Pre-COMMON Sound Off: Lack of i5 Marketing Still the Major Complaint
September 5, 2006 Mary Lou Roberts
As I discussed in last week’s issue of The Four Hundred in an article previewing the upcoming COMMON conference in Miami Beach in mid-September, each COMMON conference brings with it a discussion of the value of the conference and predictions about what major announcements are in store for the user group and for the vendors that participate in the OS/400 community.
The COMMON Fall 2006 IT Education Conference and Expo brings some new independent software vendors to the Expo floor. One such company is AdventureTech Group. The company has exhibited its business process management and systems integration software in smaller venues to with 200 to 500 people, says Doug McDaniel, ATG’s president. But he is hopeful that “COMMON will step that up to around 3,000 people this fall.”
It will be interesting to see how many people do attend the event this time, and the total numbers may approach that. But one source, who wished to remain off the record, claims that true paid attendance for recent conferences has been running around or only slightly more than 1,000 people.
Some ISVs are quite positive about the number of leads they can generate at COMMON. Steve Rosen, vice president of marketing for EXTOL, reports that the company has always been able to develop more than 100 inquiries at COMMON and, while some of the attendees are “just looking,” Rosen argues that “the company that can send them to a week-long conference focused exclusively on one platform and operating system are most likely to be good prospects.” He also reports that in the past few years, he has begun to see “more senior managers and a smattering of business executives.”
Whatever the number of attendees, lead generation, while important to ISVs, is not the only reason for attending and exhibiting. Lucie Mees, director of marketing for Invenso maintains that the primary reason her company continues to exhibit is meeting with partners–both existing and potential–and with IBM.
Marty Acks, iSeries product manager for MKS Software says, “We do find COMMON to be a good show for lead generation, but more importantly, it’s a great place for us to connect with our existing customer.” Further, he is pleased with a change in mindset he sees occurring with COMMON attendees: “More and more organizations are not viewing iSeries development as an island any more; they are looking at development activity across platforms, and they are actively seeking management solutions that support all development activities in an integrated way.”
Raz-Lee Security will be exhibiting for the third time at this conference, and Eli Spitz, vice president of business development, reports, “I can’t say that we have had a significant number of new leads from the previous two exhibitions. We exhibit mostly because of industry recognition and the ability to meet with business partners.”
Christopher Jones, marketing manager for Bytware, goes a step further. While he says that the leads generated at past shows have been consistent and valuable, “there is also the chance that your absence from COMMON could be construed by customers that you are weakening or that your devotion to the System i5 platform is changing. The intangible benefits of exhibiting at COMMON are an important part of maintaining a strong market presence.”
A few folks have also given thought to the speechlets they may present from behind those audience microphones at the Town Hall Meeting. Or, if they don’t intend to speak themselves, there are topics they hope IBM will address.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve always felt a twinge (only a tiny one) of pity for those IBM folks who line up on that stage like good soldiers, sitting on those little stools and keeping smiles on their faces, knowing that they are about to be bombarded with questions from an audience that may or may not be feeling in a very friendly mood. It must feel somewhat like being put before a firing line (without the offer of a last cigarette), and their ability to keep their composure and appear to respond to the questions while still staying in line with the Big Blue talking points requires a certain kind of moxie that is to be respected. But that is, of course, what makes them IBM executives, after all.
What are the big topics that ISVs want to hear addressed by IBM? What “Sound Off” questions can the blue suits expect to hear? The biggest issue is once again (you guessed it!), marketing. If IBM didn’t change executive management even more frequently than it changes the name of the platform, the folks on the stage might be able to respond to these questions and complaints in their sleep, given that it’s been the leading gripe for as long as just about anyone can remember. (Then again, maybe that’s why IBM keeps changing management so often.)
AdventureTech’s McDaniel says, “I would like to hear IBM say that there are more dollars for i5 platform marketing, and that there are new site installs of the i5, increasing market share. I’d also like to hear that the platform name will stay the same.”
