COMMON Africa is Back on the Map, Joined by YiPs
November 9, 2009 Dan Burger
COMMON is back in business in Africa. It’s been 14 years since the world’s largest user group dedicated to the IBM Power System platform (at that time referred to as the AS/400) had an organized presence on the continent. Tuesday, a new chapter will be written as COMMON Africa is re-launched along with a new branch of the Young i Professionals (YiPs).
Marking the occasion will be a meeting at the IBM offices in Sandton, a suburb of Johannesburg, South Africa. Sandton is the financial center of South Africa, which makes it a magnet for IBM i computing. Wherever financial institutions congregate, you’ll find IBM i in abundance. It would not be unexpected to see COMMON Africa stocked with professionals from that industry.
Ever since the Power Systems convergence, COMMON has inched its way toward being less proprietary and has opened the doors to AIX and Linux users rather than being centered on the AS/400, iSeries, or System i. The organization’s primary focus is on training, education, and networking professionals who are passionate about their platforms and about business computing. COMMON Africa will fit that mold.
However, within Power Systems is this intensely loyal group of IBM i advocates. (You may have noticed this already. Wink. Wink.) As we’ve recently seen with the iManifest initiative in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa–as well as in Japan and the United States–leadership from the IBM i independent software vendor (ISV) community has been instrumental in re-energizing the IBM i community. The rise of COMMON in Africa follows the same formula.
“The user group offers great value to businesses by enabling any person using an IBM Power System to have access to others in the community. This access can help them gain even better benefits from using the system,” says Marinus van Sandwyk, one of the advocates of COMMON Africa willing to take on a leadership role. Van Sandwyk is the founder and CTO of Tembo Technologies, an application modernization software company based in South Africa.
Another of COMMON Africa’s top proponents is Dan Naidoo, the CEO of Edgetec Systems, an IT services company that’s also based in South Africa. Naidoo’s involvement is based on his certainty that bringing this community initiative to his company’s customers and suppliers would be of great benefit.
Although both van Sandwyk and Naidoo were willing to enlist their companies’ efforts into building a foundation for COMMON Africa, both agree that once the organization is up and running COMMON needs to dissolve corporate ties that could be construed as interfering with its standards of advocacy and independence.
And although the name implies a goal of bringing all of Africa into the organization, in these early stages, it seems apparent that South Africa will take the early leadership position. You could call it Square One. The membership drive has to start somewhere.
“Ideally, we want individual membership of COMMON to be free of charge in order encourage membership. As a section 21 company, COMMON will not be profit driven and instead will keep its core focus on the community it serves,” van Sandwyk says.
“We believe that COMMON is an additional way for IBM to keep in tune with their clients and allows the company to refine and develop solutions that are focused on providing relevant improvements that have a broad appeal to business,” he says.
“As an IBM business partner, we felt that bringing this community initiative to our customer and supplier base we would see all those interested in the IBM Power System being able to benefit,” Naidoo added.
“IBM truly believes in COMMON because great things can be achieved through advocacy and teamwork,” says Cally Beck, Power Systems Academic Initiative program manager for the Northeast British Indian Ocean Territory and Central Eastern Europe, Middle East. and Africa. “Now is the perfect time to launch COMMON in South Africa to enhance skills development and provide benefits to all in the IBM Power Systems community. I have been involved in COMMON activities for a number of years and have seen firsthand the benefits it affords to all its members in networking, sharing knowledge, best practice, and innovative ideas.”
Beck is one of the keynote speakers at the launch event along with Trevor Perry, an internationally known motivational speaker and subject matter expert in the area of application modernization. Perry is also on the board of directors of COMMON North America.
The Young i Professionals organization has close ties with COMMON and the IBM Academic Initiative programs worldwide. Jointly they are intent upon increasing IT skills.
IBM has made considerable investments in the Power Systems Academic Initiative Program, Beck says. And van Sandwyk points out that the investments were absolutely necessary. “Previously there was very little done from a skills development perspective, particularly with youth who had academic potential but no ability to improve on their technical/practical expertise,” he says. The resulting condition that he describes is businesses unable to find skilled labor at reasonable costs.”
“The situation in South Africa regarding the lack of available IT skills–in particular programming and development for our clients and partners–was at the critical stage,” van Sandwyck continues. “We knew that we had to act fast to turn this situation around to protect our loyal customer base and increase our customer satisfaction levels.”
Through efforts initiated by the academic initiative program, the RPG programmer pipeline is beginning to make a difference, van Sandwyk says.
“YiPS provides an ideal back-up for the graduates of the Power Systems Academic Initiative Program because as part of COMMON, YiPS is able to allow young IT professionals to glean off the experience of independent IBM users who are not only in IT but other vertical industries as well.”