Soltis: We Could Learn From Japan
November 14, 2011 Dan Burger
When Frank Soltis retired from IBM three years ago, he wasn’t looking for a rocking chair, a fireplace, and a membership in the Nerdy Book of the Month Club. He’s ridden in too many rodeos to hang up his saddle. The IBM i running on Power Systems is his arena. Soltis continues to travel around the world advocating for the platform and listening to what users and IBM business partners tell him about life on the Smarter Planet.
Ever the optimist, Soltis is as reliable and dependable as the midrange servers he helped develop from the days of the System/38 when the AS/400 was just a glint in his eye and an idea in the back of his mind. He’s a customer favorite wherever he goes.
Last month he was in Japan and the IBM Intermediate System Users Conference that is likely to be the largest gathering of users and vendors that exists, with nearly 1,900 in attendance. The organization has been around since 1990.
“In my opinion, this is the best user conference anywhere in the world,” Soltis says. “It’s wonderfully organized. The sessions deal mostly with modern technology. It is very heavily supported by business partners. The expo area is huge. The top IBM executives from Japan are all there.”
Soltis has attended this conference every year since the mid-1990s.
From his personal perspective, Soltis gives the IBM i users in Japan an edge compared to their counterparts in the United States because they make better use of modern technologies than the average U.S. company. They use, to a wider extent, the newer versions of RPG and Rational tools. There is old code there, he says, but not nearly as much as in the U.S. Overall the users are more forward thinking, he says.
“My impression is that the ISVs in Japan have led the way,” he says, noting that the iManifest program is very strong there. “The business partners see the promotion of IBM i as good for their business. They continue to contribute to an advertising effort and to work with IBM on co-sponsorships of conferences.”
Those efforts, Soltis says, have helped raise the awareness level of IBM i as a modern platform. One of the results is an increasing willingness to move to Power7 and use modern development tools.
Soltis has assisted the efforts to establish an iManifest program in the United States and the Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) regions. Both these regions have seen very little progress.
“Much of what they have done in Japan is let the general business community know a substantial number of business partners stand behind this platform and here are the reasons,” Soltis says.
There has been some advertising, but not the kind of thing that could be called a “campaign” and not on the scale that IBM used to do when it was promoting the attributes of its midrange business computers.
What the iManifest group in Japan has accomplished is the aggregation of a large database of IBM i customers that is sorted by industry. These are referenced accounts that are pleased with the platform and who are willing to share their experience with the platform. It serves as a peer review and a testimonial for the IBM i. It’s become a resource that can be tapped into by business partners demonstrating the widespread success of IBM i.
This “Talk with the Company that Owns One” approach to spreading the word about the IBM i can be used by ISVs and business partners who can reference it in their traditional marketing efforts or through social networking links, where peer-to-peer connections for the purpose of product selections is being emphasized.
Another resource that iManifest Japan has in place involves tools that IT staff at IBM i shops can use to make compelling presentations to C-level executive management. Many times the IBM i staff lacks this type of resource to go up against presentations that favor other platforms. These tools accentuate the value of the current system and help demonstrate the extension of that value into new projects that can be done less expensively on the IBM i.
When a new executive management team doesn’t understand the platform or gets some bad advice about moving off the platform (such as the misinformed perception that it is not “modern”), this type of resource can be used to present strategies for keeping the platform in place and expanding the use of its overlooked capabilities.
These are two examples of fairly simple and inexpensive methods for promoting the IBM i that are being used in the Japanese market. Neither requires the kind of funding that a single ad in a major business publication does. Some human resources need to be applied, but the financial resources are not substantial by comparison.
In Japan, where the board of directors for iManifest is made up of C-level executives from the ISV and business partner channels, those ISVs provide the staffing to bring these types of plans to fruition. It’s organized and pushed by business partners. They have come to the realization that promoting IBM i is good for all of them, Soltis says.
In the U.S., where criticism of IBM marketing is widespread and vocal, there is not enough agreement to put any marketing efforts in place to replace what IBM no longer does with respect to selling the platform.
Soltis has met with the iManifest Japan board of directors and he has come away recognizing the organization continues to have enthusiasm for what it is doing with regard to promoting the i and is increasing its efforts.
“I’ve talked with quite a few business partners in my travels and many are having record-setting years. I’m talking about business partners selling IBM i,” Soltis says. “In many areas there is pent up demand, there are consolidations that bring new hardware purchases, and in some areas the economy is turning around. This is not something unique to the i, but it is energizing the community in some ways. More people need to be aware of that.”