Three trades, two firings, but no future
We love sports at my house. Abby and I spend many happy hours talking about baseball, reading about basketball, sitting at games. Between those two sports theres always something playing out, although July can be a lean month for meaningful stories. This past sporting month, however, felt like that fateful November in 2001 when your 3000 community was full of news, little of it good. Sometimes when things get different in a hurry, it can take a bloodhound to uncover why theyre a-changin.
Longer than my partnership with my gal, and even outlasting my coverage of the 3000, stands my support of the baseball team in Cincinnati, a few hours by car from where I grew up. The Reds have given me more than a few great seasons, and others to endure. Last month the team began to look like it was reading off the HP 3000 history pages as it tried to turn around a losing season.
The last week of July has become important in baseball, as crucial as any end of year closing in a 3000 customers accounting department. Late July is also about money in baseball. Thats when teams that abandon their chance of winning can be seen firing and dumping management and players. Those are a pair of moves your community is facing this year. I can only hope youve got more of a future planned out than the Reds brain trust.
Before lunchtime on the weeks first day, the ownership fired the teams general manager and its manager. Thats like giving the ax to the CEO and the president of a company on the same day. In the Reds funhouse, both of these fellows knew their demise might be near, though. Theyd been playing a bad hand dealt to the team by poor management of payroll, and a wallet snapped tighter than a preachers top collar button on a Sunday morning. Things werent working out in Cincinnati, but the top management had much more to do with the losses than anybody who got canned on the first day.
You saw something like this in your community, when years of soft-selling and underfunding in R&D came home to roost in HPs 3000 business. Like that baseball GM and the Reds manager, customers were expecting HP to fail on the 3000s behalf. The flurry of development that started with GM Harry Sterlings term was late. HPs embrace of the Itanium technology came even later. We dont even have to talk about recruiting and maintaining software partners for MPE, do we?
So the oldest head in HPs computer lineup rolled in November of 2001, though nobody expected the move at that time. Hadnt HP just introduced the N-Class for the 3000? Wasnt that merger, with its product purges a certain second act, still months away? No matter. Your system got fired from HPs organization, with a five-year severance.
Firing can be a blessing, sometimes. It can let an organization start fresh, with new ideas. Even those that get the boot can find better ways to advance, kicked loose from obsolete structures. If the 3000 got fired by HP, well, the community could always gather itself and move on without the second-biggest vendor in the world. HP was a lot smaller when the 3000 was most successful. When I started covering HP in 1984 a pretty good year for the computer you could call up just six PR reps for the company and get news on just about anything HP made.
Some of the 3000s customers didnt even let the firing affect them. One part of the community already was moving away from the 3000. They cant use a computer the vendor wont back with its full resources. These sites believe in HPs future for computing, and they want to be part of whats being called the Adaptive Infrastructure.
For these sites, seeing their platform get the ax was like us Reds fans watching a GM and manager get fired after a team lost a lot of games and fell out of the race for the playoffs. The system wasnt working for these customers the way they planned anymore: no vendor support, no development for the latest technology. Like these customers, us Reds fans could understand and accept the new direction. Better field leadership might give us hope. An HP at last savvy to market forces could give some hope to an IT manager whod watched the company boot the MPE ball some time ago.
Like the HP 3000 customers, though, us Reds fans watched insult heaped upon our losses. On the next three days the team traded away its best hitter, its only All-Star, and the most dependable pitcher. In return the Reds got some prospects, and of course, cash. Reds fans are now red-hot, as angry as 3000 customers who saw their future cut off with no warning at all.
The realities of small-market computer platforms and small-market baseball are not that different. The Reds owners didnt have enough faith to dip into the red for a few years and borrow to build a team of the future. HP made a similar decision about the 3000 a couple of summers ago, while it cooked up its merging future.
Nobody expects HP to change its mind about the mistake it made over the HP 3000. But there remain some things the company can do now to make its mistake easier on its customers. Everybody, regardless of whether theyre homesteading or leaving the 3000, could benefit from these things, requests the customers have been making for a year.
Instead of telling customers they need to present a business case for these requests, HP just needs to do the right thing now, while it can make a difference. Rather than trade away the top hitter, the vendor can give the older development machines a little more life by making MPE/iX 7.0 run on them. The release used to run on 9x7s. Make it do so again, and stop trading away months of time for weeks of sales. Instead of focusing on how many will buy systems from HP in just 10 more weeks, its time to think of the customers future.
Like the Reds best pitcher, the power in the A-Class systems doesnt need any more impassioned customer pleas in order to be set free. Let those computers run as fast as they can when sales end on Oct. 31. Nobodys earlier purchase at an higher price point kept HP from offering a better deal to later-buying customers. Slowing down a computer you dont sell any more is as silly as selling off the pitcher who closes out the game for the win every night.
HP shouldnt be tempted to trade out its MPE support business, simply by letting that resource go to seed and cutting costs for cash. Customers are already doing their own firings, giving HP the gate when they see how much the support help has declined. This isnt about to turn around, so its time to get serious about empowering the independent businesses who are backing HPs customers already. Internal documentation and SS_CONFIG arent going to have any value to an HP wrapped up in Adaptive Infrastructure. Let these things flow to the customers instead of keeping them locked behind legal vaults.
The fans of MPE, whose investment in HPs RISC was often powered by faith in the future, dont deserve to see this All-Star of an environment kept out of the OpenMPE lineup any longer, either. Its tough out there in the business world, and nobodys predicting a rapid rebound. Give the 3000 experts who are hungry for work this year something to build up again, and release that source code where it can do good for HPs customers once more.
All of this comparison to sport may get tiresome for readers who dont cheer at a slam dunk or follow a box score. The thing is, sport gives us winners, losers, human spirit and analysis along with avarice, incompetence, and broken promises, on the bad days. Those sound to me like the elements of business, and so I reach for these allegories often.
This season is over in Cincinnati perhaps the next one beyond that, as the owners struggle toward doing the right thing for fans whose tax money helped build a stunning new park there this year. But the season of hope for the 3000 community those staying, and those who need more time to leave isnt over yet. It seems like a good trade: customer good will, for a real future for an open MPE, and maybe a purchase of an HP system to be named later.
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