When I stood up here at last fall's COMMON conference in San Antonio, I specifically spoke about four topics:<<<<
· The awesome quality of the then recent release of V4R1.
· The fact that I felt that our interactive debuggers were inconsistent, buggy and difficult to use.
· I commented on the fact that our educational programs were severely insufficient.
· Lastly, that the AS/400 Division was doing a totally inadequate job in the area of marketing communications.
While my comments made a whole bunch of IBMers very happy with me, they also got a whole other bunch really, really mad at me. Making IBMers happy with me indicates that I'm being responsible, while making others mad at me indicates that I'm telling the truth.
I would once again update you on these same subjects, because I still feel that these topics still are important, and I wanted to tell you where AS/400 land is on these same subjects, from my perspective.
The State of OS/400:
V4R1 has come and V4R1 has gone, and as I said at the time, V4R1 is/was the most stable release of OS/400 ever released. Now I have been running my business on V4R2 now for the last five months. V4R2 has a tremendous amount of new operating system code, enabling features like threads, which allows OS/400 to natively host products like Lotus Domino. I am happy to report that V4R2 is yet another reasonably stable release of OS/400. My firm is actively working putting NT on the new IPCS, setting up e-mail and web sites on the 400 and Lotus Domino as an internal e-mail and calendering solution. By the way, I'm really happy with my model 170's 4 minute IPL.
I applaud IBM for again providing yet another stable release of OS/400.
I'm not sure if you remember, but at last fall's COMMON, almost everyone was wearing these buttons that said
'It's the marketing, IBM!'.
This was a parody of the motto of the first Clinton campaign motto, which was, 'It's the economy, stupid!'
Well the IBM VP of marketing at the time got SO mad between these buttons (which I was not responsible for), and comments from folks like Bob Tipton and myself, that he had my own button made up just for me. For those of you who can't see it, it reads:
'It's the debugger's, IBM!'
Well, said IBM Vice President has, how do I say this politely, been moved onto another position. Apparently the only money spent on those awkward, inconsistent and bug-ridden interactive debuggers was for this button.
However we still have a critical marketing communications problem, but I'll come back to that.
I mentioned the fact that alternative IBM Education offerings were effectively impotent.
I complained that Partner-in-Education was underfunded, had no curriculum and was not engaged with enough schools and companies. Today, Partners-in-Education has been given more funding, yet is still ridiculously underfunded. A comprehensive curriculum is about to be completed, and although we are now engaged with more schools and companies, we still need to be engaged with many, many major colleges and organizations. Despite the fact that a strategy for Partners-in-Education seems to have developed, a comprehensive strategy remains uncommunicated and it is still so underfunded that it has been incapable of communicating it or allowing the AS/400 as a product to capitalize on it.
One of the problems that Partners-in-Education has yet to overcome is the fact the AS/400 is unknown by the general public, and many of the few that do know it mistakenly think that it is an old, proprietary technology. But this goes back to the fundamental problem, which is my last point. We still have a severe problem in the area of…
Marketing Communications (This is the biggie.)
Remember that really mad bunch of IBMers I mentioned a minute ago. Well after my Fall comments at Soundoff, they foamed at the mouth and went into 'spin doctor mode' trying to say that it was only consultants who feel that the AS/400 has a marketing communications problem, which I assure you is not the case. This spin doctoring was an outright IBM lie. If IBM attempts to misrepresent or mis-spin my statements of today, I guarantee that my reaction will be significantly less pleasant.
What I tried to say last fall, in about one thousand polite words, I will simply restate in four words, so please pay attention:
"AS/400 marketing communications sucks."
Now, the last time I used the 'absorption' word at Soundoff was three years ago in reference to V3R1 quality, but the severity of the overall situation with AS/400 marketing communications is once again high enough to rate the 'absorption' word. In fairness, IBM shows sporadic moments of brilliance, such as FATSO, and with all due modesty, I think my firm has delivered two extremely effective white papers to IBM in the last year, but overall AS/400 marketing communications is missing the mark.
