The All-Stars have a storied history. They packed a brochure of more than 80 pages with applications in the 1983 season, programs that ran under MPE. The All-Stars' 1980s were a lot like the 1950s for the Yankees -- a deep farm system of small software suppliers working toward the big leagues. There's no point in thinking those fat seasons mean much today, however. It's a lot like thinking Nolan Ryan could come in and log a few more strikeouts for the Rangers.
Yes, times have changed in the computer industry, and running a software company is a thoroughly different proposition than it was 10 years ago. CSY kept coming to the plate in the early 90s, taking their cuts at companies like 4GL maker Progress Software and manufacturing maven SAP. Unix was on everyone's lips, and the prospects for new applications on the 3000 invariably asked themselves if getting into the 3000 market was a way to jump on board that popular Unix train.
Did the 3000 have anything to do with Unix during those seasons? The answer was both good news and bad: no, and no. Good news for the customers of the 3000 -- it didn't have much to do with Unix, and so it could be made productive with a fraction of the resources needed for Unix. Bad news for the application candidates, who looked at the size of the 3000 market relative to the promises of Unix and blew fastballs past the All-Stars.
CSY recently started telling the story of one of its most famous strikeouts during those seasons, the at-bat with SAP. The story, which general manager Harry Sterling recounts in detail on our Web site and in the May Q&A interview, shows that SAP threw a loaded pitch at CSY. HP paid for a lot of engineering in Germany to get R3 running on a 3000, then the manufacturer turned tail on its promises to provide the application to HP 3000 customers. Progress also backed away from commitments.
What HP has apparently learned from these strikeouts is that it can't face big league pitching anymore. We've been asking what CSY can do to encourage the delivery of applications for MPE/iX. The latest answer from Sterling is "nothing." It's as if they've pulled the team out of the game and headed for the showers, content to let the HP-UX and NT squads take their cuts for them.
The CSY managers now justify this removal from the applications game by assuring HP 3000 customers they can get what they need for applications by installing HP 9000s and Windows NT servers. The Supplement strategy is quite the darling inside CSY now, since it means they don't have to face those fastballs anymore. I wonder if the strategy is as popular with a majority of their customers. It means you need to put mission-critical programs on less reliable platforms. Sure, about 40 percent of HP 3000 customers probably have a Unix or NT system installed somewhere in their enterprises. But put mission-critical work on it, after you've enjoyed the stability and productivity of a 3000 for applications? After far more hours nursing things like e-mail administration and grappling with Oracle configurations, it's got to feel like a minor leaguer swinging at Ryan's best heaters.
It's time for CSY to get back up to the plate and swing for some applications growth for the HP 3000. Sure, business has changed in the software markets, but it's continuing to change. All those companies that grooved fat pitches for the Unix market are now tossing in with NT. Nothing's permanent in this industry except one thing: an application that works. Just try getting Transact out of shops where there are millions of lines of high-productivity code. Transact was prominent in that 1983 brochure of HP 3000 solutions.
After learning that the 3000 wasn't making the cut with applications suppliers in the early 90s, it now feels like HP isn't willing to face those fastballs anymore. They'd be facing the heaters on behalf of the majority of their 3000 customers who don't want to put Unix or NT to work in mission-critical jobs. In spite of what you may be hearing these days, well over half of all 3000 shops aren't using Unix. HP qualifies its figures by saying that the majority of its "active" 3000 customers are Supplement shops. Those "passive" customers deserve some attention on HP's behalf, lest they become someone else's customer when they need to replace their applications.
The potential for a CSY hit with new applications providers has probably diminished. Swinging for home runs like SAP is a good way to strike out. I think customers would appreciate a few clean singles with smaller companies who want to focus on a market where they don't have to hire a legion of support wizards to keep their customers happy. It certainly seems to work for the customers who've invested in the 3000.
I propose the CSY All-Stars start small, step in and take their cuts like the big leaguers who don't bat in every situation. They call these batters pinch hitters in baseball, because the percentages work in their favor in certain situations. Here's a good situation: a company that doesn't want to pursue Unix or NT because its too expensive to support after the sale, and there's too much competition from massive software companies. Software is one of the fastest growing industries in the world. There's got to be some situations like that out there. Not everybody is going to succeed at the NT market, I can tell you. Microsoft's model is encouraging only the big players. As for Unix, I wouldn't want to be throwing those pitches today, now that NT is making them look high and outside.
Let's get a batter to the plate, HP. Just one experienced manager in CSY whose job, full time, is to find the situations where an MPE/iX application makes great market sense. Strikeouts aren't any reason to stop playing, and you'll get fewer of them if you stop swinging for the fences. The Supplement ball game won't work for a lot of the customers. It's opening day, and time to play ball.
-- Ron Seybold