What We Can Learn from iManifest
June 29, 2009 Gordon Davies
There is a lot we can learn here in the States from Japan’s IBM i partner community. A group of over 70 IBM partners and independent software vendors (ISVs) has joined forces there, the world’s second largest information technology market, to launch the IBM i Manifest initiative for the Japanese market.
The partner community project has three main objectives:
The partner community has taken this unusual step in response to a change in focus of IBM’s corporate marketing and server positioning.
To my observation, at the layer beneath senior executive-focused campaigns like Smarter Planet, IBM globally promotes software and services before hardware. At the hardware layer, IBM’s Systems and Technology Group offers a range of server platforms, powered by operating systems that in many cases are promoted externally rather than by IBM. Examples include Linux (promoted by the Linux community, the open source movement, Red Hat and Novell), AIX (effectively promoted by the Unix community as well as by IBM), and Windows, promoted strongly by Microsoft. In contrast, IBM i and z/OS are owned by IBM itself and so require a different marketing, sales execution, and ecosystem development model. To gain market share for IBM i or z/OS, it is not enough to rely on “slipstream marketing,” “path of least resistance” selling or the philosophy of “good enough computing.” Anyone promoting the i needs to be more proactive, and expend greater effort in areas like market education, establishing a core value proposition, and selling on value.
Historically, the AS/400 was marketed as an integrated system, with hardware, firmware, operating software, the DBMS, compilers, and a “no-name” in-built transaction server purpose-built to work together as one. On top of this integrated stack, ISVs created acceleration tools and a range of application packages that specifically leveraged the AS/400’s strengths. Software houses then worked with the ISVs to develop repeatable processes for implementation and customization at customer sites. Regrettably for IBM i, the integrated AS/400 business model does not map closely to IBM’s current organizational structure, go-to-market strategy, and platform messaging.
Whether they agree with my analysis or not, a group of influential IT vendors in Japan has recognized the need for a unified voice outside IBM to promote IBM i, and have already taken concrete steps to realize their ambitions for the platform. They have decided not to ask end-customers to be responsible for platform promotion. IBM i and its add-ons and compilers are not “open source”, nor are there any known plans to donate the i to the open source community as Sun Microsystems finally chose to do with Java and Solaris–just in time! The i remains the intellectual property of IBM. Therefore it is inappropriate to expect customers to promote the platform by themselves, just as it would be illogical to expect consumers to promote and market to themselves the products they were planning to buy.
Realizing the commercial realities of the situation, Japan’s IBM i partner community has chosen instead itself to be the unified voice for the i outside IBM, and to take responsibility for Japan’s IBM i market health collectively.
The steps already taken by the iManifest membership include:
The initiative grew from initial discussions in May 2008 amongst a few Japanese ISV companies, IBM resellers, and iMagazine KK, the publisher of a quarterly magazine called iMagazine for the Japanese IBM i market. A committee was formed, which quickly decided a bold statement was needed to break through the clutter–hence the full-page ad at a cost of around $100,000 (that’s U.S. dollars) raised from the founding members.
The advertisement was a success. Immediately the committee started fielding numerous phone calls and receiving emails from i users, IBM employees, and business partners to congratulate them on the venture. Competitors sat up and took notice. Web access to the iManifest page on the iForum Website spiked at 24,000 hits in comparison to the average 1,000 or so hits per week.
The close cooperation demonstrated thus far between the members of the iManifest initiative in Japan is an impressive achievement. While IT vendors often give lip-service to “co-opetition,” defined as simultaneous cooperation and competition amongst IT vendors, the reality of delivering genuine benefits to the market by co-opetition is much harder to achieve.
Natural competitors in more mature markets than IT have long since learned how to work together for the common good and growth of an overall market. Vendor associations, often with significant resources and authority, play a key role in that process. A pervasive example is the banking industry, where organizations that started out as bank-owned, namely MasterCard and Visa, set the ground rules for the global credit card and debit card industries. Competing banks cooperate with one another on shared use of resources such as ATMs, and have standing arrangements for processing credit card transactions where the card’s issuing bank differs from the merchant’s acquiring bank. “Cross organization” transactions of this nature are the norm and not the exception in the payments and ATM worlds.
