Predictions or Fools Directions?

Here we are at that time of year when we're supposed to espouse to all of you what we think is going to happen in the future. These are usually the kind of articles I like to read from the prior year, just to see what someone said and how it has worked out. Sometimes they're really funny, sometimes pretty sad.

This year things are a little different: We are embarking on a new millennium (although technically not until 2001, but...) as well as a new year. However, much more than that is going on. Eight or nine years ago, this was easy. You could predict IBM would come out with faster machines, new disk, lower prices, they still wouldn't have a GUI and you would be right on all counts.

Back then our big technical discussions revolved around RPG and COBOL and which was better for what, and why they never let us update a file in CL. Every once in a while under the table you could hear talk of someone using MI. Things certainly have changed. Too much? Maybe, but it's where we are so we have to deal with it.

Today we have a lot more to deal with than just the AS/400 and how IBM is going to improve it, market it and bring ISVs to it. We have the network facility's PCs, network bandwidth, the Internet and intranets, RPGIII, RPGIV, VB, Java, Operations Navigator, Windows NT, Linux, Server Side, firewalls, data warehousing...well you get the idea. There's a lot more to worry about.

The funny thing is we still need to keep a handle on our applications, make sure they're performing correctly and providing our users with what they need. We just have these additional pieces to integrate into what we already have. Anyway you look at it, it isn't Pretty!

While putting this column together, and after talking to a number of my resources inside and outside of IBM, I posted a note on one of the message boards (AS/400 specific) to see what those using the machine think about the future. Not surprising, most are high on the machine and what the future will bring, but very unsure about IBM and what it is going to do.

Ah, predictions, or in another word--fools directions. But there are some things that I do feel strongly about, and some that I hope are very wrong. There may even be one or two suggested with tongue firmly planted in cheek.

  • AS/400 box sales will continue to slide from previous years.
  • OS/400 will continue to prove itself as the most reliable, cost-effective platform available.
  • IBM will continue to alter its marketing strategy away from hardware and toward services, leaving the AS/400 in the lurch (where is has been).
  • As more and more components of the AS/400 become like its sibling, the
  • RS/6000, more attention will have to be paid to OS/400 as the differentiator in AS/400 marketing--however, the market will understand this less and less.
  • Service revenue for IBM will grow to over half its revenue within two years.
  • Java will continue to be pushed as the GUI development tool for the AS/400, unveiling the 400 as the premier Java platform in IBM's fold.
  • DB2 UDB will actually connect to the AS/400's database without having to hire a rocket scientist.
  • Continued layoffs in Rochester will hurt the delivery schedule of coming announcements.
  • OS/400 will not be announced on an Intel platform.
  • The focus for the AS/400 Division will be on larger (almost mainframe) customers and prospects, and the lower end products will fade, with Windows NT and Linux getting the lion's share of the press, marketing dollars, vendor development dollars and eventually, market share.
  • Microsoft (and Apple) will continue to run their core business software on AS/400s and tell everyone it was built with Office Visual Basic and Excel.
  • We'll see a price increase for those who did not purchase the AS/400 software subscription and IBM will announce an upgrade price for those customers with the subscription because it will be announced as a new version release: V5R1.
  • IBM will continue to lure larger ISVs, dropping the smaller, lower revenue-producing ones.

    This is not exactly a rosy outlook for the 400. It's not one that I relish or wish on the platform. Hoping for something different to happen, however, rarely makes it so. The AS/400 is far and away the best platform delivered by any vendor to date--bar none. However, only the already loyal know about it or believe it.

    Now having said that, here, as a big AS/400 (and System/38) fan, is what I'd like the future to hold.

  • IBM will assign a dynamic manager to the AS/400 division who has no aspirations of moving up the IBM ladder, but will concentrate on truly letting the marketplace know about the AS/400 or...
  • IBM will get frustrated, sell off the AS/400 division to a group of investors who believe in the product and know how to market it, changing its name to World Platform and the product to WBNT, World's Better than New Technology, the door to the future which you must go through.
  • OS/400 would be released on the Intel platform, competitively priced with NT.
  • The New Company will embrace the smaller software vendors and service organizations much the same way that the old GSD division did when Rochester was just growing up. This would bring volumes of customers to the fold through the same source that has shifted from AS/400 to NT because of the perceived cost of entry.
  • World Platform announces price reductions across the board to gain market share--making it more competitive with other products on the market.
  • Vendors flock to bring their products to the future of computing, because they understand the value of quality and deliverability.

    It's a little funny, if not sad, that one of IBM's best products has had one of the worst exposures in the marketplace. There are lots of reasons for this. It is competitive with everything that's not Unix or NT (software, hardware, services, etc.). That makes it everyone's target in their marketing. That, combined with IBM's own internal lack of understanding of what to do with the AS/400, continues to hurt the platform.

    I recently did some research on DB2 UDB, and after reading the Red Book with 635 pages of IBM documentation on hooking up every kind of platform to DB2, found two references to the AS/400 by name--once in the copyright section, the other in a list of IBM platforms. Windows NT, Unix, MVS, Oracle and several other products were specifically mentioned with great examples. Not one for the 400. IBM has a great product and doesn't even know it. Unfortunately, the only ones who seem to know it already have one. Where's the revenue growth in that?

    All we really know is this: What we now know is dying out and a new technology will take its place. Our job is to deliver what we can, when we can to our companies so they will prosper and provide for their customers. After that it's someone else's problem. Good luck and happy learning.