some rich pie
for the 3000

It’s hard to carve up a pie that’s not on your table. That’s the way the manufacturing entree must look to some of the many HP 3000 sites using the server. We recently read that the HP 3000 division (CSY) advocates getting a big bite out of smaller pies for the system. We’re wondering if one of those application pies is manufacturing, or if CSY’s plate is too full with growing slices of insurance/healthcare and direct mail.

See, manufacturing is a recipe that’s already providing sustenance to HP 3000 owners around the world. After years of watching companies make everything from seeds to cereals to Swiss Army Knife blades using HP 3000s, we think CSY ought to be cooking up plans to cut a fresh slice from the manufacturing pie. I toss dough in my own kitchen, so I believe that what makes great pie is good crust, a fresh container. There’s a perception that much of what’s available off the shelf for MPE/iX is stale, and fresher solutions often don’t use the HP 3000.

There’s work afoot to change this, but from modest-sized firms. We’ll take a moment to salute eXegeSys, the group of former HP folks who vow to give MM II fresh legs. One of the things we like best about the plucky company is that they’re not hedging their bets with NT or Unix applications. After MANMAN, MM II is the most widely installed manufacturing solution on HP 3000s. Some say it may even be running in more shops. eXegeSys is good for 3000 manufacturing, and we’d like to see it get all the help it wants from CSY. Its only weakness, for the moment, is that it’s not a big, VP of Finance-impressing firm. There are places where even fresh legs won’t win the business, unless they carry a big company.

We also want to note that even with less-than-fresh solutions, the 3000 is succeeding at many places which build things. Our favorite story is the one that subscriber Terry Simpkins tells about the many divisions of Lucas Control Systems Products he has running on one HP 3000. Simpkins has unplugged remote servers from manufacturing processes and put plenty of factories online with MANMAN, running on his multiprocessor HP 3000. Some of those unplugged were Unix systems, too.

But for every 3000 manufacturing manager with the guts and common sense of Simpkins, or holding out for the eXegeSys improvements, we believe there are two who need a solution from what manufacturing analyst Cortlandt Wilson calls the BOPS companies: Baan, Oracle, PeopleSoft or SAP. Those IT managers don’t really want a BOPS package today, because they can’t host it on their HP 3000. BOPS means lots of change in the IT department, relying on the not-quite-always-online Windows NT or the throw-hardware-at-it-until-it-stays-online Unix platforms.

These non-3000 systems are working alongside many HP 3000s, but when Unix or NT go down or need elaborate maintenance, hundreds of line workers and robotics units don’t go idle. That’s why the 3000 is still in charge of the factory line. Up in the boardroom, the financial managers look for software suppliers who are big and well-known, and by now they want everything in the company’s information structure tied into manufacturing.

That kind of strategy calls for a lot of integration, something that smaller suppliers of 3000 software like MANMAN’s MK Group are just starting to jump-start. MK used to be an arm of the too-often-rude Computer Associates – and even in its prior life as The ASK Group the company wasn’t quick in joining forces with outside companies. MK is still learning to play with other suppliers, while the BOPS own the game ball for such integration.

Some people believe that the HP 3000 choices for manufacturing need a refresh if the system is to remain the linchpin at manufacturing sites. If you don’t, you can look at customers who have already moved on in spirit, keeping their 3000 applications alive while planning replacements on other platforms. We hope that CSY sees manufacturing as a pie worth cutting into again, and that the division can do something to attract one of the BOPS to MPE/iX.

It’s come close in the past. The legend of running SAP on German HP 3000s until the software supplier pulled the plug has been told often enough. Perhaps one of the other companies among these four leaders can be shown the potential in the MPE market. Midsize companies, the 3000’s long suit, can’t make SAP work without lots of struggle and expense. During the last week we heard that Baan purchased CODA, a maker of financials for the HP 3000 and AS/400s. Now that Baan has some MPE experience inside its organization, perhaps the Baan software could be moved onto MPE/iX with some assistance from HP, both marketing and technical.

Yes, we know that HP has moved out of the manufacturing application business, selling off its interests in MM II to eXegeSys. We don’t want to sell anybody’s efforts short here; we’re glad someone is finally refurbishing MM II. But a name-brand manufacturing solution, supported on multiple platforms, could do even more to stem the attrition of 3000s from factories. It could even win new business for HP 3000s. Giving MM II fresh legs will help in that – but nobody knows if it will help soon enough. MANMAN might be enough, if the MK Group can integrate soon enough. To many, the old knives seem dull, unable to cut the pie.

CSY can talk about carving up smaller pies. We’d like to see them order up a serving from one of the BOPS, pointing to the appetite of the 3000’s vast base of well-known manufacturers – 3M, Chrysler, Ford, General Mills, Procter & Gamble, Boeing. Manufacturing is rich pie that can sustain a market a long time, the sort of sustenance well matched to a market which has 25 years of success.

– Ron Seybold