| Front Page s.html| News Headlines | Technical Headlines | Planning Features | Advanced Search |
  MB Foster Associates Sponsor Message

George Stachnik
Webcast Host
HP Commercial Systems Division


Restarting HP's 3000 Broadcast News

George Stachnik has exposed a lot of himself for the 3000 community, and he’s been repaid in popularity. The ebullient engineer first appeared on the 3000 scene in the late 1980s, when he took over hosting duties from Winston Prather for an internal HP broadcast to its Service Engineers. More than 11 years later, Stachnik has returned to the HP 3000 Commercial Systems Division (CSY) to prepare and host a series of Webcasts about new 3000 capability, rejoining a division that Prather now leads as general manager. The GM was modest in describing the way he handed over his hosting duties years ago in those satellite broadcasts, beamed to the SEs from HP’s studios. “I learned what it was like to sit in front of the camera and see the little red light go on, and not remember who you are,” Prather joked about those duties, a program he started. “George came along because they realized they needed some real talent.”

While this computer of nearly three decades has a lot of advocates inside HP and out, Stachnik’s work in front of cameras, microphones and crowds over the past decade and more could be the most public evangelism the 3000 has received. When we heard he was returning to CSY late last fall, the news carried the scent of rebounding fortunes for the server’s community. Stachnik was on the air promoting the 3000’s strengths in an era when its future was far from certain. In a time when that issue is receding, we asked him to talk about what he’ll be advocating and how, after spending a few years in the wide wilderness of Windows NT. His monthly Webcast for those customers gave him ideas on how to bring the Internet into the service of 3000 customer training, and he’s begun to host shows for the community, starting with a set of product rollout briefings for resellers and sold-out shows for customers on the new A- and N-Class boxes. Bringing his seasoned skills through new technology to old customers, Stachnik seems happy to come home to the part of HP that is its most customer-focused neighborhood.

What have you learned that can help the 3000 community in your years at the Netserver (NSD) HP division?

In the NSD I was interested in communicating service and support information to the internal support community. I was very interested in using the Web media. With the [satellite] TV shows, one of the problems was that they cost so much. With the Internet, we can get stuff out far more cheaply. We should be able to undertake a regularly scheduled hour-long program, the main target of which is getting out the technical background for the 3000’s new technologies.

Working for NSD was marketing a much more mainstream product. How did the experience help you approach your return to CSY?

When you work for CSY for a long time, you see the problems it faces and think, “I’m so sick of getting somebody to listen to us. I’ll bet if I went to work for the NT division, everybody would be chafing at the bit to hear about the technology we put together.” You go to work at a division where HP is an industry leader in that segment, you think it will magically solve all your problems. One of the first things I learned at the NT division is they have exactly the same problems to overcome CSY does.

Their resellers are by and large not HP-specific the way ours are here in the CSY world. In NT-land, you’re always fighting for an extra few percent of resellers’ mindshare. It was a pretty rude awakening when I got there and saw you still face all the same problems. On top of that, the division, while it is very profitable and makes a lot of money, has many more customers than we do. It’s a commodity-like business. Though they have more money to spend on communications, they have orders of magnitude more customers. And most of the customers were sold not by HP, but by resellers, so they’re very difficult to reach. The bottom line was if I were to propose TV shows for the NT customers, they had a very small amount of money to spend per customer. Spending $100,000 to do a TV show for 2,000 customers was way too much money on way too few customers. They wanted to know how to get to 500,000 customers for $2,000.

Did that make the challenges in a smaller HP division seem more manageable?

It’s an easy thing when you work in the 3000 division, or any HP division for a long time, to think that the problems you’re trying to overcome are insurmountable. And if you just went to this division, or that one, or a dot-com company, or someplace else, everything would be wonderful. What you find out is that this is a difficult business to work in whether you’re in HP, or in another company. It’s tough, but if it wasn’t, who’d pay you?

The two divisions certainly have more in common than I would have thought when I went to NSD. I learned that the 3000 business isn’t really all that unique.

What do you hope to achieve with these 3000 Webcasts?

I want three things to happen. Number one, to allow the company to share knowledge with the installed base. Two, to allow customers to share knowledge with one another, so we can learn from one another’s experiences. Finally, and for the most important, communication back the other way — so customers can tell us in the division what we really need to do. Those are basically the three objectives I had scribbled up on my wall back when I was doing the TV shows.

What’s happened with you to make you want to return to CSY as this point?

We have a new chief executive, and Carly has been making a lot of statements inside the company about what she calls the total customer experience. Every division is starting to talk about TCE in the same way they talked about quality. Of all the organizations in Hewlett-Packard I’ve ever worked for or worked with — and I’ve worked with most of them in HP’s computer business — nobody knows customers like CSY. You just don’t argue with that statement if you’ve worked here for any length of time. Today there are other organizations who, when they want to get close to their customers, come talk to us. I realized that if I wanted to get back into the customer communication seat I used to be in when I worked at CSY, what better place than there to go back?

Your Web delivery mechanism is bound to have a finite limit on participation. How are you going to plan for the Internet’s bandwidth, compared to the size of the satellite pipeline for those TV broadcasts?

