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Tom Huntington on the HelpSystems Survey

On this episode of iTalk With Tuohy, host Paul Tuohy and Tom Huntington discuss the Help Systems survey.

Take the survey: bit.ly/IBMi-marketplace-2020​

Paul Tuohy:Hi everybody and welcome to another iTalk with Tuohy. Delighted to be joined today by Tom Huntington, who is the executive―an executive vice president at HelpSystems. Hi, Tom.

Tom Huntington:Hello. I'm honored to be here today with you, Paul. I've heard about your iTalk for a long time and excited to be here.

Paul:Yeah, don't worry―I wouldn't sweat it on the honor thing, Tom. It doesn't―this doesn't live up to it [laughs].

Tom:Doesn't do me any good?

Paul:No.

Tom:Okay well I'm honored to be with you, Paul.  

Paul:Okay. So Tom there is a very specific topic that I want to talk to you about, but maybe just before that, on the off chance that there are a few people out there who may not have come across you before, do you want to just give a quick rundown on who you are and what you do?

Tom:Yes, excellent. I will do that. Yes, I'm Tom Huntington. I'm an executive vice president of Technical Solutions at HelpSystems, which is a rather long title, but my tenure at HelpSystems is something to be admired with. I've been here 31 and a half years now and I basically started when the AS/400 platform was―came to the market, was announced back in June of 1988. I've had the pleasure of working with thousands and thousands of customers and partners and IBM itself around the world. Primary focus being automation, systems management, security, you know, document management―the whole things that the HelpSystems has done over the years. My role today is I'm really more of a presales engineer, kind of talking on a high level about everything we do not―unfortunately―not just IBM i, but I do talk other platforms because as we know IBM i is a database server with Windows and UNIX servers along side of it and it's got a long-term place there. The other thing I am is I'm an IBM Power Champion. I've been an IBM Power Champion for three years―four years actually―and the result of that is from this marketplace study we'll talk about today.

Paul:Yeah, these IBM Champions. We're tripping over ourselves Tom [laughs].

Tom:Yeah.

Paul:They're everywhere. Yeah.

Tom:Well and really there's only about 45, 50 of us―

Paul:Yeah.

Tom:Worldwide for Power and that includes―

Paul:Yes. Yeah.

Tom:AIX and Linux.

Paul:Linux yeah. It is and I must say, as a fellow Champion there, it is kind of cool being an IBM Champion, but anyway we digress, okay? The―

Tom:Next call.

Paul:Because you touched on it there, what I really want to talk to you about Tom is the marketplace survey. Now this I know is about maybe our third attempt at doing this at the right time so we could actually tell people about it before, you know, while the survey is still available.

Tom:Right.

Paul:Do you want to explain just maybe just a little bit about what the survey is and how it came about?

Tom:Absolutely. So first of all, the survey will be open for month of September 2019. This will be our sixth annual survey. So we collect the data over a month period and then we usually present it right around the first of the year. How did the survey start? Well I was doing a what do you call a press release out at one of the COMMON events many years ago―so probably about seven years ago, because we have six years, right? Do the math.

Paul:Yup.

Tom:And a gentleman by the name of Dan Burger was sitting in the session―and for those of you who remember Dan Burger, I say the late Dan Burger because he passed away―

Paul:Yup.

Tom:Unfortunately. We were walking after my press release and he goes, you know, Tom, that's great. You know you talked about all these things that HelpSystems is working on and you talked about your security, state of the security study that you've been doing for about ten years, but what I really need is what are people doing on this platform? Are they going away? What's going―I mean this is seven years ago, so there was a lot of fear and doubt in the industry. And I said, Dan, I looked at him―I said, you know what? I need the same darn thing because I have people who I report to that maybe aren't IBM i people, who own HelpSystems, who want to know about this platform and where is it going. Is it going away? If I invest in HelpSystems, am I going to be in trouble because you can do so much on IBM i? So that's kind of where it came from: Dan Burger, IT Jungle, helped me out getting started with it and we spent the next couple of months going back and forth about what would be the questions? How many questions? What are the right questions to help uncover what's going on in the market?

Paul:Okay.

Tom:That's the history. 

Paul:So yeah. Interesting touching on Dan. I, I―Dan and I shared a great love of Irish whiskey, which anytime when I'd get to meet him out in California we would―well, we would share our interest late into a couple of evenings, you might say.

Tom:Okay [laughs].

Paul:So, sorely missed, a sorely missed guy.

Tom:Yes, he is―but he was one of the inspirations.

