What's eating at your HP 3000?

NewsWire Editorial

Prejudice dies a slow death. When rash judgement swoops toward your HP 3000 systems, it can take a long time to bat it away. Having facts at hand sometimes isn't enough. Perception is a malleable thing, but you've got to keep hammering at it.

Hewlett-Packard is in the perception-changing business these days. Some of that business concerns your HP 3000 directly, some indirectly. HP believes that minds need to be changed. The HP 3000 is a great choice for enterprise computing, and HP isn't trailing the pack in Internet strategy. Big changes, to those who have already judged.

Prejudice is rarely fair judgement, coming in the absence of facts and first-hand experience. This unfairness should motivate those with faith in their investments. As for the rest of the HP 3000 customers, they should at least be attentive to the debate over which server will work best for their company's mission-critical business. Every once in a while the faithful are rewarded.

The HP 3000 faithful got such a reward recently through a survey. Computerworld checked on 100 customers who use what the newspaper likes to call legacy systems. They wanted to know how soon they were going to abandon systems like AS/400s and Digital VAXes. The newspaper was surprised to learn that almost two thirds of these companies wouldn't predict a day of demise for their legacy systems. In spite of the Windows NT and Unix media juggernaut, not many companies using proven technology wanted to leap into less proven technologies.

Reality had reared its ugly, unpredicatable head. If HP 3000s had been included in the survey, the number certainly would have been higher than two thirds. As it was, the HP 3000s illustrated the point of the survey far better than any numbers. Good managers know that evolution is cheaper than revolution.

When many companies couldn't find a compelling reason to shift away from their installed systems to the wonders of Unix or NT -- well, this catapulted the story onto Computerworld's front page in early December.

This follows a journalism formula as old as printing itself. First you find something new, which goes a long way toward making it newsworthy. Long ago it was LANs, then Unix, then Windows NT and now the Internet. You promote the new idea by taking everyone's expectations for it and presenting them as if they were facts.

If the rage de jour promises to displace something that's well-established, that's even better. Now the adoption rate becomes the story, as you're told how popular the new technology or tool has become. The only thing that's being measured is a company's willingness to try something, but those trials are presented as successes.

Later, when the promises plummet, the other half of the formula is executed. The counterpoint to rage de jour is fall from grace, as Windows NT, SAP's R/3 or client-server is debunked. Those now pulling down the technology from its pedestal are quoted in tones of outrage: "We believed in this technology, but it didn't deliver what we hoped for."

What technology could, considering that buildup? Few, when enthusiasm is fueled by a formula that lauds what's new at the expense of what's not. Only a few types of stories get written to a general audience. Rage de jour and fall from grace apply to many. Journalism, with its overheated appetite for things new, doesn't often tell stories about established successes.

This makes the HP 3000's latest front page appearance all the more remarkable. But buried inside the obvious satisfaction of its speakers was the formula, dressed in different garb. This is the Believe It or Not formula. It's used when the facts don't fit the prejudice, but the story needs to be written anyway. Whatever happens, it's treated like an abberation. Rage de jour is extrapolated over the 99 percent of everybody not on the bandwagon. Using the believe it or not formula means you don't assume anybody else is cutting against the grain.

Despite what we know about formula journalism, we still play our role. The NewsWire gets called on to comment on occasion, and I do my best to make a case for how many of you cut against the grain to make your companies more successful. Mainstream journalism demands brevity. The most interesting thing you say might not involve the point you were trying to make. You'll be quoted on the former, while the latter is less likely to have an impact.

So several customers talk about how superior their HP 3000s are to other systems, but the summary is that other computers are being marketed more aggressively. The implication is that a customer's success today doesn't count as much as tomorrow's sales pitch. And the absence of $20,000-per-week ads is given as proof of which computer is best suited for mission-critical business.

That colored ink and paper won't help you sleep through the night when your company runs its computers around the clock. There may be a rising tide of Unix and NT systems, but their true cost is rarely discussed. Software can be hard to come by for some MPE/iX applications, but then quantity doesn't assure quality -- especially if you're wading through lesser products to get to those that are suitable. Vendor support and pressure from management are intangibles, something that's presented through prejudice and filtered through fears.

Those are the things eating at your HP 3000: prejudice and fears. Some say the HP 3000 is no longer actively marketed. The appearance of the system at last month's Internet World show floor -- where it was surrounded by curious managers wondering how they'd missed a system so compelling -- flies in the face of such a claim. There are those who think the $20,00-per-week ads are fundamental to marketing. I'd sooner put that much money into direct contact with customers. Judging from the 126 percent of sales quota posted by the HP 3000 division in 1996, it would appear direct customer contract is working even better than expected.

Predicting more of the same, like the exodus of development and marketing dollars, doesn't demonstrate objectivity. It's prejudice against what's not new. In the NewsWire we have our own brand of prejudice. We're skeptical of what's unproven, the solution that advocates revolution instead of evolution.

Don't let the formula that creates a cancer of confidence eat away at your HP 3000's capacity to succeed. Make your 1997 resolution simple: take the initiative to say at least once this year, "you can quote me on that." Do your part to send those rages de jour into their fall from grace.

-- Ron Seybold

Copyright 1996, The 3000 NewsWire. All rights reserved.