IBM i Strategy: Technology Choices And The Vendor Ecosystem
January 24, 2018 Dan Burger
When Steve Will talks about IBM strategy for the future, he’s not talking about next week or even next year. His view is five, 10, and 15 years into the future. That’s where the planning is being done. The next few years are past the planning stage and into the development stage. That’s a general statement of direction. Adjustments happen within shorter development timeframes.
Will, the IBM i chief architect, was at the OCEAN user group meeting last week in Orange County, California, making his case for the future of IBM i. His presentation was titled “IBM i in the Cognitive World.”
That title begs the question: Is the IBM i community ready for the Cognitive World? The one-word answer to that is no. Although there is a lot going on in the Cognitive World, in the Enterprise Business World, there’s not so much.
Cognitive computing will be a game changer, however. All the tech giants are convinced of it, and IBM is not waiting for others to take the lead it established with Watson. Its investments are substantial. Based on one report I read, IBM gained 1,400 patents in artificial intelligence during 2017.
What would your reaction be if IBM i was being left out of the artificial intelligence game? Abandoned seems like an accurate description. (The IBM i community already has abandonment issues.) The chief architect is on the road trying to calm those nervous twitches. You can read more on that topic in the article I wrote – “Investment And Integration Indicators For IBM i” — in the previous issue of The Four Hundred.
The topic I’m interested in today is a subset of the IBM i community: the independent software vendors (ISVs). While artificial intelligence and a host of other technologies that are lining up to change enterprise computing in five to 10 years, the ISVs are dealing with the hear and now, the building of bridges to the next generation of IT.
Bill Langston – director of marketing at New Generation Software, a vendor with a long history in the IBM midrange market – has reminded me on more than one occasion the strategies and development methods recommended by IBM are sometimes out of touch with the ISV’s market niche, and that ISVs must be careful not to follow IBM down a path that can lead to creating an application that IBM developers will praise, but one that very few customers will buy.
During his presentation, Will cited the ISV community for its important role in IBM strategy. “IBM can’t do it all, but it can partner with people who can help you [IBM i users] do it all. We listen to what our solution providers need from the platform because partners help companies get value from their systems. Solution partners help customers get to the next technology,” Will emphasized. “We can’t listen to every one of them, but we can listen the ISV Advisory Council, which gives IBM feedback on directions the OS needs to go.”
Naturally, there’s a wide range of ISVs. They’re not all going to be on the same page regarding technology and some will have customers with far different requirements than others.
Will noted there are fewer solution providers now than there were 25 years ago, but he claims there are 2,200 worldwide solution providers on the platform and each one has at least one solution. Therefore, there are 3,000 to 4,000 solutions on IBM i. This number has been padded significantly since open source support has gradually increased.
IBM, like any software company, promotes advances in technology that benefits business results. With good reason, IBM would like as many ISVs as possible to adopt IBM-preferred technologies so ultimately customers can benefit from it. But, as Langston has also impressed upon me, most ISVs survive on software maintenance fees that are generated from customers two-to-five years behind IBM’s current marketing and technology. An ISV needs to provide solutions its customers can use now while deciding whether to invest in new technologies will warrant support and be considered valuable and competitive by their customers several years in the future.
“We have an ecosystem of thousands of solutions,” Will told his audience, “because the solution providers continue to make money being solution providers on this platform. If we didn’t help them make money, they wouldn’t stay on the platform.”
Obviously, there is some interdependency and reciprocity in the relationships between IBM and its business partners. It’s not the same across the board and from end to end. Larger ISVs are better equipped and have deeper pockets than smaller ISVs, so they would find it easier to go down the technology roads IBM dictates.
Chief architects make their own decisions on technology, but probably not to the point of ignoring IBM’s tech investments. Artificial intelligence is one of those big investments and it will fit the needs of many of the large user group (LUG) customers.
“IBM might be talking about big data, the cloud, and cognitive, but the first things we [IBM i development] invest in is technology for a busy core workload,” Will says. “And we still listen to small businesses and help the solve their problems.”