Inside The ISV Revitalization Initiative For IBM i
March 16, 2020 Alex Woodie
The IBM i server’s strengths are well known: integration, ease of programming, ease of administration, security, resiliency, and a penchant for putting up with abuse. But aside from the platform’s attributes, another factor in IBM i’s favor is the community of independent software vendors (ISVs) who write business applications. To bolster this strength, IBM recently embarked upon an ISV revitalization initiative, and it wants IBM i ISVs to know all about it.
In many ways, applications are the face of the platform. It was fairly common for companies to select a business application, such as MRP, ERP, supply chain execution, or CRM system, and the platform decision would follow. By the late 1990s, IBM was boasting 8,500 ISVs were selling 20,000 applications for the worldwide customer base of 275,000 AS/400 shops.
Times have changed, and the universe of IBM i customers and ISVs is significantly smaller. Today, estimates typically peg the IBM i customer base around 100,000 worldwide (IBM says it doesn’t know the exact number). How many ISVs and applications are serving this customer base is the subject of some debate.
In 2005, IBM counted around 2,500 ISVs worldwide serving the iSeries platform (as it was then called). In 2014, an IT Jungle analysis of the IBM i entries in IBM’s Global Solutions Directory concluded there were about 2,000 applications from less than 1,000 ISVs targeting the IBM i ecosystem. However, this number likely undercounted the true number of ISVs and applications. Suffice it to say, the number of ISVs and applications, while certainly down from the peak in the late 1990s, is ultimately unknowable.
IBM periodically over the years has tried to re-engage customers and ISVs, which is a necessary endeavor for anybody seeking to create an ecosystem or a platform. IBM has met some success with staunching the flow of users off the platform in recent years, and now it’s trying to solidify its ISV base to keep those IBM i accounts happy for years to come.
Gina King is the IBM executive in charge of the ISV ecosystem revitalization initiative for Power Systems, including IBM i. King is focusing her efforts on bolstering the community of business application developers, which haven’t received as much attention from IBM as they deserve.
“I think we’ve done a good job communicating to our infrastructure ISVs or tool ISVs,” King tells IT Jungle. “But to a degree, we’re missing some of the communication to our business application ISVs that run on the [IBM i] platform.”
As part of the initiative, King is ramping up the outreach to all ISVs, including those selling shrink-wrapped business applications as well as tools and utilities. The message that IBM hopes to give them is essentially this: We value your contribution to the platform, and we are here to work with you on modernizing your offerings.
The message to ISVs hinges in large part on modernizing their offerings to meet the current expectations of customers. That means supporting the latest versions of the IBM i operating systems, and newer offerings like Db2 Mirror, King says. It also comes with a hefty dose of information about the latest in cloud and AI.
“A big part of the revitalization is modernization. How do we help the ISVs modernize on the IBM i platform?” King says. “It could be cloud, or it could be new technologies. We have this AI portfolio and really great ISV ecosystem partner that you can leverage.”
In terms of deliverables, IBM has taken a number of concrete steps to solidify its outreach. The company has hosted several webcasts on the topic since the fourth quarter of 2019. IBM next month will begin sending out a newsletter focused on its revitalization initiative. There is also an ISV portal at www.ibm.com/partnerworld/systems/power/isv-resource-center where ISVs can find out what kinds of resources IBM is making available to them. This fall (coronavirus outbreak willing) there will be an ISV Tech Summit held in conjunction with the IBM Tech Summit, she says.
It’s all about being proactive, King says. “The information doesn’t always make it out to the ISVs community, unless we’re proactively reaching out to them,” she says. “We need to do more outreach to our ISV audience, because there’s a lot of great things that we’re doing that they might not be aware of that they can take advantage of.”
IBM also encourages ISVs to reach out to IBM to set up one-on-one technology review meetings, where an ISV and IBM can sit down (probably virtually) to discuss their applications and concerns, and IBM can recommend a path forward. These discussions invariably cover AI modernizing IBM i applications with open source technologies, but above all, cloud.
“We’ve polled the ISV community and asked it: ‘What do you want to hear about?'” King says. “First and foremost, cloud has been on the mind of customers. Our clients are asking for cloud options. ‘What’s the latest with IBM i on public cloud?'”
That’s not to say that ISVs that are doing traditional development on IBM i are not welcome to be part of the conversation around revitalization. There are a number of packaged IBM i applications that have reliably automated customers’ core business processes for decades. It’s more about looking forward to ensure that these traditional strengths remain strengths in the years to come, King says.
“In this new era, it’s not that you have to go to cloud or you’re not relevant to us, or you have to adopt AI or you’re not relevant to us,” King says. “We very much value the traditional businesses, and we need to continue to support that. For clients and ISVs who are asking for more, or are on that modernization path, we also need to make sure we are providing them options as well.”
It’s important for ISVs to take action, King says. It’s also important for ISVs to reach out directly to IBM to get in the loop – GDPR issues prevent IBM from reaching out directly. For more information, you can email King directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.