Paul:Yeah. I didn't know that. It's―the thing then Tom, I think it's a fair thing to say, is that this survey has become one of the key influencers within the industry. Would you agree with that?

Tom:Yeah, than―I'd first of all say thank you, because you know we did it with the idea that it would be used by IBM and other business partners around the globe. And initially I didn't know what the reaction would be on them, you know, because HelpSystems is kind of known as a company that does a lot of marketing and you know, what's in it for them, that kind of thing. But honestly we've tried to do it as a generic piece that anybody in the industry could use, and I remember the first year I did it. I know several of the executives at IBM and even in development. A gentleman by the name―I'm going to call out to Dave Nelson. If you don't know who Dave Nelson is―

Paul:Yup.

Tom:He's responsible for your IBM i operating system. I sent it to him. He called me and he goes, "I don't know if I want to look at this." I go "what do you mean?" I go, "it's a survey." He goes "I'm just―you know everybody is nervous about the results and what customers are saying about their product." His product is IBM i―

Paul:Yup.

Tom:And one of the questions we wanted to ferret out was, are people going away, are people leaving IBM i? And what we found is that the attrition rate―and now we've been doing this for six years―is really right about 1 percent annually. So the attrition rate―what I'm talking about is people leaving the platform. 

Paul:Yup.

Tom:That was the big scary question, right? And what we found is it's a lot more stable than people realize. I know in dealing with customers all over the globe, when somebody says to me we're going to leave the platform, I ask the questions "when?" and "have you started trying to do that?" If they haven't tried to do it yet, they have no idea what they're getting into―

Paul:Yeah.

Tom:We've seen so many customers try to leave the platform and end up staying on the platform and then reenergizing the platform. And then the other aspect of the survey―you asked about, you know, what are some trends or things that have changed. The―thefirst year―the first two years we didn't ask the question―but are you growing your footprint? So we were thinking negatively when we started the survey, and now I ask the question, along with are you leaving, are you growing the footprint? And every year we see somewhere around 25 percent of the market that's growing the footprint, which makes sense if you think about banking. Every other bank you go into has IBM i.

Paul:Yup.

Tom:You think about transportation. Manufacturing is still very strong on i, distribution, things―that's probably one of the bigger surprises too is the amount of manufacturing and distribution percentage is very high yet in people that use it.

Paul:Yeah. So―so it's fair to say then Tom like over the years the survey itself has changed in terms of the questions that you ask: like what you learn from one year leads to other questions that you use the following year?

Tom:We've tried to stay―I would say that of the 28 or so questions that we have, I would say 20 of them have stayed pretty similar, and we try to make them consistent so that now after five and six years, we can start seeing some trends, right?

Paul:Yeah.

Tom:So things like what's happening with SAN storage, classic things on IBM i. You know when we started the survey, maybe 10 percent of the community was using SAN storage. Now that number is―you know for those who are you know bigger, you've got to look at who do we capture? Medium size, active customers that are using IBM i. So you'll see a bit more higher percentage of SAN, but still that number has grown to be about 40-40 percent of the market's using SAN nowadays.

Paul:Yeah.

Tom:You know and then―you know my background is automation and you know I see that number has grown too in the number of people that run the systems light out or unattended. As a matter of fact I had somebody, a new person from HelpSystems in my office and he goes, people run their system lights out? I go, what's your background? Windows. Windows. And I'm like, well no. IBM i, you know 65-70 percent of the people run their system unattended.

Paul:Yeah.

Tom:That's normal and think about the value of something like that to your organization.

Paul:Yeah. Oh, preaching to the choir here, Tom.

Tom:So the answer is we modify―yeah. We modified questions over the years for things like you know OS levels, like 7.4 and 7.3 have come out since we started the survey so of course we had to add those things in.

Paul:Yeah.

Tom:Cloud. You know we have a few more questions on cloud now. RDi, we've added questions for RDi. We've modified like what application do you use? Funny enough, in talking with Timothy Prickett Morgan from IT Jungle. He said hey Tom, can you add in in-house or homegrown to your application selection? And sure, we did that and now we see that, you know, 80 percent of the shops out there are doing some kind of in-house written application where they're augmenting the original application that they bought.

Paul:Yeah.

Tom:So that's a really prevalent thing and that's what makes this platform so sticky.

Paul:Yeah so―in the results of the survey then Tom, I mean has there―is there anything in there that has surprised you? Or is it sort of pretty much where you've looked at the responses, like when you look at the percentage that, and you go yeah, that's always what my gut feel was and this validates it. Or has there been something where you might go oh my God, we never realized people were that concerned about security, or whatever.

