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IBM i Strategy: One or All

November 16, 2015


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Do you think about Strategy, as a concept, activity or discipline?  How about the IBM i strategy? 

I do.  I decided to write about it today.  I hope you find it informative.  I'll be (relatively) brief, and I promise, I'll tie it to IBM i.  Let's get started.

Once again, I've been traveling, talking to customers in conferences, conferring with advisory councils and in individual customer briefings.  As I start my presentations, I tell my audience that I am the development person who is responsible for the overall strategy of IBM i (Alison Butterill is responsible for it on the product management side, and we have lots of help.) However, we rarely actually talk about what "strategy" really means.  I will often include a chart that talks about the IBM i strategy, but typically, we don't spend much time on this chart.  On occasion, I do speak on the topic of strategy. I did it at the Large User's Group this past winter, at COMMON in Anaheim, and at the OCEAN conference in the summer, so perhaps 200 people heard my thoughts on the topic, but most of the time, people ask me to talk about other things.

That's fine. Really. 

So, if they don't want me to talk about the IBM i strategy and how it's built, what do they want to talk about? 

They want me to talk about far more immediate things. And far more specific things.  And when we consider my interactions with specific customers, whether in briefings or in conversations or in comments on the blog, those specific customers want me to talk about their No. 1 priority. 

And they think that is strategy.

That's fine. Really.

But it's not strategy.

For example, I've talked to a number of large customers this year, particularly customers who are in the financial industry. For them, there are two hot buttons: scalability and availability. Certainly, these are not the only things they need us to work on in IBM i, but they are the biggest issues they are facing right now, so that's what they think of when they think of what is important for IBM i to invest in.  From their viewpoint, if we lag behind in those key things, we are not meeting what they need from IBM i strategy.

So improving scalability is important, and availability is important, and those can be aspects of strategy, but they do not make a strategy.

Then I speak to other customers who are, for example, using RPG daily, and they care about it deeply.  So when they tell me what they need from IBM i strategically, they talk in terms of RPG's needs, or specific things they like or don't like or need from RPG. And when I talk to these people about IBM i strategy, RPG is what they talk about.

Just to be clear, most of those big financial clients also use RPG, but when they want to talk about strategy, RPG is not at the top of their list.

There are other groups. Many people are busy transforming applications by creating mobile interfaces. Transportation companies and retailers are looking for business intelligence and analytics. Others see the world of the cloud and think that's the most important thing. So their view of IBM i strategy is centered on their specific topics of interest.

No matter who I talk with, it's pretty certain that the customers talking to me think they have the answer. They think they know what IBM's strategy is for IBM i, they believe it needs to be improved as it concerns their No. 1 priority, and they know how it needs to change. (I am rarely ever as certain as many of my customers seem to be, when they think they know exactly what IBM must do!)

Yet, in my experience, any specific customer has far too little information to formulate a complete IBM i strategy. At least I think so.

After all, setting the IBM i strategy is a big part of my job.  I have a lot information about IBM i, how it's used, what requirements we're receiving, what the IBM business goals are for IBM i, what future technologies are being worked on in R&D, and so on--far more information than any individual customer (sorry if that offends you).  And yet, with all that information, I keep looking for more information to help validate the strategy and guide changes as needed.

So, since I have so much information, do I just ignore the suggestions (or demands) our customers make on IBM i strategy?

No!  Of course not!

Every time someone tells me that the IBM strategy for IBM i is wrong, and it needs to change to X, Y & Z, I look on it as another opportunity to learn something about the aspect of IBM i that matters to that person, and then I try to view their suggestion (or demand!) from that specific angle. 

However, this means that I need to get input from a lot of people.  I can't keep listening to the same voices.  Big banks are not the same as small banks, who are not the same as small ISVs, who are not the same as large business partners, and they all differ from trucking companies, catalog retailers, casinos, insurance companies and stores that sell coffee or camping gear. 

And so, I talk to more people. And the rest of the IBM i team talks to even more people.  And then we get together and share what we've learned.

Because ultimately, the IBM i strategy needs to serve all of the clients we have today, and all of the clients we are hoping to have in the future. At the same time, IBM i must provide value to IBM, in order to continue to justify the investment to create new features and satisfy customer requirements.

If we focused the IBM I strategy on one area or technology, it would result in us missing the mark for other areas. That's where the title of this post comes from today.

Focusing on one aspect of IBM i is not enough because such a strategy disregards key aspects of our market, or key components in how we develop and deliver the platform. We need to focus on "all," where "all" is defined to be the people and businesses we are strategically serving. 

Spending large amounts of resource on one aspect of IBM i might be the best thing to do, or it might be better to spend smaller amounts on many things. Whichever decisions we make, you might agree, or you might disagree, but you can be certain that we are looking at the whole IBM i strategic marketplace when we make them.

So feel free to keep giving us your thoughts on our strategy--I know I don't have to invite some of you; you give it freely and frequently--because we use that feedback.  But also realize that there are probably things you don't know. Or viewpoints you might not be considering. This makes sense. It's natural. The IBM i world is a lot bigger than your experience probably has shown you. You can only speak from your vantage point, so do. 

But realize that in the end, we are all better off if the IBM i strategy considers all of its customers, in all of their variety. Your input is important. So is the input of a person nearby who is using IBM i completely differently than you are. The IBM i strategy needs to address both of you. In fact, it must address all of you.

It's better to have more people depending on IBM i than it would be to have fewer today, tomorrow, and years from now. That idea is a fundamental principle of the IBM i strategy.

And that's part of what I think about when I think about strategy.

Posted November 16, 2015 | Permalink

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