In the broadcast business people on the air are called talent, but Stachnik fits the description better than most people who understand the 3000’s inner workings and history. He was on the stage at Navy Pier singing the collected works of HP’s Orly Larson at the system’s 25th birthday party in 1997. The songs were company pep more suited to corporate spirit in the 1930s, but Stachnik pulled it off and had a crowd of high-tech customers smiling throughout. Then there was the time he sent an HP 3000 sailing off a second-story roof to the parking lot, to prove in Penn-and-Teller fashion that the system could take a beating and keep on booting. He’s told the story on himself about pressing his young children into service during TV broadcasts, posing as packets and routers to explain networking fundamentals. No matter the subject, Stachnik finds a way to humanize it with humor and jest. The broadcasts arrived through satellites and were beamed to HP offices and private dishes, where hundreds of viewers learned about their favorite server’s new capabilities. In 1998 Stachnik moved out of the 3000 community, and the broadcasts ended for the 3000.

When you get out of HP and onto the public Internet, the amount of bandwidth available to you is, let’s be kind, totally unpredictable. You may have all the bits per second you need, and a minute later somebody decides to download a four and a half minute video clip from someplace, and all of a sudden your particular piece of the Internet has problems.

With that in mind, we learned in NSD to use the Web as a primary mechanism but have backups every step of the way. If we stream the audio over the Internet, it will also be available on an 800 number. It won’t be as nice, but it will be there. We’ll be pushing the slides out over the Internet, but if anybody has difficulty seeing the streamed graphics, they’ll have the graphics downloadable. If the entire Internet were to crash the day of the program, as long as the phone system stays up and running and the customer’s PC is up and running, they can watch graphics.

While I’m a big fan of new technology, I did come out of the 3000 environment. I’ve learned not to trust something just because it’s new.

How big a crowd did you ever gather for the TV shows?

The attendance varied wildly. When we spoke about something that concerned everybody in the installed base, like when a new release of MPE came out, I think we hit 1,800 once. The lowest number was around 400, when it was something CSY decided to talk about rather than asking the customers what they wanted.

That was when I learned a very hard lesson: when you choose your topics, your best authority on what to talk about is not necessarily the marketing department. It’s more likely the customers. Go find out what they want to hear about.

Will you be able to serve that many via a Webcast?

To be honest I’m not sure we will. I have a technical limitation which has nothing to do with the Web. It doesn’t allow me to get more than 1,000 people at a time on a conference telephone call without having to renegotiate contracts.

What we learned at the Netserver Division is that everyone likes to show up to be part of the live event. But very quickly they figure it out. After each live event we are going to take the digital audio and slides and post them out on the Web sites. Within a couple of days after the Feb. 14 event, you’ll be able to go to a Web site and listen to the entire program on demand. The only thing you can’t do then is ask questions. People realize they don’t have to move their schedule around to suit HP.

Kind of like the way the customers used to be able to order videotapes of the TV shows?

Yes, and there’s no longer any reason to send out a piece of tape. We just make it available on the Web. At the Netserver Division I heard that people used to wait until our show was over, download the digital audio, stick it in their laptop — and then while they drove in their car they’d play the audio back and use one of those car kits, so the audio was coming out of the car radio.

How did you get on camera in front of the customers?

I had been doing broadcasts for the division, but those were internal, just like those for the Netserver Division. That show had been running for years, and I took them over from Winston Prather, who’d been working in the support organization and had been promoted into a new job. When they tell you your new job will mean you’re on television, a lot of people don’t perceive it as a positive. But I did. Those shows continued until 1992, when [then] general manager Glenn Osaka took over. There was a question about the continued funding, and Glenn looked at me and said he’d rather not discontinue them, but re-target them at an outside audience. Glenn realized we just had to go direct to our customers, because we weren’t getting any support to speak of at the time from the HP sales force.

You made the work pretty personal at times, didn’t you?

We often used my kids as talent. In one of the very early programs we wanted to illustrate the way TCP/IP works. So we had my oldest son, who was 8 at the time, dress up in a cap that said Packet, running up and down the halls. And his sister, who was 4 at the time, was cast in the role of the router, directing him. Repeatedly whenever he came up to a corner, she was there. Another time we did a show for the Unix division, where my youngest son was a rocket scientist. I’ve got this video clip of him dressed up in a lab coat holding a beaker with dry ice in it. Since we used my kids repeatedly I had to bring the video home, so they could show their friends.

Do you plan on working with 3kworld in any way for the Webcast projects?

As we complete each of the Webcasts, all of the audio people hear over the phone will be digitized, and stored in an MP3 file that will sit on a server at HP. We’ll then make those audio files, and the associated graphics, accessible either through HP.com, 3kworld, Interex’s Web site, or anybody else who’s interested. The joke around here was that I was going to put them up on Napster. The only problem is that I can’t get to Napster through the HP firewall. We’ll find some way of circumventing that, if necessary.

We want the content to be available to customers by whatever route is easiest for them. There’s no reason not to make it available through Napster. Most people would prefer it through HP.com or 3kworld, I expect.

Copyright The 3000 NewsWire. All rights reserved.