We’re All IBM i Storytellers
August 29, 2016 Dan Burger
Everyone has a story. Alison Butterill has quite a few. They’re all about i. She didn’t make them up. You did. Or, at least, some of you did. These are stories only you can tell. Butterill, the widely traveled IBM i product offering manager, just repeats them. Storytelling was part of her session titled IBM i in the Digital World, which I sat in on at the OCEAN Technical Conference last month in Orange County, California.
The reason you are the only ones who can tell them is because they’re about you and your IBM i. Butterill collects them from around the world and is displaying her collection on the IBM i webpage. For her speaking engagements, like this one at the annual Southern California tech conference hosted by the OCEAN user group, she hand-picks a few to demonstrate what IBM i users are up to. Not that long ago, the pickings were pretty slim. Just a few years ago, IBM had just 31 i-related customer stories that it could reference. That number is now more than 180.
I’m going to share with you a few of the stories Butterill picked for this tech conference crowd. I’m starting with my favorite, even though the company name is not revealed.
This one and a couple of others are referred to as “The Alison and Steve Believe It or Not Stories.” Steve refers to Steve Will, the chief architect for IBM i and an accomplished storyteller in his own right.
It took place in Belgium several years ago. The president of a company that ran its mission critical applications on IBM midrange iron was sitting at his 8-year-old son’s soccer game chatting with another spectator. As fate would have it, the guy he’s talking with turns out to be an IBM business partner. So he asks the company president when was the last time someone from IBM was in his shop. The company president said it’s been so long I don’t remember when it was.
So the business partner agrees to visit the business. When he gets there, he learns the company is running OS/400 V3R2 and has been for 18 years. Never an upgrade, not even a PTF applied.
Now that’s something you don’t see every day. And as the story goes, the business now runs IBM i 7.1 on a Power8 box. It took three separate OS migrations to go from V3R2 to 7.1, but an inevitable IT crisis was diverted all because of a random conversation at a youth soccer game. I say “inevitable,” but if the old system lasted this long without a failure, who’s to say it wouldn’t live forever? I’d give it about the same chances as a snowball in hell.
Another story Butterill told demonstrates the consequences when new management assumes that everything before their arrival was wrong. On five occasions this U.S.-based company decided to migrate from IBM midrange systems to Windows-based systems. Each effort was instigated by new executive team that was unfamiliar with the IBM i and believed their Windows-centric thinking would prove their genius.
It would take a year or sometimes two of going down the systems migration path before it became clear what the benefits of remaining on i were. “They spent millions of dollars in these attempts to leave IBM i, and always found the total cost of ownership and total cost of acquisition favored IBM i,” Butterill said while noting this company does business with IBM.
The fact that it’s danced this dance five times with five changes of executive management is a head scratcher. How do some companies manage to survive in spite of repeated errors of judgment?
Here’s one more “Alison and Steve Believe It or Not” story.
Everyone knows IBM i is used in many of the big casino properties in Las Vegas and Atlantic City. The software used to run the casino floor is not typically run on IBM i. But the hotels, restaurants, and other business aspects run on i. Often on Lodging System Management software from Agilysys. In this story, the casino’s Windows and Linux applications got hacked. The hackers got past the security network and firewall.
“People were winning when they shouldn’t have been winning and not winning when they should have,” Butterill explained. “Casino operations were closed for a short time while they figured out what was going on. The system was built to take regular backups, but when they found the virus they were unable to determine how long it was planted in the system. When the virus became active, they didn’t know how far back to go in their backup system.”
At the end of the ordeal, the IT director said we were lucky we didn’t get hit harder. His plan going forward was to upgrade to the latest Windows environments. Shortly after submitting that plan, he was fired.
In addition to the Believe It or Not stories, Butterill recited several stories involving companies that could be named. She included longtime IBM midrange customer Federal Express, which runs its ground delivery system with apps written in RPG and running on i 7.2 on a Power8 box. FedEx says it takes a much smaller IT staff to run on i compared to other platforms and that gives them a lower cost of ownership.
She also mentioned a UK-based payroll and HR software company called MorePay that moved its RPG applications from a licensed model to a software as a service model and increased its customer base from 100 to more than 3,000 in 18 months.
Butterill also made note of Letsos, a construction company specializing in large office structures, hospitals, hotels, research facilities, football stadiums, schools, and manufacturing facilities, and research laboratories. Letsos converted its core business applications that were customized from a third-party ERP software company no longer in business. The conversion involved moving fixed-format RPG to free-format RPG. The company says the conversion has aided its application modernization projects and allows programmers without RPG backgrounds to more easily be involved.
“References are important and the stories need to be told and retold,” Butterill recommended. “We want to talk about what you are doing and we want you to talk about the stories.”
We often talk about the IBM i community because it is something unique and special. Story telling is a community activity that gives us all a better sense of connection. There is a common thread, but no single story. Sometimes there’s a tendency to think the job and the circumstances are the same everywhere, but each person has a story that only he or she can tell. The stories don’t have to be elaborate. They can be short and personal. The achievements can be technical, financial, or efficiency related.
Butterill is eager to collect more stories.
So am I. If you need help putting your story into words, I’m happy to help.