Arming The IBM i Nation
October 1, 2012 Dan Burger
It could happen to you. Like a sucker punch from the president of your company, one day you get the word the IBM midrange system is being replaced. And before you can even ask–“How could this happen?”–you’re flat on your back seeing stars. You should have seen this coming. The murmurs about old technology unable to solve modern business problems, inaccessible silos of information, and the surge of the Window/Unix manifest destiny have been heard for years.
Just like ignorance of the law isn’t going to get you off the hook for a speeding ticket, claiming you didn’t notice other systems were taking workloads from the IBM i platform (or more likely the previous iterations of the box known as the System i, the iSeries, and the AS/400) is not a defensible position.
Loyalty for the IBM midrange systems is legendary. But general awareness of the system’s capabilities is abysmal. You can blame IBM, but that isn’t going to change a thing.
The question is how do you change the situation? The most effective way is to know the system well, be astutely aware of its capabilities, and be willing to go to battle for the system within your own organizations. Last week, I spoke with Mike Cain, a guy who has fought many battles on behalf of the IBM i and who is a senior technical staff member at IBM’s DB2 for i center of excellence. He’s also taken an active role in coaching others to actively advocate for the IBM i within their organizations.
The idea of educating IBM i advocates to not only use the system for more tasks but to also carry the message to executives that the investment in the system can pay off in ways management may be unaware of has been part of Cain’s strategy for years. Only recently has it taken the form of an educational session, which is now on the agenda of the upcoming RPG & DB2 Summit, which is scheduled for October 23 through 25 in Minneapolis.
Cain describes the session he’ll present at the Summit as information gathering that becomes “actionable items–things that people can go home and do and things that will make a difference day to day. It is arming them with material that lets them know they are working on a sophisticated platform.”
The message that the system has value that often goes unnoticed by management and even by other IT personnel who are only vaguely familiar with the platform needs to hit home with the IBM i advocates. They need to be more vocal about it, Cain says.
Not in a “my box is better than your box” parking lot shouting match way, but in a well thought out “we can do that on the IBM i” way. To advocate for the IBM i effectively, you have to do it objectively and persuasively to both business executives (the financial buyers) and IT management (the technical buyers) who may be in favor of the platform or maybe not. Regardless, they are looking for facts. They want to know if the IBM i platform can meet the business requirements at a cost that is less than any alternatives being proposed.
An understanding of how these discussions play out and the awareness that these discussions are taking continually taking place in many organizations are what Cain hopes to provide to IBM i advocates who are not involved or are looking for ways to increase their effectiveness in influencing the decision making process.
Based on his own experiences, Cain says, “If I’m brought into the discussions late, I’m handling objections. I’m basically answering the question ‘Why i?’ If I’m brought in early, I change the discussion and I ask the question ‘Why not i? Let me tell you how IBM i can meet your requirements.’ I’m not on the defensive. I’m on the offensive.”
Using the database as an example, Cain has a home field advantage. He’s the ace of the DB2 for i pitching staff, which is loaded with talented people. (Use the IT Jungle search tool and plug in Dan Cruikshank, Kent Milligan, or Scott Forstie to find more articles on the topic of DB2 for i.) But with a background as an IBM system engineer dating back to the days of the AS/400, Cain has an appreciation that extends beyond the database. He uses that knowledge of the entire stack, not just his database expertise, to demonstrate how to solve business problems.
“My approach is to present objective arguments. If you show up with subjective arguments, you just meet or match the decision makers’ assumptions that you are simply platform biased. I let them know my focus is on helping them make the right decision. I take the discussion in the direction of business requirements. It might take into account budget, timing, and growth plans. Then I ask this question: ‘What are you trying to accomplish technically?’ Often this leads to a response that is subjective, like I want to use Oracle or I want to use Linux. Those aren’t requirements. They are biases toward a solution.”
Identifying biases without appearing biased is important. That could be a reason some IBM i advocates don’t get very far. Decisions are based on solving business problems. On occasions when biases seem to be the winning hand, don’t fold while the advocates of other platforms can bluff their way through. At the very least make them show their cards. Steer the topic to requirements and what it takes to meet the requirements. That opens the door to describing the attributes of IBM i running on Power and meeting the requirements that were thought to be outside the realm of the IBM i.
There will be arguments and objections. Other technical people will fight for the platforms and solutions they believe in. But Cain says if the discussions can remain objective and based on business requirements, the outcome will favor IBM i.
“This is why IBM i advocates need to get continuing education,” Cain says. “This is why they come to conferences like the RPG & DB2 Summit. It’s so they can articulate why projects–that otherwise would go to other platforms–should be run on IBM i and then make them happen.”
Steve Will, the chief architect for the IBM i operating system and also its top-ranked frequent-flier evangelist, happens to be the keynote speaker at the RPG & DB2 Summit. His “Why i?” presentation is also geared toward raising the awareness of IBM i capabilities. Planning product roadmaps and plotting trends and directions for the platform are a big part of Will’s job. He is well versed in areas such as total cost of ownership models and the different business requirements for various vertical industries and for SMB as well as large enterprise IBM i customers. His keynote at the conference should be an extra benefit for attendees who are already investing in the technical education and training at the Summit.
The real value in advocacy is education. People who understand the value of the platform in solving business problems and who can communicate to others will be difference makers. Possibly on their own, but more likely with the help of other staff members within their workplace, the IBM i community (user groups are a good resource), business partners (resellers and software vendors), and IBM representatives (like Mike Cain, for instance).
“I’m not suggesting these people become IBM i salespeople,” Cain says. “But they can be prepared to counter those who say ‘We should retire this old green-screen box and move to something modern.’ And even better, they should be saying the next business priority can be done on IBM i before anyone advocates for another platform.”