IBM i Strategy And Roadmap Loses Business Focus
April 18, 2016 Dan Burger
A white paper is supposed to help readers understand challenges and provide an objective discussion of problems and solutions. It should not be a thinly disguised image enhancement device. Do that once and it rains on all your subsequent white papers. We all would like to see IBM sell more IBM i servers. But after reading the latest white paper on IBM i, it misses the mark of a real white paper.
Let me start by giving you a link where you can download this document titled the IBM i Strategy and Roadmap. I recommend everyone read it. It was designed to help IT executives understand where IBM is headed with i and how it plans to get there. A lot of this material is familiar to IT Jungle readers. There’s all the traditional value proposition and total cost of ownership benefits that make IBM i on Power Systems very much like the AS/400. And there’s a great deal of material emphasizing modern technology that distinguishes IBM i from AS/400. As an IT Jungle reader, none of this is new to you. There are certainly a lot of IT executives that aren’t as well read as you, however. If you work for one, you decide whether this document should be on his or her reading list.
The problem with this white paper is that, as IBM executives have said many times, decisions are being made on solutions, not on technology. Technology produces solutions, but executives want to hear how they can solve problems. This white paper reads more like a sales catalog for a product with an image problem than a document that helps IT executives make business decisions. That doesn’t mean I’m calling for a book burning. There’s some good stuff in this and I’ll make note of that.
But let’s start with statistics. This white paper was freshly baked, but its statistics are stale.
Because this white paper includes information on the just announced IBM i 7.3 and it has a cover letter by Doug Balog, general manager of IBM Power Systems, dated April 2016, it gives the appearance the information is current. Could be, but the installed base of 150,000 companies is a figure that’s been used since 2012. It also notes there are more than 850 registered ISVs producing more than 2,300 registered solutions. This is also a number that has been used in the past and is of questionable validity in 2016. It comes from the Global Solutions Directory, which does not enjoy a reputation for accuracy, primarily because it is not up to date.
For a new white paper to be using old statistics seems a little careless.
Are other statistics gathered from the past? It’s hard to tell and IBM isn’t saying. Regardless, here’s what is being said.
The IBM i customer demographic is approximately 70 percent small and midsized companies and 30 percent large enterprises. The dividing line is set at 1,000 employees. For many years, this ratio was estimated by IBM sources at 80-20, but I’ve also heard 90-10 and, when mentioned to company executives, that ratio was not disputed. Maybe no one really knows these percentages, but for a company that preaches the importance of analytics, you’d think IBM would have a good handle on this.
Although IBM has never been specific about the number of IBM i shipments, it does note in this report that 85 percent of them are the entry-level Power Systems server models (also referred to as scale-out servers), which are appropriately sized for most midsize companies. This isn’t a surprising number, but it’s surprising whenever IBM uses a statistic that can be used to define its IBM i customers.
When describing the large enterprise segment of the IBM i business, this report makes note of dramatic changes during the past 15 years. The high volume transaction processing companies greatly reduced the number of servers they once purchased due to server consolidation and the adoption of highly virtualized environments.
Few would debate that this a significant factor in entry-level IBM i boxes gaining a greater share of the IBM i sales volume as well as an overall decline in Power Systems revenue. It is, in fact, one of the reasons that Power Systems revenue went into a prolonged slide and is just recently recovering, albeit just slightly.
An IT executive learning about IBM i might be impressed with how server consolidation helped businesses gain efficiencies while other platforms did just the opposite by creating the descriptive term “server farm,” but the white paper pretty much brushes by that opportunity. Statistics on efficiencies and savings in real world situations would support this business advantage. Maybe they were never collected because there was a time when IBM business partners were happy to grow server farm sales. Regardless, this opportunity to emphasize a business problem/business solution was not developed.
Instead, we get some geographic perspective: the combination of North America, Western Europe, and Japan account for 80 percent of IBM i sales. Interesting, but useful?
IBM is comfortable with these numbers but uncomfortable explaining how they were determined and how they compare with another point in time. It seems they were pulled out of old reports because they were handy.
Statistics are a weakness in this report. But readers who have not been following IBM closely probably would not notice.
Much of what IBM says about i seems to be aimed at correcting a perception that Big Blue is no longer investing in the platform.
“IBM i plays a critical role in our Power Systems software portfolio,” Balog says as if trying to convince those who see the i with a diminished role. He cites IBM i 7.3, which just became available April 15, as an example of IBM’s dedication to development, incorporating new technologies, in support of the expanding business requirements of IBM i shops worldwide.
Here’s a thread that connects technology with business requirements, but it needed to be more substantial. Another opportunity to do more than catch the eye of a business-minded reader was when the report notes “few, if any, other operating systems in today’s marketplace have a published support roadmap stretching for 10 years into the future. The current publicly available IBM i support roadmap shows release support for IBM i until 2026.”
Not that this is a binding contract, but it is the type of corporate “I’ve got your back” language that could, and should, be used in public events (the many IBM tech conferences that are not i specific) where the i is rarely mentioned.
The semi-annual delivery of IBM i Technology Refreshes, the assurances that development teams in Rochester, Minnesota, and Beijing, China, are hard at work on the next release of i, the incorporation of technologies such as cloud-based services, mobile applications and business analytics are all indicators that IBM is investing in the platform and that it is not the relic that some people suppose it to be. OK. Fine. But are you selling technology or are you selling business solutions?
Perception is indeed reality and IBM has not been effective in altering the perception in its marketing. Now, in addition to combating the perception that the i is old technology, IBM is reacting to the perception that it is no longer investing in i. Unfortunately, this is work that needs to be done, but it’s also unfortunate that business solutions take a back seat to “Hey, look, we’re investing in technology.”
The strength of this white paper is that it emphasizes the shift that is taking place in the information technology business and brings IBM i into the conversation to battle perceptions that this platform–IBM i on Power–is somehow an island where technology has not penetrated.
“Today’s most agile companies are not limited by the business applications of the past. They are building applications that are a blend of technologies from traditional business solutions integrating with open-source solutions, either running on IBM i itself or deployed on Linux on Power.” It’s a legit point made in the white paper. But it fades away without a strong business case being made.
My beef with this white paper is that it’s not a white paper at all. It’s an image-shaping sales brochure. It explains the direction IBM is going with i, but its weakness is that it doesn’t do that in a way that helps an IT executive understand how i will help reach business objectives. It skims past the alignment of IT and business that underlies all the talk about technology.
The Power Systems section emphasizes a single platform designed to handle transactional processing as well as data-intensive workloads, which some shops will run on i and others will run on AIX and Linux. The point made is that Power Systems has the capability to run multiple systems on a single box. The point missed is how are businesses accomplishing this and what are the business outcomes of their efforts.
This white paper goes a short distance down that path by noting factors such as lower operations costs connected to deploying applications faster and maintaining them with fewer staff. And taking that just a bit farther, it points out that IBM does the developing, testing and preloading of the core middleware components, and that fixes and enhancements for IBM i are delivered as an integrated set of updates. These are fully tested against all aspects of the operating system prior to distribution to clients.
While going to great lengths to make it abundantly clear IBM i is technically up to date, this white paper takes that strategy too far and forgets its focus on business solutions. Companies buy solutions. They don’t buy technology until they clearly see the business solution and they recognize that IBM gives them a simpler and more cost efficient roadmap to reach that solution.