Tom:Well I will say in today's survey from when we started six years ago, security has become the number one thing. I mean you know we have a question that says what are your top concerns, and security is 70 percent and has been that way now the last two years. It's a funny thing because when you think about IBM i, what do you think of? Reliable, scalable and then of course security, right? But what we've found is that there's―we need some work in that area. There's a lot of people who have not used the security features that IBM has put into the operating system to make sure you're secure. We like to refer to it as securable.

Paul:Yeah.

Tom:The other surprise was again this divestiture from the platform. I was really kind of nervous about that initially―and I was. I'd be lying if I didn't say that. I was worried that, you know, people were leaving and what's my long-term? I got 30 years on the system now. You know, am I going to, you know, end my career up on Windows [laughs]?

Paul:Yeah.

Tom:Right? No. Of course we found different. You know the attrition rate again is about 1 percent and you know the platform's growing in different―you know, with different customers. You know every day I find some interesting businesses that I never thought ran on IBM i. The other day for those who are into pets and stuff like that, there's a kennel―or the people who organize the dog shows across the U.S. anyways―all runs on IBM i [laughs].

Paul:So it's true. IBM i is going to the dogs.

Tom:Yeah. There you go. I never thought about it that way but literally there's niche applications like that on this platform that were written specifically for a business in an industry and there's nothing else―you can't go buy that from somewhere else―

Paul:Yeah.

Tom:So of course it's going to be around for a long time because of those things. Then you add in, you know, open source. Open source is another big surprise for me. I'm surprised the number of people who are using open source on IBM i. That number continues to grow as Git and other things have been, you know, added or ported into the platform.

Paul:Yeah. Okay, Tom we're coming close to the end here and I always like to end up at, you know, find out a bit about what people do outside of work. And a little bird told me that you were recently on a sailing trip?

Tom:I was. You know one of my bucket list items in life was to always captain my own boat―and when I talk about boat, a nice size sail boat―in the British Virgin Islands. I did that some five, six, maybe seven years ago before I started the study actually. I went and sailed the BVI, but then just recently here in June, I was able to take my four kids, my son-in-law, my future daughter-in-law and my expecting daughter―so we will be grandfather here shortly―and theeight of us went and sailed in the Grenadas. So we sailed the Grenada islands just off of―about 120 miles off of Venezuela area, sailed north up into the―now I can't think but anyways we sailed north from Grenada, Carriacou, Union Island, all this area, and out sailing around a volcano mind you, and about 300 feet and then on the way back as we sailed back to Grenada, we're in 6,000 feet of water. My wife taps me on the shoulder and goes what's that? I go what's what? There's a big black thing floating not more than 50 feet away from us and I'm like―I look at my depth finder. I'm going, I can't see anything on the depth finder. I think we're in 6,000 feet of water, and all of a sudden a spout comes us. A big whale was over there.

Paul:Wow.

Tom:There was actually a couple of whales that close to our boat in 6,000 feet of water. Being from Minnesota where we're basically kind of land locked but we're known as The Land of 10,000 Lakes, we don't have too many lakes that are more than 100 feet deep in Minnesota [laughs] so that was―you know, that's my story that is kind of one of the unique things I've done so―

Paul:Wow.

Tom:I've done five or six of those sailing trips now and we were on a 45-foot catamaran.

Paul:Yeah.

Tom:We took our hotel with us.

Paul:Wow. I've got you. You're about maybe the fourth person that I've spoken to―I'm talking about my lifetime―who had that sort of a close experience with whales like out at sea, as opposed to being on one of the whale spotting trips or something like that, where they've had them and I think yeah. That is some experience.

Tom:Very impressive.

Paul:Yeah.

Tom:That is one of the things I did not expect to see, and not only did we see that one―those two whales there―but we did see other ones as we then sailed south. I guess it's a rare sighting in the month of June off of Grenada.

Paul:Wow. Okay well listen Tom, I think that is s perfect note to leave it on. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me. Everybody in the blurb on this will be the link as to where you can go and take the survey. Please go and take it. I can tell you from working on the Common European Advisory Council to IBM, a lot of the stuff on the survey is what we use when we're trying to decide things that we should be also recommending to IBM. We always use this as one of our guidelines So Tom I wish all the best with your sailing in the future and thanks for taking the time to talk to us.

Tom:You're welcome. All I can say is take the survey.

Paul:Yup. Okay everybody. Okay that's it for this iTalk, everybody. Tune in again for the next one. Bye for now.

Tom:Thank you.

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