Winning The Platform War With IBM i
June 13, 2018 Alex Woodie
How much influence does the selection of a computer system have on a given company’s success? What about the success of all the companies that use that platform? Those are tough question, to be sure, and probably ones that graduate students could ponder on their way to getting an MBA. But according to IBM i Chief Architect Steve Will, who has a first-row seat to the platform wars, the proof of IBM i’s success is in the pudding.
If you’re like most IBM i professionals, you get a little defensive when plans are made to migrate off the platform. You may argue about the benefits of IBM i – including its security, stability, and renown cost efficiency – until you’re blue in the face and still not make any headway against your colleagues or your bosses who argue for a more “modern” system. Because when it comes right down to it, the IBM midrange server does have a 30-year history (40 if you count the S/38). That longevity can be construed as a strength or a weakness, depending on who’s doing the construing.
This very topic popped up during the recent “Future of IBM i” panel at the COMMON PowerUp conference in San Antonio, Texas. Several audience members discussed their fears of watching helplessly as IT executives maneuvered to replace the sturdy but aging IBM i system with what they considered to be newer but inferior systems. Hundreds (if not thousands) of these individual platform battles take place every year at IBM i shops around the country and the world.
From his perch up in Rochester, Minnesota, Will watches as these platform battles are won and lost in individual companies. He shared that unique big-picture perspective during the COMMON panel.
“When we win, it’s because we’re able to tell our story against the negatives that we know exist on the other side of things,” Will said. “I know you said we lost the battle years ago, so I’m not exactly sure why I’m here. But the reason we have continued to gain share is that we have been able to win against that, and our clients continue to grow and beat out their competition. And this is so, so, so important to our business.
“When you take advantage of IBM i on Power in your shop, you’re going to be more efficient than your competition that doesn’t,” he continued. “And we see our clients take that efficiency and put their competition out of business, or they consume them.”
Will presented TruGreen, a Memphis, Tennessee-based lawn care company, as an example of this phenomenon. “TruGreen . . . keeps consuming other lawn care companies because they’re able to take the IT from that other lawn care company and put it right into their IT in IBM i today,” he said. “And they just keep grow and grown and growing.”
The IBM i has also played a longstanding role in automating the business processes at Ecolab. Vern Hamberg, a senior developer who works for the $13.8 billion St. Paul, Minnesota company, told the “Future of IBM i” panel that the platform traces its roots at Ecolab back to the S/38. However, there are those within Hamberg’s department who advocate for a migration to SAP. “There are people who work on our system who say ‘Why can’t we be on SAP? It’s so much better.’ And it’s because they think it’s prettier. Sex sells, and graphical interfaces are sexy.”
But Hamberg’s boss has run the numbers, and the numbers don’t lie: the IBM i server is cheaper, even if the Ecolab application screens are not as sexy as SAP’s. “He sees it. It doesn’t cost as much,” Hamberg said. “We do millions of transactions per year going through this thing. But I see the challenge of maybe feeling weak and being in a position where I can’t say anything to anybody.”
Hamberg’s recommendation to those feeling weak and powerless is to find some evidence that backs up the claim of IBM i being a solid, cost-effective platform for running business applications. “Try to talk to somebody, find that document, hand it to them or give them a link to it, and say ‘Are you interested in seeing something about this system that we’re working on?'”
The documents that Hamberg referred to are the total cost of ownership (TCO) reports written by Quark + Lepton. In the latest TCO report, Quark + Lepton analyzed the costs of hypothetical IT setups for midsize businesses and also analyzed IT risks associated with a variety of enterprise platforms. In both studies, IBM i looked pretty good, which is what you’d expect, since IBM paid Quark + Lepton for them. Will referenced these TCO reports, which may be useful tools for IT executives who have little to no familiarity of the IBM i platforms to get a sense of what the platforms is all about. (You might also try showing your CIO five IBM i facts that will surely surprise them.)
If the TruGreen and Ecolab testimonials and Quark + Lepton TCO reports are the carrots for encouraging executives to consider the bright side of IBM i, Will also has a stick he can use to get the execs to weigh the negatives of moving to another platforms.
“If you show a business person a business reason why they should not leave – like you’ll be fired in three years because your project will fail, like you will spend five times as much money by the time you’re done with this and you’ll get fired . . . ” he said. “The whole ‘You’ll get fired if you try to go this way’ really, really matters. You’ve got to show them the business results that will come from these decisions.”
But the best way for IBM i to win is by demonstrating its benefits in a positive light. “We win when we get a chance to show people that there is an option,” Will said. “When we win in a competitive situation, it’s because we’ll have a partner who can come in with us and say ‘I can do the same job you’re doing now and do it for 50 percent less total year-on-year cost and here’s why I can make that happen: Because you won’t need to have as much staff, you’ll only have to have one box.’ When we have a partner that walks in with us with that story, we win.”