Users Optimistic IBM’s Management Shuffle Will Benefit iSeries

Lotus General Manager Al Zollar Tapped to Head iSeries Server Group

IBM Corp. last week tinkered with the senior management positions of its Lotus Software division and iSeries server groups, shifting existing Lotus head Al Zollar over to iSeries and bumping Ambuj Goyal, general manager of solutions and strategy with IBM Software Group, up into the top spot at Lotus.

Big Blue indicated that long-time iSeries chief Buell Duncan will move over to its Software Group as the general manager for developer/ISV relations. Duncan will replace Bob Timpson, who’s calling it quits after 35 years as an IBM-er.

There’s speculation that Big Blue’s shift occurred as a result of the company’s practice of periodically shuffling general managers and not as a result of perceived dissatisfaction with the efforts of either Buell or Zollar. More likely, sources say, Timpson’s retirement created a void in a strategic division—developer relations—and IBM Senior VP Steve Mills himself tapped Duncan for the open slot.

Most iSeries users we contacted were cautiously optimistic about Big Blue’s management re-shuffling. Almost all had good things to say about departing Duncan, even as they expressed hopes that incoming head Zollar would be able to more successfully sell iSeries.

According to iSeries user Bob Cancilla, managing director of IGNITe/400—an electronic user group with more than 6,000 members—Zollar will have some tough shoes to fill. “Buell [Duncan] was an excellent leader of the iSeries organization. He was accessible, he listened, and he focused on some major strategic initiatives.”

At the same time, Cancilla points out, Zollar accomplished miracles when he took over the reins of a Lotus Software division that in early 2000 was in disarray as a result of former CEO Jeff Papows’ resignation and IBM’s persistent difficulty in integrating it into its product fold. “He took a veritable shell of what was left of a Lotus that was in total disarray after IBM's acquisition and turned it into a hugely successful part of the IBM organization. The increase in the acceptance of Lotus Domino and the number of desks world-wide with Lotus Notes installed has grown beyond IBM's wildest expectations.”

An iSeries project leader with an IBM business partner based in Europe acknowledges that he’s not really a fan of Lotus’ bread-and-butter messaging and collaboration software, but says he’s optimistic that if Zollar can sell Notes/Domino, then he can certainly sell iSeries: “He did a fantastic job in selling [Notes]. What can this guy, obviously respecting the iSeries, achieve when he has something really good to sell?”

Leaving aside the issue of sales, Chuck Lewis, manager of IT at Lee Supply Corp., believes that the shuffling of Zollar and Duncan could create two strong advocates for iSeries within IBM. “Having someone that was as good as [Zollar] was at the software group, could be very positive to the iSeries and its profile within IBM, once he sees and understands what an awesome platform it is—if he doesn't already know this. And Buell going over to [developer relations] with his iSeries passion could be a good thing too.”

Over the last several years, iSeries users have increasingly expressed frustration with IBM’s inability to effectively market iSeries, which was called AS/400 prior to Big Blue’s late 2000 eServer re-branding effort.

At least one iSeries user, a software manager with an outsourcing and integration services firm based in the European Union, suggests that even under Duncan, IBM wasn’t able to effectively market iSeries against Windows or Unix. He doesn’t expect Zollar to be any more successful in this regard. “iSeries is a great platform and we all know it, but the word doesn't get out of IBM. Is this something that Al will be able to do? I don't think so. …You need a corporate strategy for it, and a hell of a marketing team … all things IBM is missing.”

IGNITe/400’s Cancilla observes that under Duncan, the iSeries was reinvented as an integration platform par excellence, such that rather than competing with Windows and Unix, it was positioned as a complementary platform that could support Windows or Linux workloads. In addition, he notes, iSeries is poised to be a premier platform for WebSphere. “[Duncan] made a hard push on Windows integration, Linux integration all focused in bringing new users to the iSeries while assisting the existing customer base. His latest initiatives to be announced this month are WebSphere-centric and will probably make the iSeries IBM's premier platform for WebSphere technology."

One iSeries consultant privately expresses a fear that iSeries’ strengths as an integration platform could also be its undoing. He outlines a scenario in which IBM gradually phases out iSeries, per se, in favor of a “plug and play” system capable of running OS/400, Windows, Linux or even AIX. “I think Rochester will become a producer of 'plug and play' boxes, a la Dell, where customers will get a made-to-order system … a little OS/400, a little UNIX (AIX), a little Linux, a little Windows—with the priority on Linux.”

During an interview in November, iSeries product marketing manager Ian Jarman acknowledged that IBM could at some point in the future ship “a server that will run it all” which effectively smudges the notion of distinctions between platforms. “[This future server] could be called iSeries, it could be called pSeries, we don’t know what we’re going to call it yet.”

In August of last year, market research firm Gartner Inc. projected that iSeries sales would fall in 2002 by approximately $1 billion, from nearly $3 billion in 2001 to about $1.9 billion in 2002. Gartner anticipates that iSeries sales will drop by another 10 percent in 2003.

In light of these forecasts and others, IGNITe/400’s Cancilla suggests that Zollar’s management style could be a much-needed shot in the arm for iSeries. “It is my understanding that this is a man who asks his staff what they need to do to be successful, [who] finds the obstacles in their way and removes them. He has a reputation of answering his own telephone, of talking and—more importantly—listening to people, and above all focusing on getting the sales that an IBM general manager is charged with.”

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.