But folks in the AS/400 Brand have shared with me the constraints under which they have been placed. Apparently there's a belief at the top of the IBM Corporation that IBM needs to market their name as a company, and not to put any real emphasis on the products themselves. This is why we have 'solutions for a small planet', and don't see AS/400's advertised on television. IBM has been very successful at convincing the general public that it is a profitable company that sells Thinkpads in countries where English is not spoken as a native language.
Although the AS/400 with it's drag along business is approximately a $16 billion dollar business, no one hears about it because it's not advertised on mass media, such as television. Every corporate executive in the US knows exactly what Archer Daniels Midland does; whether or not they have even been on a farm. Yet Archer Daniels Midland last year only sold $12.8 billion.
Armonk cuts back the AS/400 Division after we have a lousy third quarter last year (because our announcements were incomprehensible and underpriced), and never rewards the Division when they are air shipping 25 tractor trailers full of product every day during the fourth quarter of 1997.
Well, if the problem starts at the top of IBM, I think that our concerns need to be directed to the top of IBM. Consequently, immediately prior to the start of this session, the following e-mail was sent to Lou Gerstner:
Dear Mr. Gerstner, (I didn't want to say "Dear Lou", it just didn't seem right.)
The AS/400 has been, and continues to be one of the best-kept corporate secrets in the history of the IBM Corporation, because the IBM Corporation chooses not to aggressively publicize it.
The AS/400 does not attract new customers, because it's unknown. It's unfamiliar to the corporate decision-makers who don't even consider it when choosing new platforms. It's not perceived as strategic by the vast majority of schools who do not teach the platform. It's one of the most reliable computing platforms in the world, as it never breaks; and no one ever worries about it, because it always works. Consulting firms don't recommend it, because as a fully integrated offering, it does not drag along large services contracts, unlike Unix and NT. Even AS/400 customers frequently take it for granted.
Although the AS/400 Division has been doing some strategically clever marketing work, it still is a stranger to the general public. The current strategy of funneling all IBM television advertising into brand image advertising does not well serve the AS/400 product line.
Mr. Gerstner, I encourage you to open up IBM's mass media advertising specifying the AS/400. Starving this product from mass media coverage is like starving one of your children. If you starve this child, it will die. If you kill it from starvation, your stock price will go down.
If you can't open up the AS/400 to mass media advertising, instead of killing it, sell it! Selling it would probably raise the stock price, in the short term. I suspect if you put it up for sale, Bill Gates would love to buy it, and port OS/400 to the Merced chip. After all, Bill Gates knows the value of the AS/400, because that's the system he uses to run Microsoft (as does Gateway 2000, Packard Bell, Apple and Nintendo [as my eleven-year-old son reminds me to say all the time])! In fact, my son Albert's computer teacher had never heard of an AS/400, before she met me.
After you sell the AS/400 to Bill Gates, and he effectively markets it, which IBM hasn't, revealing that OS/400 is the best operating system in the world, I suggest that you sell your IBM stock, and sell it short.
For the AS/400 to be successful, and to continue in it's position for IBM as a cash cow, the AS/400 needs to be aggressively advertised.
If you have any questions, I, once again, invite you to visit my office. It's less than 15 miles from yours.
Al Barsa, Jr.
IBM Premier Business Partner
Tom, ladies and gentlemen in the front row, and those of you in the "peanut gallery", I charge you to also push Mr. Gerstner, as difficult as that charge may be. The IBM Corporation can go ahead and starve the AS/400 to death, and I will maintain a successful, profitable consulting practice on this platform for the rest of my life. But once you allow IBM to kill the platform, you'll be unemployed, unless of course, your RPG is any good.
At current course and speed, the IBM Corporation appears be actively killing the AS/400, and appears to be doing it as quickly as possible.