Another pervasive example is the airline industry, where in addition to ticketing flight sectors from competitors as the need arises, with pre-agreed terms and settlement processes for efficiency, airlines go as far as “code-sharing” or pre-buying seats on one another’s flights to meet customer expectations and requirements in a way that still delivers profits to each party independently of whether the airlines directly compete on other sectors. Similar “interline” agreements apply to air freight. None of this would be possible by informal arrangements alone. Instead, in 1945 the airline industry formed the International Air Transport Association to define the ground rules and interline administrative processes that keep global passenger traffic and air freight shipments flowing smoothly behind the scenes. Not content with cooperating at that level, most of the world’s leading airlines formed or later joined global multi-airline alliances such as Oneworld and Star Alliance to coordinate schedules and marketing, thereby offering convenience to air travelers, benefits to frequent flyers, and innovative airfare products. It is now inconceivable for airlines to think of asking Boeing or Airbus as airplane manufacturers to take ownership of global air transport marketing, industry-wide operational planning, and interline process execution.
Meanwhile back in the IT industry, too often short-term thinking, petty jealousies, and self-interest destroy the trust required for joint market development and genuine cooperation amongst industry participants to flourish. The principal manufacturers of hardware and software, if they are so inclined, can easily execute a “divide and conquer” strategy against their partners because the IT channel is so fragmented.
The iManifest initiative represents a different, more positive side of the IT industry. The highest volume IBM i reseller in Japan, JB Group, has five different subsidiaries that each financially contributed to the project launch, including JBCC and iGuazu. The initiative’s advisory board, on the other hand, has appointed as its representative director (effectively its authorized spokesperson) Tetsuo Yamamoto of Toppan M&I, a respected executive who can and does clearly distinguish between his responsibilities to the IBM i community as board member and his responsibility to TM&I as its president.
“Value-nets” including iBI Alliance and the LANSA Consortium each have several members participating in the iManifest initiative. In addition, there are numerous IBM Power System (IBM i) resellers, Japanese-owned ISVs with locally developed applications, and Solution Providers that specialize in providing development and implementation services for IBM i. Furthermore, there are a number of development and integration tool providers on board, including LANSA, Magic Software, and Sapiens Solution, along with local companies such as Migaro (Delphi/400) representing overseas products. Together these companies refute the concept that there is a pre-selected “one-size-fits-all” approach to application development. Specialist providers such as Vision Solutions (HA/DR), Vinculum Japan (Auto/400 et al), and KISS (information delivery and Web tools) also play a role.
Taken as a whole, the iManifest members provide the diversity of expertise and solutions expected by the IT market of a true “platform and supplier ecosystem.” This diversity and range of supply enables the partner community to deliver optimal value to the specific and differing requirements of each new and existing IBM i customer, in a competitive environment that encourages each vendor to innovate and deliver value-for-money solutions. S. Kakizawa, president of Sanwa Comtec and one of five directors on the iManifest Advisory Board, puts the question to his colleagues very simply by adapting a well-known historical saying: “And so, my fellow IBM i partner community members: ask not what IBM can do for you, ask instead what you can do for your IBM i community.”
Take a look at the iManifest Declaration (originally written in Japanese and now made available also in English, which we published last week in The Four Hundred) to see the passion and the determination behind this new initiative.
Those of us outside Japan should follow the iManifest initiative’s progress with interest, and see what lessons can be learned for our own markets.
Gordon Davies is vice president Asia-Pacific at LANSA Pty Ltd. Davies has cooperated with members of the iManifest Advisory Board in the research required for the writing of this article. The views reflected in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of the iManifest Advisory Board or the LANSA Group in all instances.