Hard Work
Makes Ready
for Luck

We love a comeback so. Rocky rises from the ring to deliver the knockout punch. Swing music clutters up the charts, confounding attempts to believe teenagers have no musical diversity. Apple announces the iMac, a product that flies off the shelves — after many predicted the company’s demise. Volkswagen has a new Beetle, turning heads with a legend redesigned.

These are signs of respect, something we all crave but cannot demand. “Earn this,” says the captain in Saving Private Ryan, advice that applies to the HP 3000’s bid for a new coat of respect. We see much evidence of earning that respect, as the cream of business computers rises to the top once more.

Three times previously we have used this space to sum up the 3000’s progress. We like to think of our October editorial as a gradecard for the Commercial Systems Division (CSY’s) prior year, as we kick off each fresh volume of the NewsWire. We head into our fourth year bigger than ever, thanks to the comeback we predicted when we started.

We have worked hard, perhaps as hard as you did to keep your 3000s vital to your companies. But like CSY, we owe our success to fortune, too. My partner Dottie Lentz says that “Luck can be a frozen head of lettuce.” Such a thing first brought us together in a supermarket, as I shopped to replace veggies that had freezer burn. First there was love, then business together, now success. It’s a formula the 3000 has followed in its comeback: first customers’ love, then upgrade business. Signs of the success are everywhere.

There’s a saying that a rising tide lifts all ships. We have certainly seen a lot more commerce and confidence flood the tidepools of the 3000 community in the last year. We think someday this comeback will be taught in schools — textbook material on another bromide: The Customer Is Always Right.

When figuring why the HP 3000 didn’t meet the fate predicted for it, that saying is what you should keep in mind. Long before the rubber was meeting the road in the 3000’s sales efforts, customer focus was being stamped out in CSY’s foundry, the engineering department. The architect of the first successful customer focus effort is now leading the division.

Harry Sterling is the leading cause of the 3000’s deliverance from its headsmen, both those inside HP and without. He spent the early part of the decade helping to teach 3000 R&D how to build what customers need. The latter part of the decade he’s spending with customers and HP managers, teaching us how to make business respect a legacy.

We understand that HP is too large a company to lay the 3000’s laurels entirely at one man’s feet. But Sterling appeared as Rocky-like as anybody we’ve watched take a job at Hewlett-Packard. Whispers about his capability were not hard to hear when he started as General Manager at Christmas, 1995. His technical skills were never in doubt, but we recall one former CSY staffer who said “I’ve known a lot of GMs, and he’s not that kind of material.”

The fellow couldn’t have been more right — and for that the 3000 community should be grateful. Instead of believing he’d been consigned to a dungeon of a division, Sterling embraced the most loyal customers in all of HP’s then $30 billion-a-year business. If he didn’t have the analysts, the press or the top HP managers on his side, at least he had customers willing to wait out the storm. So long as he could hear the problems to be solved, he somehow knew what CSY had to do for the customers who had staying power.

He got a break along the way, like many comeback kids. Here in Texas we have a saying from writer J. Frank Dobie: “Luck is being ready for the chance.” The 3000’s chance got created by Microsoft. In the system’s darkest hours, people started to turn away from the 3000’s persecutor, Unix. Windows NT rose as an alternative, and if there could be one Unix alternative, there could be more. CSY was ready enough to stem its customer attrition. Now its sales are at five-year highs.

Another piece of luck lay in the calendar. Few estimated how much pause the Year 2000 would give the world of IT. The pause was just what the 3000 community — a patient and prudent bunch — needed to get in step. Crashing the IT gates with bleeding-edge technology fell from favor. Companies looked for a way to solve the Year 2000 problem, and for many the solution was Use What Ya Got.
Most important in CSY’s comeback was customer relationships. Another saying about good fortune is that, “Your luck is how you treat people.” Those people who invested in HP 3000s were treated like valuable assets, their problems addressed with as much resource as a small HP division could muster. Now it can muster more.

In Sterling’s HP World speech to customers — interrupted five times by applause — he made the case that the HP 3000 is back, and better than ever. He’s right on both counts. We heard challenges for future improvement in that speech as much as thanks to the customers for success.

Fortune did not smile on Sterling, accepting his division’s hard work, simply to provide a bright spot of profit in HP’s darkening financial picture. The 3000 has survived to show others how to respect a legacy. It’s that “better than ever” that sets the system’s goals for the coming year. Texas football legend Darrell Royal said, “Breaks balance out — the sun don’t shine on the same old dog’s rear-end every day.” We’ve watched the sun shift to the 3000 in the last year. Here’s where the work will keep hind-quarters warm:

APPLICATIONS: By now it’s plain that the division doesn’t want a lot of partners — it wants good partners. We always thought that quantity delivers quality, but that’s not going to work in a smaller market. We think that each new-to-the-3000 application supplier for the 3000 deserves at least one arch rival, to spark development. Certainly 3000 customer Hertz wouldn’t lead without Avis to nip at its heels. It appears that manufacturing is ready to foster the broadest choice for 3000 applications in the coming year. That’s fitting, since so many 3000 customers run manufacturing concerns.

TECHNOLOGY: We applaud Sterling’s decision to build an IA-64 HP 3000 with relief, since we’ve advocated it for more than two years. CSY’s decision to add Posix to the HP 3000 is delivering new tech, as Unix utilities and Java come aboard and applications like Netscape’s FastTrack get ported. JDBC will finally link up 3000 databases with the Internet. If you don’t see the technology you need on your 3000, you might wait a bit. If you can’t, you can always trade the 3000’s simplicity and reliability for the adventures of Unix and NT. Most of the 3000 customer base is deploying client-server now. We believe more advanced tech will be ready when you need it.

MANAGEMENT: Why has CSY’s rebound continued into a second fiscal year? We think it’s Sterling’s ability to round out his team. He’s been working the past year with hand-picked leaders at the posts of controller, marketing manager and R&D chief. Each has had positive impact in choosing others and shaking up old habits. CSY now has its first dedicated product marketing manager in two years, and its first Alliance Development Manager ever. They’ll need them all to manage the rising tide of business and bodies in the group. Their challenge is to keep PA-RISC technology current while building that IA-64 3000.

COMMUNICATIONS: Advertising for the system isn’t a blue-moon event anymore, and now third parties are getting in on the fun to trumpet the 3000. This is a task that falls to anybody who sells something for the 3000, not CSY. We’d like to see those manufacturing providers start to spread the word about the 3000 outside the installed base. Sure, new customers don’t really care about what system runs the application. But making success stories known is an easy way to add feathers to the 3000’s cap while selling applications.

Here at the NewsWire we feel lucky, blessed with bounty. We took a chance along with you on the future of the 3000, and we’ve both come out winners. We’re grateful for all the help and support of our sponsors in getting to our third birthday. But we know that like CSY, our own challenges lie ahead. We enjoy the 3000 being back. But better than ever is even more exciting, and we’ll do our work to help you see it happen.

– Ron Seybold