Last weekend I sat in a circle with some near strangers and expressed my desires out loud. We had to tell our friends in acting class how old we were, what we wanted, what we needed and how we felt. It was a great exercise, because we stepped back into our lives at different points (age 35, age 21, age 15 and age 5) to answer the same questions. One of the great things about it was that it made us think about how our needs differed from our wants.
This month the HP 3000 community might do well to think about the same things. After being told what you'll get from HP in the next three years, you can decide for yourself whether your needs and wants will be met by the offerings from CSY. While you're deciding, remember the extraordinary longevity of your computer systems. Keep in mind that not only does the 3000 celebrate its 25th year of business service this year, but programs written at the system's launch can still run on today's hardware.
It's hard to think of another system that offers that kind of longevity and information protection. (I can't come up with one, but HP thinks a few of the older mainframes might qualify). While the HP 3000 has assimilated nearly every new technology in the last quarter century, the things it's best known for are far less sexy -- staying online, staying useful, staying compatible.
There are some customers out there who can trace their HP 3000 experience back to that first year. If those customers were to play that acting game, they might provide answers like this:
Age 2 (1974): I need a system that stays online more often. I want a system with more tools. I feel like a rebel not using IBM.
Age 9: (1981) I need a computer with more horsepower. I want a computer with more packaged software. I feel smart because I'm providing an alternative to batch.
Age 15: (1987) I need 32-bit computing. I want networking that talks to other systems. I feel impatient waiting for my Spectrum.
Age 20: (1992) I need better client-server tools for my database. I want more attention from HP's management. I feel like I'm being left behind.
Age 25: I need Internet connectivity and links to NT. I want more applications and development tools. I feel like my 3000 is my best system, but not all I need.
After the strategic TV broadcast, I'm sitting here in the absence of your comments, wondering how close that last set of needs, wants and feelings is to yours. For some customers, the absence of an IA-64 chip for the 3000 will be hard medicine. For others, knowing that MPE/iX isn't going to 64 bits will signal a decline in the system. But HP is betting that not very many of its customer base is feeling that way. I'm willing to bet along with them.
People don't talk about the future very easily. They know what they want, and what they need and sometimes how they feel. In our acting exercise it was easy to know our wants, needs and feelings, because we were going over our past. But nobody was willing to bet on what they'd need in five years.
Information systems management isn't so easy. It demands that you know what your needs will be in the next century, while you spend lots of energy fixing what's not working today. It feels safer to ask for the latest thing, even if you don't know what good it will bring you.
Yes, if I were a product architect or a software engineer at HP I might want to be working on the latest thing. It will be interesting to see how the CSY division will keep its very best talent, now that the IA-64 challenges will be happening outside its doors. I'm betting the very best will stay, because they understand that working closely with customers is far better experience for your career than working with the latest wizardry.
The latest thing matters far less for many of those customers, the managers whose job is to keep information flow a useful thing for their companies. Their job is fix what's broken, learn what's needed and meet the challenges of their businesses. Many of you are doing an amazing job of being productive, clever and efficient without the latest tools. You're unwilling to introduce chaos into your companies for the sake of working with the rage de jour.
There are those managers whose jobs are built around installing every new thing they read about. They have impressive resumes and private cell phone numbers of headhunters, but their employers may get less value than they anticipate from their whistle stops.
Those managers don't know any more about the measured benefits of IA-64, or a 64-bit operating system, than you do. Nobody does, really. In business information systems the important question is not what you want, but what you need. And not many of the 3000 customers that HP has talked with really need those 64-bit things. They need a safe operating system for their programs, because their applications will need some Year 2000 attention very soon -- and nobody wants to worry about the operating system at the same time they're slugging through thousands of lines of COBOL.
You need horsepower, and you need a bigger memory space for ever-larger programs. A 64-bit MPE would bring that, as well as the first division of the customer base during those 25 years. Those of you who enjoy managing just one environment would find yourselves managing two, HP says, both under the 3000 nameplate. That's a complexity that could threaten the 3000's chief asset -- it's simplicity and elegance.
The solutions HP announced this month will give its customers what they need for the near term. Shareplex will obviously need a lot of attention to become an alternative to a faster single processor with a 64-bit operating system. Now that there's no other way for HP 3000 customers to get that power, Shareplex and NetBase are likely to get a lot more users. HP believes that's what the solution really needs -- user experience.
That's typical of the thinking inside CSY these days. Rather than reach for technology that nobody gets to see until its delivered, the HP 3000 division knows what makes the products better are the people who use them in business. It's up to you to decide what the roadmap for the rest of the decade will mean to your HP 3000 commitment. We'll be working hard to capture as many of your comments as possible for our next issue. Those wants, needs and feelings make up the life of a computer customer, too.
-- Ron Seybold