ISV Advisory Council: Untold Secrets And Free Advice
May 20, 2013 Dan Burger
Being more responsive to customer needs is a common theme these days. Companies can quickly get into hot water by neglecting customers either completely or by choosing favorite segments, such as those with the biggest budgets. IBM‘s customer consciousness, as it applies to the Power Systems and IBM i community (the focus of IT Jungle newsletters), includes the independent software vendors (ISVs). The IBM i ISVs are hugely important. Big Blue must wish it had a similar vendor base for its other platforms.
Responsiveness to customers depends on awareness. To improve its awareness of ISV customers, Big Blue formed the IBM i ISV Advisory Council. And, by the way, just so you don’t think the ISVs get special attention that other customers don’t, there are advisory councils, such as the COMMON Americas Advisory Council, the COMMON Europe Advisory Council, and the Large User Group that are end-user focused.
The recent council meeting included more than 30 ISVs. The number tends to fluctuate between 30 and 40. Requests to join the council are handled through the IBM i ISV Enablement Team. The council members are usually vendors that have worked with the ISV Enablement Team to adopt new technologies as well as an ability to provide strategic technical and business advice.
As part of the IBM i community, you may or may not make use of the ISVs, but observation of the IBM-ISV relationship is an indicator of investment or disinterest in the community. Much of the IBM-ISV relationship is masked by confidentiality agreements, but from what I gather the vendors are pretty happy with the way IBM treats them when it comes to the sharing of information on technology that is currently in development and technology that is likely to be in future plans. And this is exactly why secrecy is important.
When I met with Steve Will, chief architect for the IBM i platform, at the COMMON Annual Meeting and Exposition last month in Austin, he mentioned an upcoming IBM i ISV Advisory Council meeting. I wrote it in my notebook, and last week he told me what he could about the meeting and IBM’s relationship with the ISVs without breaking any confidentiality promises. Identifying the companies that participated in the meeting is forbidden, but one point that Will assured me of is the council consists of a range of ISVs and is not dominated by the largest and richest, which I have to admit is always in the back of my mind.
One of the points of ISV discussion was the often talked about V5R4 end of service. This topic is going to get beat like a rented mule until the end of September. And after that, it will probably get beat a while longer. Because then customers will either being going without support (What me worry?) or they will purchase extended Software Maintenance, which creates another deadline as much as three years down the road. The good news–is it really news if we’ve heard it repeatedly?–is that the deadline, now only four months away, is driving companies to newer versions of ISV products. “This is what the ISVs told us would happen, and it’s definitely happening,” Will says with what I imagine is a smile on his face. As much as the ISVs like this, Will might like it even more because this is “his” operating system.
ISVs are enjoying two other growth areas according to Will. One is software as a service and the other is modernizing and mobilizing applications.
“We have IBM i ISVs who are growing and winning business away from X86 commodity hardware by delivering a competitive solution using IBM i and Power in a SaaS environment,” Will insists. “It’s also clear the pace of mobile applications have picked up over the past year.”
IBM’s ‘Five Star’ Topics
From the IBM side, the red carpet was unrolled for four topics during this ISV meeting.
The first was virtualization, which Will says in growing in importance and acceptance. Apparently the value of increasing utilization while reducing the costs of buying hardware continues to intrigue organizations that haven’t gone down that road or haven’t reached the end of that road yet.
“When you look at the key features we have added to IBM i in the 7.1 Technology Refreshes, you get a clear picture of the importance we’re placing on it,” Will noted in an email. “Many of the features are directly applicable to the kinds of environments being used, or promoted by ISVs. For that reason, as ISVs move their customers forward, 7.1 should be the target release. 6.1 is simply too limited in its virtualization capability.”
That’s pretty much like pointing the finger at Live Partition Mobility–which allows an active logical partition to be moved from one physical machine to another–as a game changer.
The ability to virtualize servers and put multiple operating systems on a shared box leads to server consolidation along with higher utilization of resources in the remaining servers. It also leads to improved availability of applications and their underlying operating systems. It’s a capability that’s only available with 7.1.
Secondly, IBM emphasized the improvements in resources it makes available to all its customers, including the ISVs. Among the resources cited are the IBM i Strategy and Roadmap, which IT Jungle reported on here and the two ITG studies, which IT Jungle reported on hereand here. Encouraging ISVs to ramp up participation in social media was part of this resources message. Will writes one of five IBM i-related blogs that originate within IBM and he has trumpeted social media on more than one occasion. “It is extremely important that the ISVs at least understand what IBM i has available for its clients,” Will said with regard to the products formerly branded as Lotus, but now bearing only the IBM brand. It includes IBM Notes and Domino Social Edition, Notes (email), Connections (Facebook for business), and Traveler (mobile access).
Third on the list of items Will considers important for the ISV community are the DB2 features that have been delivered between releases. Primarily this involves security, performance, access, management, and database availability and recovery. Investments in the database have been and continue to be an IBM priority. And Will says, “key DB2 and RPG enhancements are yet to come.”
The DB2 database running on IBM i was made to do a lot more than most companies are getting out of it. The database-centric processing idea, which IBM has promoted since making SQL the sole recipient of database research and development, could use some ISV support in order to become better accepted at the end user level.
On the topic of database technology adoption at the ISV level, Will’s message included working with IBM Lab Services. Not that Lab Services only work with database technology, but they are strong in that area. Will’s point is that these are very talented people and they can get through a project quicker than less skilled professionals. They’re not cheap, but expenses need to be calculated over the duration of a project. Often longer projects, even with cheaper labor, end up being more expensive and less satisfactory. So, Lab Services was the fourth point of emphasis delivered to the ISVs.
Sometimes you get what you ask for and sometimes you get more.
“One of the most noteworthy enhancements which was a direct result of ISV requirements was RPG Open Access,” Will says. “When the requirement was first submitted, it had very little to do with what RPG Open Access turned out to be.”
The initial ISV Advisory Council request was for RPG to output XML rather than 5250. However, though the combined efforts of the IBM i team and the Rational team the development of RPG OA took a different direction from the XML idea. “When this concept was presented to the ISV Advisory Council,” Will recalls, “long before it was ever implemented, the council saw that RPG OA was clearly a more flexible solution than what was initially requested.”
RPG OA was instrumental in the design of several application modernization products from third-party vendors, but early pricing and availability problems stunted its potential for growth. About a year ago, it became part of the IBM i operating system and since that time more companies have been moving to i 6.1 and 7.1, which may give this technology a lift in terms of people becoming familiar with it. At this point, RPG OA has been good for a few ISVs, but has had no effect on most.
Another product that resulted from ISV Advisory Council input is WSDL2RPG, an open source product used to generate RPG stub code from a Web services description language file. It was designed to simplify the integration of WSDL-based Web services into the IBM i’s ILE environment.
“In today’s environment, where Web services are used by so many applications, it makes sense that a requirement like this would come from the ISV community,” Will says. “The kinds of requirements we tend to see from the ISV Advisory Council are exactly the kinds of requirements which do not come very often from COMMON or from the LUG. They are related to enhancements needed by the people who are advancing solutions into the future, and competing with other solution providers for advantage.”
As you can see, there were no secrets revealed in the chief architect’s review of the meeting, but there was plenty of reinforcement of topics IBM is interested in promoting. That’s OK. IBM has reiterated a number of things it believes are important. It’s your decision as to whether any of this is being responsive to customer needs. And you should be letting IBM know what you think about the strategic value of these points of emphasis. And cc: IT Jungle on all your emails.