Bytware’s president, Christine Grant, (who does not intend to step up to the microphone) would like to see IBM and its vendors work together to lower prices. “IBM has had a strong footing in the SMB market for years. However, since Windows has come on very strong with low-cost, bundled hardware and software solutions for SMBs, this space may be more difficult for IBM to win going forward without making some significant changes to pricing models and consideration of bundling value-add software. Pricing is key to winning over this price-sensitive space.”
Ole Magnus, chief executive officer of Denmark-based Framework Systems (a former exhibitor that will not be exhibiting at this conference) shares that point of view. He would like to hear IBM announce that it will lower the price of the i5 to get more units sold.
One ISV executive, who wants to remain anonymous and who will be attending the conference, says that he does not participate in the Sound Off because IBM doesn’t listen. But he doesn’t blame IBM for this. “So many people have complained about the name changes and other frivolous issues that IBM cannot hear the real issues through all the noise. If I did address the audience at COMMON, it would be to tell them to sit down, quit your whining, and teach someone how to use this great technology.” Having said that, however, he does have a concern about IBM’s commitment to the SMB market. “I read many IT magazines and see no advertisements for the System i5 outside of the System i5 publications, but I do see advertisements on TV and in publications for System x, System p, and WebSphere all over the place.”
Along the same vein, Brian Pick, head of marketing for Linoma Software comments, “Get the word out about the System i. IBM keeps saying they are going to promote it, but I haven’t seen much of it yet.”
Clearly, IBM has a communication problem here. Conference after conference, the company treats attendees to previews of wonderful and what would seem like very effective television ads that praise the System i5. The audience claps and cheers and loves every minute of it. IBM talks about radio commercials and print advertising, and the COMMON audience applauds. Big Blue displays slick presentations showing the substantial number of dollars the company is putting into marketing the platform, and executives explain that IBM is investing much of this through “the channel.”
Daniel Kuperman, business analyst with Quadrant Software, acknowledges that, “IBM has been great at launching special marketing promotions in which we can place discounted ads in various industry publications.”
Yet, beyond reaping some benefit of those types of perks, “the channel” isn’t seeing much else. Channel partners certainly aren’t seeing the promised radio, TV, or print ads, and, for the most part, partners remain unconvinced that IBM is pushing the platform at all.
What they need to do, says Alex Roytman, president of Profound Logic Software, is to “come up with something creative to rejuvenate the image of the System i5 and RPG. The next time I show users how easy it is to create graphical applications with RPG and how it outperforms .NET and Java, I don’t want them to look surprised. I would like to see RPG/System i5 applications associated with cutting-edge, reliable, modern, enterprise applications. Too many people still think of AS/400/iSeries/System i5 as an old, ugly, closed system.”
Robert Shields, director of marketing for Vision Solutions, is even more pointed in his comment: “IBM needs to continue to evangelize the iSeries. The platform provides the controls and flexibility to deal with the never-ending complexities of information and application management. What is most amazing is how relatively few people understand the power of this platform.”
My personal prediction is that, one more time, IBM will wow the COMMON audience with nifty visuals touting the glory of the System i, and that one more time, IBM will talk about the investment it is making in both the direct promotion of the platform and in promotion through the channel. But, if, in fact, IBM is spending the dollars to do this, it clearly isn’t resonating with the channel–at least to the extent that the ISVs remain unconvinced that IBM has any serious intentions of promoting (let alone evangelizing) the benefits of the platform.
Let’s face it folks. If putting any significant marketing impetus behind an attempt to marketing i5/OS is what you mean by “market the iSeries,” you’re not going to see it happen. I’d love to see IBM prove me wrong on this. Even more, I’d love to be doing another story about this before the Spring 2007 COMMON, and have ISVs tell me that they are delighted with the way IBM is marketing the System i. But I’m not going to count on it.