February 2005

Small-market love needs big-gamble investment to win

NewsWire Editorial

It takes spirit to love a small-market team. My wife Abby and I remind each other of this while we watch basketball on TV, the coverage of the pro sport that we both adore. A small-market team, for those whose lives do not include sports, is a team that plays outside the limelight of a big metropolis. No matter how well these teams perform, the sportscasters and former jocks struggle to sing their praises as loudly as the paeans to popular teams. The bigger the team’s town, the more likely you will hear about the players, even when they stink.

Does any of this sound familiar to the HP 3000 customer? In 20 years we have talked to a lot of them who feel overlooked, who have wished HP and its vendors sang the 3000’s praises, or compared it favorably to systems lauded more often.

3000 customers have felt this way since 1984, if not earlier. I only know their stories first-hand from that year onward. The HP 3000 feels like the classic small-market team.

In our lives, we have a few others that we love. The Spurs, just 90 minutes down the Interstate in San Antonio, play in the NBA’s smallest market. If you love football, think Jacksonville. This weekend, when everybody talked about Jacksonville and its first Super Bowl, Abby was gnashing teeth over Steve Nash. He’s a sparkplug who has lifted Phoenix from the ashcan of its previous season to nip at the Spurs, a player who gets more popular with every week. Nash has been hawked as a league MVP for the last two months, a turn of the screw to Abby, my gal in love with our small-market Spurs.

“They want to call him the MVP because if he doesn’t play, his team loses,” she said today. Even with him on the court, San Antonio has thumped Nash’s team twice. The Spurs prevail, in part, because they count on their own MVP, two-time winner Tim Duncan.

Like the HP 3000, Duncan is getting overlooked during the best season in the Spurs history. Like the computer that holds a sweet spot in your hearts and memories, Duncan is reliable, redoubtable, and revered. Not flashy at all, just doing his work at the highest level of success. He wears two NBA title rings.

“Meanwhile,” Abby says, “our star isn’t the MVP, because he could sit out awhile, and we’d still win. What’s up with that? We’re deep and good, and those other teams aren’t.”

I smile when she calls from the bank drive-thru to tell me this. Much as it stings, I can see why the big-market players like Shaq get the MVP raves. Even Phoenix, where Nash dazzles this year, is a much bigger market than San Antonio.

But sports, unlike computer commerce, can reward the best teams and the players on them, even if they run in the smallest, least popular markets. I smile and nod my head, because Abby’s right. The value of any player should spring from how good they make their team.

In the computer business, it’s different. A system like the HP 3000 brings skills to its court that outstrip the bigger-market alternatives. A database like IMAGE will flat-out beat any SQL database on speed, when everything else is equal.

But that didn’t matter to enough customers to keep HP in the 3000 game.

Then there’s the length of service of the computer. Lots of 3000 systems, as well many MPE installations, are older than 10 years. The investment return on the 3000 has been profound.

Investments are most serious to small-market owners and fans. Money is shorter in smaller places.

Sound familiar, you small businesses?

San Antonio and its outlying cities and towns can only root for the Spurs as their big-league team. It’s the only such game in the town. When Tim was considering whether to re-sign with the team a few years back, the city’s barbershops and dry cleaners and groceries and SUV windows were crowded with one common sign.

Stay, Tim, Stay.

So personal was the small market’s passion that he remained in the smallest market. The owner knew the value of spirit. He gave Tim a rich increase in salary, an investment that stretched his budget and the conventions of small markets.

The city’s fans responded by investing taxes in a new arena for the only game in town.

That kind of investment gamble lies in front of many of you. After “Stay, Tim, Stay,” the next five years saw similar player investments to build a team so deep that no single player drives it to success. Think Patriots, if you’re a football fan. Think HP 3000, IMAGE and MPE if you’re an IT manager. Not flashy. Solid, driven by a customer base that’s old-school, like the Spurs’ coach.

It’s not easy loving something that isn’t celebrated by everyone. We know. We’re Mac users here, and so that means most of our business colleagues and partners roll their eyes when we talk about the Mac’s advantages to our business.

Some of you are as frustrated as Abby sounded in that bank line. I heard the same dismay from a computer manager who works for a very large manufacturer, a company with a single numeral and one letter to make up its name. Forty HP 3000s run around the world for that company, churning on 15-year-old ERP software, customized expertly, preserving business logic. The company’s business earns a handsome profit, year after year.

“I just don’t think they understand how much it’s going to cost us to replace these systems,” the manager said. “Has HP decided to change its mind about the 3000?”

I could hear the wish in his voice, fervent as Abby’s desire to see Duncan revered across the league like he is around Central Texas. His town and the team are rare among sports, much like the 3000’s community stands out among computer users. At a Spurs game you’re likely to see row after row of blue uniforms, the Air Force troops just training to serve at the city’s bases, some ready to go to war. We take off our caps while they salute during the national anthem. Old-school oaths, like the decades’ worth of military before them.

On the court, the players hail from all over the world. Serbia. France. The Virgin Islands. Argentina. And America, too. Diversity is reflected in the seats, with all the colorful faces looking on, cheering their only game in town. This season their team has lost just once in front of them.

The coach is old-school, because he coddles no millionaire on that court. He yells at them in games, demands their best in practice. The youngest player, who signed a $66 million contact last fall, laughed about the scoldings they get from “Pop.” The team struggled last night, blowing a big lead before winning, giving us a scare before righting itself. But Pop’s kids are so winning this season that he’ll get to manage the West All-Stars in this month’s NBA mid-season exhibition.

“We figured Pop was trying to throw the game,” the young player joked, explaining why he let them fight their way out of a jam last night. “If we’d lost, he wouldn’t have had to coach the All-Star game.”

Abby and I laughed. Pop won’t be able to go old-school in that exhibition game. He’ll have to coddle the unfamiliar. That’s an experience you’re working through, too, with your new environments striving to meet old-school ideas of value.

I had to tell that IT manager the truth, hard as it was for him to hear. “No, HP won’t change its mind,” I said. “But that doesn’t prove your systems aren’t any good anymore. You know their value.”

I told him that his company was facing some serious investments around its HP 3000s. To prepare for the future we’re all making changes, digging deeper. What’s new can be preserving something the old school with new resources, more out on your own. Or it can mean restarting the journey to another system, like Virginia International Terminals did. Along the way they had a business boom, which put migration on hold. Now their migration journey is longer than they planned.

Steve Nash could well be the MVP choice for this year, or the popular Shaq. Popularity is only one measure of success. If you feel like that IT manager in Louisiana, who told us he nearly cried when he turned off his 3000 last fall, invest in your future beforehand. Train. Rejuvenate. Connect. Plan.

Few of us taste success without such investment. Keep the coals hot under the soaring spirit that demands, “What’s up with that?” Ask those questions in your journey. Value can be a personal thing, something that might be different and still the best. Bring your old-school values to whatever is new in your life.

— Ron Seybold

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