platform to spend thousands of dollars to send them to Miami to spend a week honing their skills, hawking their wares, touting their successes, or delivering presentations all about the System i. It's always an impressive display and only the most hardened observer could fail to be impressed with the fervor akin to religious evangelism shared by the members of this community. The goal is indeed a righteous one: keep the System i community in tact, and provide a means to extend that evangelism to the non-believers.
As of Friday evening, the site was off to a good start with 1,352 registered users. Even allowing for COMMON staff, IBMers, and the press, it was an impressive start in terms of numbers, though few people (perhaps because most of them were attendees at COMMON and traveling home during the latter part of the week) had posted or contributed much of significance, with only 70 messages total, most of which appear to have been contributed by those responsible for launching iSociety. The coming weeks will be more telling.
Initial reactions from users seem to be cautious, but largely positive. Mike Neighbors, vice president of IT for Coca-Cola Bottling Company United in Alabama is "cautiously optimistic." He believes it is a good way to network with like-minded people and, if the iSociety is publicized properly, he predicts it will expand and be good for the community. But he's cautious. While the COMMON kickoff was good, he says, "The jury is still out. iSeries Nation never took off because IBM never gave it the attention it needed--sort of like they treat the iSeries in general." Nevertheless, Neighbors expects it to be more successful than iSeries Nation due to the fact that for the past several years, these types of forums for communication have become popular. This increased popularity of the format, he expects, will translate into a higher degree of acceptance for the iSociety.
Larry Ketzes, iSeries senior system administrator for American Life Insurance Company calls the iSociety "a tremendous initiative," and his first reaction is very positive, noting that the System i community needs a resource for people to give help and get help on the Internet. But he is also waiting to see what develops. "It's very important that this is not a three-week honeymoon. It's got to be a living document."
Part of Ketzes' concern involves the ongoing funding for the iSociety if IBM does not continue to put money into it. People will initially go there because it's new, and in the beginning that will be fine, he says. "But over time it will need to be kept current. If people go there to search on a topic and find that the last post was over a year ago, that won't be good."
One vice president of IT operations for a large System i shop (who asked to remain anonymous) did not attend COMMON, but he heard about the iSociety from a co-worker who did attend, and he signed up right away. His reaction is very positive, with the now-familiar caveat: "I'm hopeful that it will be better than IBM did with iSeries Nation. It will provide a way to get to resources that are dispersed all over the world and to build a network of people who can help each other with common problems."
iSeries Nation failed, he believes, because "everyone was sitting around waiting for IBM to do something with it. But IBM was off worrying about selling the xSeries and services." This time, it will be the users themselves who will have to make it work--and it will, he projects--if everyone will contribute and help others. And, in addition to the iSociety being a great resource for the community, he quips, "Maybe it will help all of us get together and build a big hammer to hit IBM with."
Jeff Plummer, project manager for Countrywide Insurance, reports that his company--one of the largest System i shops in the world--was briefed on the project about a month ago. Countrywide was excited about it then and remains optimistic that the support and enthusiasm will continue and that it "doesn't go the way of iSeries Nation, which didn't have enough grassroots support."
Plummer points out that COMMON members are really only a small percentage of System i users worldwide. For this to be a real success, participation will have to extend far beyond COMMON and pull in people from all over the world. Many of the System i true believers work in organizations where the top managers are not necessarily believers themselves, tending instead to wonder if they should be replacing the System i with X64 servers. iSociety can provide a way, Plummer believes, to convince top management of the value of the System i. "And it's also a way to find out what other people are doing--what's working and what's not. I'm really looking forward to being able to network with a lot of other System i users."
The consultants and business partners are enthused as well. Anne Lucas, customer account executive for Genisys Group (and the executive formerly in charge of iSeries Nation when she was at IBM), feels that the atmosphere at this COMMON was very upbeat and positive, and credits much of that to the announcement of the iSociety. She believes it will be an excellent way to keep the System i community up to date and that it will, additionally, help in keeping the platform installed in places where the boss might be thinking Intel.
In fact, as an IBM solution provider for the platform, Lucas sees this as a way to increase sales as well. "I have already sent an email out to our customer list and user groups, and I'm going to be giving a card to everyone with the iSociety URL on it." It might even help to bring new customers to the platform, she predicts. "I'm not sure if it really will help to close new business, but if I had a prospect who was not on the iSeries already, I would definitely point them to iSociety."
Like others, though, Lucas stresses the importance of keeping the site up to date. That was one of the problems with iSeries Nation, she says, because getting any changes made through IBM is difficult to accomplish quickly.
Brian Kelly, president of Kelly Consulting, says that iSeries Nation failed in part because it was IBM's attempt to do something when its user community was seeing nothing and many were predicting doom for the platform. "Though Malcolm Haines may be been an initial evangelist, nobody in IBM seems to be responsible for keeping it alive and meaningful. After all the signing bonus T-shirts left the warehouse, the project, as many in IBM, was declared a success and IBM's spot marketing team was on to its next great notion. For sure, nobody stayed around to make the iSeries Nation a success."
Kelly is, however, quite positive about the iSociety. He especially praises its cooperative site, The Truth, created by IBM to invite the System i community to evangelize the platform by telling their own stories and experiences with the System i. But, will it draw the Windows and Unix crowd to the platform? This would be nice, Kelly says, but it's not probable. At any rate, "at least now there is now a real site to which we can direct those of our friends and colleagues who work on other platforms. I would certainly like the front page of iSociety to talk about System i rather than iSociety, with powerful quotes and videos that do not allow a visitor to escape without knowing that Windows and Unix are not all there is."
Will the iSociety, if embraced and maintained over time by the community itself, be a tremendous resource for platform lovers? Absolutely. But beyond the obvious benefits of inter-community networking and sharing (the value of which is not to be understated), will the iSociety just be more preaching to the choir? Will the evangelism ever reach the eyes and ears and minds of those outside the already-passionate community? Perhaps some additional thought needs to be given to ways in which vendors of System i hardware and software can use the site to convince the uninformed that a move to the System i is in fact a very contemporary and happening thing.
Perry predicts that, while a goal of the initial release of the iSociety is to help prevent attrition on the platform, the next phase will indeed be to take it beyond the existing base and "to raise a lot of buzz. As the word spreads, we hope to remove the invisibility of the System i," Perry says.
As yet, it's not clear how that will happen, or, if it does, what the success level will be. Kelly points out, "There is no question that iSociety is an iCheaper proposition than iMarketing (as in Intel marketing). Compared to Intel's pervasive marketing campaigns, in which even IBM gladly takes the Intel dollars to advertise its xSeries, iSociety cannot compete. To use a Web site and a community to bring in major league iMindshare while the Intel and Windows juggernaut continues to use real marketing and real dollars can be nothing but iNeffective."
Will the iSociety compensate for "real" marketing, and can it reach beyond the already-converted and speak to the heathens? This seems doubtful. But will the iSociety deliver real value to the System i community? Absolutely--provided that everyone understands that all communities everywhere depend on the good will and participation and individual responsibility of their constituents for health and survival.
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