See Something, Say Something
February 1, 2017 Larry Bolhuis
Only so many times can you see something and not say something. Time to say something.
Most of you know I spend most of my time working on the most reliable, capable, flexible, and modern business system anywhere. And, of course, that would be IBM i on Power Systems. What you may not know is that I spent time driving a bus. I drove a very large bus with a huge wide bumper backed by an air horn. It was 40-feet long and 11 and a half feet high, weighed 40,000 pounds loaded, and was propelled by a supercharged V8 diesel. Like the Marines, once a bus driver, always a bus driver. Hat on, air brakes off, somebody’s going under the bus!
Back in October my good friend Pete Massiello wrote in COMMON CONNECT and IT Jungle about independent software vendors potentially having a negative impact on IBM i. He was specifically talking about vendors charging customers significant amounts just to get a key to move software–that was licensed and with paid maintenance–to a new server. I have to agree that is pretty annoying. After all, they are a current customer and providing a revenue stream to the ISV. As an ISV, wouldn’t you want that customer to be happy and continue using your software? I would.
But let’s consider a completely different set of customers: Former customers. If you’ve been around IBM i as long as I have, you remember it started life as an Application System/400, yep, an AS/400. Back in the day, there were many different categories of software. Specifically, I’m talking about home grown software, software you purchased as source code, software you licensed and also got source code, and what has become quite standard today software that you get object code only. In this latter case, modifications are via exit programs or external programs that touch the data. Early on, the former ones were very common.
The number of companies that sold and licensed software for the AS/400 was amazing. Of course, the number of different software contracts back then was also incredible. Sometimes you simply purchased source code. Sometimes you purchased objects and source. Sometimes maintenance was offered, but wasn’t mandatory. Early on, many contracts allowed you to continue using the software for as long as you wanted. You couldn’t resell it and, of course, you got no support. But since you often had source code–or at least most of that if you were good with your own developers or consultants–you were good to go. In other cases, the software did what you needed without modification. In others, economics dictated your company couldn’t afford maintenance and it was dropped to stay in business. Anyone see a problem here? Me neither.
But often we saw vendors acquired by other vendors and the new vendor wasn’t as considerate as the old one and changed contracts, often dramatically. Now, of course, they couldn’t go back and change what your company had signed, but if you ever needed help, boy, were you in for it.
And then came IBM i 6.1 and “we have a problem.” Sure, the problem was created long before and wasn’t intentional. It happened when vendors removed observability from some of their program objects. Sometimes it was done to make it harder to reverse engineer programs. Sometimes it was done to improve performance. Sometimes it was done to save disk space. (Yes, as hard as it is to believe now, that used to make a difference!) Doesn’t matter how you got to that position, you need those observable objects to make the move from V5R4 up to i 6.1. Who you gonna call? Yep, you contact your vendor.
Put on your sales guy hat. You represent the software vendor. You have one of those golden opportunities to speak with your potential customer. Everyone in sales longs for a valid opportunity to talk to a customer! Even better those customers need you! You are virtually the only person who can provide the solution to their problem. They already have your product and likely a long history with it. They need you! Yes, I see you rubbing your hands as well you might. So, what do you offer them?
Three seemingly obvious choices are:
- Offer what they need for little or no fee and no maintenance contract.
- Offer what they need for a ‘currency access fee’ as well as some term of maintenance contract
- Offer what they need for basically all the past years of maintenance they haven’t paid plus some term of maintenance contract. Do this even if the amount is ridiculously massive. After all who else can they call? [Evil laugh and wringing of hands.]
As the customer, you can wish for A. But, let’s be honest, that’s not reasonable, is it? Even if you had the legitimate right to use the software, the vendor has costs involved in maintaining the software. And those costs didn’t stop when you stopped paying that vendor. Plus, the vendor was probably enhancing the software during that time. So, yeah, dream on. If you can get answer A, thank your vendor profusely. But honestly, that’s not happening.
Now let’s consider answer B. Anyone recognize this offer? Sure, this is what IBM does when you stop paying. Yes, you can use the software, but eventually you’ll need that next version or the next fixes or updates. So, IBM looks at how long it’s been since you paid (thus, how long they’ve been enhancing the software without your financial support) and you are charged accordingly. They do set an upper limit to the charges, perhaps a year or two, and, yes, they require you purchase support for the upcoming year. Seems reasonable. With answer B, you (as the sales person) get a nice chunk of change from a customer who hasn’t been paying perhaps for years and you get a promise of future revenue as well. You also have another paying customer on your list. It’s a win for the customer (now supported), a win for the vendor (revenue for its bottom line), and a win for the salesman (cash in the pocket).
But then there is answer C. Nobody would go this far, would they? Really? Yes, sadly, and anyone who deals with them is Infor this rude surprise when they call. The worst number I’ve heard was $1.3 million. This past week, I heard another horrible number: $500,000. And the customer had multiple machines, so the total was far more. Now as sales person what do you expect your customer to do when you deliver a proposal this ridiculous? Yes, of course, you hope, you wish, you dream of the customer saying: “Sure, we’ll pay.” But if you even make this offer, you are an idiot, a moron, a loser, because the only reaction you will get is HELL, NO! I will tell you that every one of my customers who have received this offer have had the same reaction.
Most of them realize that without the update to their current software they have no choice except to pick another software solution. If they look around at other software offerings, they realize they are Infor the same problems with much of the other software available for IBM i. So, they move off our platform completely. When they do, they are certainly not going to acquire software from the vendor who wanted to gouge them in the first place. So, for any vendor who does this, it’s a loss of revenue, a loss of reputation, as well as a loss of customers.
And for IBM i and Power Systems, it’s a loss as well.
But what are customers to do when they get this ridiculous offer? (Besides say no!) Speak up! Fill up social media with these ridiculous offers. Shame them. Call IBM. Raise a stink with them. Don’t go down without a fight. Show people what sort of company you’re dealing with.
And finally ask them what they are thinking? Ask them do they really expect customers to pay that extortion? Do they care about their customers or are they purely in business for every possible dollar, and honestly couldn’t give a whit about their customers?
DrF, aka Larry Bolhuis, is an author, conference speaker, and long-time IBM i community volunteer. He’s a subject matter expert on topics pertaining to systems design and management, networking and connectivity, work management, PTF, and Hardware Management Console topics. He published this article originally on his Frankeni.com website.