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December 2000

Be thankful you know the Way

NewsWire Editorial

Last month I learned that traveling far can help show how well you stay on course. It was a lesson I watched in Europe, both from my partner Abby, and from HP 3000 customers and partners like you.

It has been an interesting month, full of drama. In Dublin I “sagged” for Abby as she slashed through driving rain, wind and cold to finish the Dublin City Marathon. The race pushed more than 9,000 entrants through the worst weather in its 21-year history, with temperatures below 40 at race start and winds that gusted to 20 mph. More than 1,800 did not finish, but Abby did — in large part because she knew the way, both in her head and in her generous heart.

Dublin’s marathon is run through the city streets, where traffic speeds on the opposite side of US roads. In its first hours the race course was clearly marked off, with traffic cones and plenty of police to clear the path. It reminded me of the HP 3000 customers’ course in the earliest part of my experience, when they knew what to build and run, and on which machine. HP was glad to tell them, because that was before the days of open systems.

It only took 30 minutes for the rains to begin after the starting horn in Dublin. Abby’s racewalk — about half the entrants walked some part of the 26.2 miles, many for charities like Abby’s Arthritis Foundation — lasted a little less than nine hours. More than half that time the rains poured. With a wind chill of about 31 degrees, this year’s race became known as “the day of suffering” in the Dublin papers, while TV commentators said “this race will feel more like 30 miles.”

The 3000 customers know a lot about a hard course, too. They hear from colleagues that their computer is a relic, or that Microsoft will conquer all, so why bother? Suggesting their systems can deliver e-service reliably and cost effectively is a good way to draw a scoff from under-informed consultants. Sometimes, even HP’s people don’t know the story of the 3000’s e-renaissance.

But in Europe, far from the e3000’s California headquarters, customers look as undaunted as Abby did at Mile 18. Eyes drawn close on the path ahead, she waved me off as I rejoined her to provide more sag: water, carbo-gel or fresh socks. “I’m in the zone,” she said, and waved me off to the finish line, miles across Dublin. The rains redoubled, but she kept her soaked shoes moving on the wet cobblestones.

There was no official race support by this time of day, more than four hours after the winners had crossed the line. Traffic cones and barriers had been pulled from the streets, and marathoners had to step quickly around traffic coming at them in the deepening dark. It was each walker’s desire and faith versus the elements in their way. Even direction signs got pulled down as souvenirs, so walkers had to rely on maps and directions from Dubliners.

This felt like the part of the 3000 customer’s path while the system’s future disappeared. All talk was about Unix or NT a few years back.

But in Amsterdam, I saw people in charge of 3000s like Peter Herpich at Germany’s Lindauer-Dornier give the same kind of reply as Abby did. They were in the zone, committed to keeping a business investment intact, instead of dropping off the reliability path. Herpich, the star of the Let’s Go e! Seminar in Amsterdam, has managed the 3000s at his firm for 21 years. Now he’s got half of his parts orders for complex looms arriving over the Web, all being serviced through his e3000s.

In Europe I saw customers who knew the Way, the e3000 Way, as well as Abby knew hers through that dark, wet Dublin day. There was the path, and then persistence, for her and for 3000 users. There was once an HP Way, but that’s all changed by now, a product haven now evolving into share price manger. There remains a 3000 Way, showing unwavering dedication to preserving investment by keeping an open mind about a legendary product.

Even near the finish, obstacles rise up unexpectedly. At Mile 25 one of the thousands of plastic trash bags the runners wore against the rain whipped through the air. It fell under Abby’s feet, and she went down hard on hands and a knee. She told herself she wasn’t stopping, even through her pain.

Late in customers’ 3000 evolution paths, the trash of IT politics can sweep under their feet. We still hear of major accounts slipping on the pressure to switch to better-known solutions for Web business. Competitors like IBM and Sun never give up, even after repeated losses to the 3000 Way. These late shifts can come after months of tech research and field trials. You get up and keep moving through this fear of failure, when you know the Way.

There’s a knowing in the head for things, and then the knowing in the heart. I stood at the finish line in the dark and knew about when Abby might appear, judging by her pace and passion. But it was my heart that truly believed in her arrival, knowing her months of sacrifice, the subjugation of her fears. Then there was that moment of relief, when her coach Nina Buecler grabbed my elbow and said, “There she is!” Appearing in the long alleyway, she’d thrown off the $5 poncho that probably saved her from the elements, striding quick to improve her time.

Through a strange city many time zones apart from Austin, Abby finished her first marathon. It wasn’t the easy way, with poor weather, jet lag and a race that all but closed by the time she finished. Europe offered a special challenge to her, and so, more dramatic rewards. Nina and I had to scramble to provide post-race nutrients, heat and shelter when race organizers had left, providing none. Abby survived on less than the leaders had received.

It can feel that way for a 3000 customer too, at times — no accolades from national trade journals, no confidence from analysts’ reports, and fewer applications and tools than other platforms. This is where knowing the Way brings you success, the course of continuous service and conservation of resources. In this season we give thanks for those who know their Way to the future. We’ll do our best to shine a light on how they get to the finish, to help others with heart to follow.

— Ron Seybold 


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