Soltis Says iManifest Needed to Promote IBM i
November 2, 2009 Dan Burger
Who’s going to tell the story of what the IBM i can do? You can bet your database it’s not going to be IBM. Platform-specific marketing is not the game plan at Big Blue. If you want i-centricity, you better look someplace else. That’s brought us to iManifest, a plan in search of an organization, a structure, to help it fly. It’s already off the ground in Japan, and last week the fledgling efforts in the United States got wings with the addition of Frank Soltis to the board of directors.
Soltis is just the kind of high-profile person who can help iManifest U.S. as it attempts to gain the type of momentum necessary for success. Since retiring from IBM almost a year ago, after a long and illustrious career as one of the key individuals behind the development of the System/38, AS/400, iSeries, and System i, Soltis has remained active in the community. He jokes that in retirement his workweek has gone for seven days a week to six as he travels the globe meeting with i customers, supporting business partners, and speaking at user group events. Soltis still packs meeting rooms and Webinars, and his advice and consultation is sought by organizations large and small. If anyone is a more popular spokesperson for the platform, please stand and be recognized.
He’s the perfect guy to wear the robes of i-vangelist, which is exactly what the iManifest needs. Bringing Soltis onboard the iManifest U.S. was not exactly a wrestling match.
“When Jeff Olen [the point man for iManifest U.S.] gave me a call and asked if I would be interested in joining the board of directors and help promote iManifest, I said ‘Sure. I’d love to do that,'” Soltis said Thursday in a phone interview with The Four Hundred.
“It has been clear to me that it’s up to user groups and business partners to continue to promote the product,” Soltis says. “That was something that IBM made a decision on sometime back in the 1990s. Lou Gerstner came in (as IBM chairman and CEO) and one of his first decisions was that IBM would promote IBM rather than promote individual products. He took the individual budgets that general managers had for advertising and consolidated them into one budget that focused on IBM. That has really never changed since.”
What’s riled the AS/400 faithful is that this marketing strategy did no favors for their platform in terms of brand recognition or sales. The subsequent name changes only added to the anonymity and the wound began to fester. But how long should you let a wound fester before you do something about it?
“IBM does not have to market Windows,” Soltis points out. “The world knows what it is and Microsoft does their job promoting it. The same thing with Unix. You don’t see vendors marketing Unix. They market it from the standpoint that ours is better than anybody else’s, but they don’t have to promote the concept of Unix. With IBM i and z, both systems are well-known within their user bases, but not very well known outside of that. You have to really promote those. In that sense, i has suffered a bit because the rest of the industry does not promote IBM i. From IBM’s standpoint, I don’t think they see much difference among the platforms in terms of which ones require more marketing.”
That pretty much sums up why iManifest is necessary. If this organization doesn’t market the IBM i, it won’t get marketed. Most would agree that the system’s attributes should be promoted and openly compared with popular options such as Windows and Unix, but how to do it is yet to be decided.
As Soltis surveys the situation, he sees the key to success tied business partner involvement. He says it will take a lot of partners and a spirit of cooperation. The iManifest in Japan has set the tone.
“One of the things I admire about iManifest Japan is that it is very organized,” Soltis says. “The group is made up of many people who have been together for many years. It is similar to the U.S. in that sense. They tend to work very closely. There is a lot of cooperation. That seems to be paying off. This is cooperation not just with the business partner community but also with IBM.”
Get the numbers, get the cooperation, and get the organization within iManifest U.S. and IBM will get onboard. Soltis is sure of that.
“IBM will get involved in the iManifest in the United States, if iManifest puts together a good enough coalition. It has shown that it will do this by participating in iManifest Japan,” he says.
IBM has co-sponsored at least two events with iManifest Japan that have promoted both the IBM i and the business partners products. Both have been described as successful by companies affiliated with iManifest Japan.
Although he holds no formal position with iManifest Japan, Soltis feels close to the developments going on there. He has a dialogue with key people in that organization and is discussing what has worked in that situation. The open communication should make things easier for iManifest U.S., but that’s not to say it will be easy.
Promoting within the business partner community is the direction we need to go here in the U.S.,” Soltis affirms. “It will not happen overnight, but it didn’t happen overnight in Japan either. It took them a good six months to get up and rolling with some people. It’s been a year and a half now since they began. It’s now starting to pay off. The biggest obstacle is convincing some ISVs that this is the worthwhile thing to do. Some say this is IBM’s job to do. But my view is that is not going to happen. So accept that and decide to do something about it.”
Soltis’ seat on the iManifest U.S. board of directors is no throne. A more accurate picture might be one of three folding chairs around a card table. The other two directors are Jeff Olen and Mike Pavlak. Everyone is a volunteer. Olen works full-time job as a self-employed independent consultant and Pavlak is a consultant with Zend Technologies. Their combined efforts have enabled iManifest U.S. to get under way. To date there is $38,000 in financial commitments and four ISVs pledging cooperation: LANSA, ProData Computer Services, Raz-Lee Security, and DRV Technologies.
Olen says a board of directors was needed to establish not for profit status, so he and Pavlak took the positions more or less out of necessity. Eventually he forecasts a 10- to 12-member board of directors and that after iManifest U.S. is funded, a board of directors will be elected by the membership. For the time being, the director’s biggest jobs involve recruiting more members.
A LinkedIn professional networking Web site is used for communications among the membership. There’s no charge to be an iManifest U.S. member.
In terms of recruitment, Soltis should have an impact.
“I am looking at taking the iManifest message to the business partners and user groups, and that fits within the role that I am currently involved in,” Soltis says. “I plan to continue this level of involvement for at least several more years. This is a way that I can contribute to the System i community. I think eventually you will see joint activities among all iManifest regions–Japan, EMEA, and the U.S. To me it would make a lot of sense to do this on a worldwide basis. Some of the big business partners that are worldwide in scope would probably see advantages in working across all geographies.”