Top Concerns Survey Is Ready for IBM Eyes
June 28, 2010 Dan Burger
How busy does your IT department have to get before it makes the one-armed paper hanger look like a slacker? That’s the kind of pandemonium that makes it to the highest rung on the COMMON Top Concerns ladder. For the second consecutive year, keeping up internal demands is what has the IBM i platform crew awake at night and keeps the sweat on their brows all week long.
The pressure is on and the gauge is rising.
Top Concerns number two and number three are related to this high pressure zone. Number two is a concern that skills for the existing staff must be kept current. With COMMON and COMMON Europe both being in the skills business, this must be good news for these organizations and all the other folks in the training and education business. Increased budgets for skills development may be on the horizon, and that’s certainly a long overdue occurrence. And Top Concern number three, graduating more IT professionals with IBM Power Systems on i platform knowledge, is yet another indicator that help is needed in modernization efforts. IBM’s Academic Initiative has made progress in this area, but still has work to do in getting the pipeline of students matched up with the companies seeking specific skills. Those skills not only relate to i-centric abilities like programming and systems management, but having an understanding of business processes.
Some of the specific tasks that are causing heat in the IT kitchen show up on the Top Concerns list compiled by COMMON Europe to help steer IBM’s development efforts for the midrange platform. They include faster application development to fulfill business needs, a greater need for high availability solutions, data security, building Web-oriented architectures, improving data quality, and integrating document management and unstructured data with core applications. Without skilled staff, companies will have to turn to consultants and vendors that emphasis services to alleviate these concerns and reach these goals.
On the topic of vendors, there are concerns that relate directly to them. One is the need for high-quality service and support. I’ve already seen vendors anticipating these requirements and making moves to step up in those areas. Finding applications that fit business needs is another listing that made the list of 15 Top Concerns. Vendors, particularly those that can provide a combination of off-the-shelf implementation ease and vertical-industry customization on a business-to-business basis are going to be rewarded with increased sales. That’s been a strength in the IBM midrange community since the glory days of the AS/400, but there will be a greater customer emphasis on modernization, integration, and automation.
Many IT shops are handicapping themselves because they tend to live in their own worlds and speak their own lingo, says Ranga Deshpande, a vice president of COMMON Belgium and project leader for COMMON Top Concerns 2010. “We IT shops should learn marketing before anything else,” he says in reference to learning to speak the language of business and avoid working in a silo.
According to this survey–which included participation primarily from Europe (373 respondents) and the Americas (137 respondents), as well as much smaller numbers from Africa and Autralasia–budgets remain tight. About 8 percent of those who took the Top Concerns survey indicated their IT operating expense budgets are increasing compared to a year ago, but 16 percent said they are increasing their capital expense budgets to accommodate new project investments.
“We squarely see an improved climate,” says Deshpande after comparing the latest survey with the one from 2009. The categories of increased and stable budgets both had a higher percentage this year. And the decreased budget category had a lower percentage of responses.
Most budgets are holding steady, with 51 percent staying in line with 2009 budgets for IT operating expenses and 42 percent following the capital expense budget from a year ago. This would be the group that firmly believes that doing more with less is still possible. Back in the old days, they used to call this Cadillac-ing in a Model A.
As in past Top Concern surveys, data on hardware and operating system upgrades is also collected.
Migration to IBM i 6.1 has been completed by 28 percent and the move is in the planning stages by another 31 percent. The program conversion process involved in the move to i 6.1 has been a factor in the slow migration rate. And the discomforting shenanigans by our friends in the financial community that trashed the worldwide economy froze budgets and made operating system upgrades an afterthought. These figures back up the description that migration to i 6.1 is gaining some momentum.
Migration to i 7.1 has does not yet have much momentum. No one in this survey group has made this migration; 50 percent had no plans to make that move, while 10.5 percent said they have a plan in place and 37 percent put it in the “Maybe” category. Does that sound like momentum?
Only a measly 2 percent of those who took the Top Concerns survey have Power7 systems running in their shops, with another 6 percent committed to a purchase. The Maybe category collected 28 percent, while 57 percent said Power7 definitely wasn’t in the cards. BladeCenter blade servers running the i operating system didn’t light up the scoreboard, either. It’s installed in just under 5 percent of the shops surveyed. Not quite 4 percent said a move to BladeCenter was being planned.
“Bear in mind that user group members are early adapters or advanced users,” Deshpande cautions.
There’s a big difference between what the respondents say and what they do, he says based on past surveys. For migration to IBM i 6.1, the difference between those who say they will upgrade one year and those who say they actually upgraded in the next survey was 26 percent comparing 2008 with 2009. That difference was reduced to only 14 percent in 2010.
Blades with i 6.1 on them show similar implementation numbers in 2008 and 2009, about 5 percent, Deshpande says. A year ago, 12 percent filled the categories of “done, ordered, or planned,” but just 5 percent fill the “already done” category in 2010.
Migrations to the i 6.1 and i 7.1 operating systems show similar trends of overestimated planning.
“Steve Will, the chief architect of IBM i, has nicely put it in his blog,” Deshpande notes. “‘Many customers don’t want us to increase the frequency of delivering new functions,’ Will says, ‘because they have a long ‘qualification’ process to undergo (ensuring that their software runs just fine on the new release) each time a new release is rolled out, and they can’t afford the time and expense of frequent qualification.”‘
The purpose of collecting information from the IBM Power Systems i users is to communicate to Big Blue the reality of its installed base, which happens to be the most users of any platform that IBM sells and supports.
Almost any business executive, sales rep, or marketing intern can talk about how good companies follow a “customer knows best” formula for success. But as is also often said, talking the talk isn’t walking the walk.
IBM, and nearly every other big corporation you can name, gets flogged on a pretty regular basis for only listening to its biggest customers. The 80-20 Rule (80 percent of the profits come from 20 percent of the customers) carries a lot of weight in conversations not meant for public consumption. Big Blue has its Large User Group that is certainly influential and it has its Global CEO Survey that gets frequently referenced in key note addresses and press releases.
Just a month ago, I wrote an article about how IBM and its business partners were putting a greater emphasis on skills that would help solve business challenges because customers want their IT vendors to supply business expertise in addition to hardware and software. According to the Global CEO Survey done by IBM, more than 60 percent of CEOs surveyed cite industry transformation and the information explosion as the most significant factors facing their organizations during the next five years.
That seems to be echoed in the COMMON Top Concerns.
The Top Concerns project is handled by COMMON Europe, an umbrella organization of national IBM user associations representing most European countries. Participants in the survey are global, however, as the project endeavors to hear all i platform users regardless of geographical boundaries. Results of the Top Concerns survey can be seen on the COMMON Europe Web site.
This should be required reading for the i team in Rochester. Like any survey or statistical analysis, it is open to some interpretation. This is how I hope it gets interpreted back at headquarters:
Take good care of your midrange customers, IBM. If you listen to them like you claim you do, you should be hearing they are more than just a little bit concerned that maybe you aren’t listening closely.