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Changing R&D rules makes MPE evergreen

NewsWire Editorial

A few weeks ago I watched a company change the rules about auto repair in my driveway. It reminded me of another crazy idea, one that could help the HP 3000 get more developed for very little investment on your part.

There's plenty of road work going on here in Austin, and lots of loose gravel on the streets during the process. A stray stone cracked my windshield, and I was finally having it repaired. When I called to schedule the repair, I asked where the shop was located. The company replied, "We come to your house."

It was a pleasant switch from the usual model. I'd prepared myself to turn over part of an afternoon for the repair -- drive to the shop, wait, drive back. Instead, I got to work ahead on a project while the repairs went on at my convenience. The company had changed the rules about repair, and everybody was a winner. (Because they don't open a shop to customers, they save all that overhead).

It reminded me of another crazy idea that surfaced on the Internet recently. An application developer suggested HP 3000 customers should be able to send an additional support payment directly to the HP 3000 division. The monthly amount would be modest; less than $5 per supported CPU would suffice. The impact wouldn't be modest at all. By some estimates, the idea would generate between $1 and $2 million a year, all to be spent enhancing and extending R&D for the HP 3000.

I labelled it a crazy idea up above to get your attention. Concepts that stray from the established process are sometimes called crazy, especially by those who have a lot invested in the status quo. In my opinion, $50 a year per HP 3000 would be a great boost to the HP 3000 division -- one that's rich in professionalism and dedication to customers, but whose R&D budget is less prosperous than other business server groups in HP.

That isn't meant as a complaint about what the 3000 division (CSY) has delivered over the last year. But it would be a rare R&D plan that couldn't do a lot more good things with few million in extra funding each year. The money would be available as long as people relied on the system.

HP says it's not supposed to work this way, and that's why some call it a crazy idea. According to the HP model, customers buy new products and those products need service. You pay your support dollars for the service efforts, while R&D funds come from new product sales.

Trouble is, the HP 3000 works well and lasts a long time. Unlike products such as HP LaserJets, an HP 3000 can have a useful life span approaching a decade. That means the planned obsolescence factor propels very few HP 3000 sales.

Instead of trying to change the scope of the MPE sales effort, some developers and channel partners want to change HP's funding model for R&D. Not wholesale, just in this small way. It's like bringing that auto repair shop to your driveway, instead of keeping the shop open longer hours for your convenience.

It's a different market than most. So let's change the rules for a better fit.

Sure, I can hear people complaining they don't have to spend this kind of modest sum for HP-UX enhancements. I'll say this in reply -- not yet you don't. Enhancements slow down at some point on any system. This funding model is what you do when you've been serving businesses with a commercial solution for more than two decades. Check back in 10 years to see if Unix R&D funding follows this kind of plan, or something like it. Even Unix systems will need R&D help by then.

There's precedent for this open funding. HP 3000 IMAGE users now enjoy access to SQL databases because the customers were willing to pay for the IMAGE/SQL enhancement. A group of customer advocates, including many developers and channel partners, convinced CSY that an extra $10 to $30 more per month wouldn't be too great a surcharge for that vital functionality. The hardest part of that deal, in my opinion, was convincing HP's Customer Support Organization to let the money flow directly to CSY's R&D budget. Directing that flow might be the most important part of what we could call the 3000 Evergreen Fund. Customers would want to ensure the money gets spent inside CSY.

I believe HP's R&D funding model needs an overhaul. HP didn't want to discuss R&D funding models for its CSY division when we asked months ago. They consider the information as closely held as the actual numbers on sales and profits.

We don't really know how much of the HP 3000 installed base is on support contracts. But then, neither does HP. When HP talked about the IMAGE/SQL deal three years ago, they noted no more than 75 percent of its installed systems had any kind of support. To be honest, the number is probably closer to 60 percent.

But that percentage of a 50,000 base, billed at $50 per machine, yields $1.4 million, a tidy sum to invest in the Fund. MPE could go a long way on it. This idea needs some consideration at HP's executive level -- but first HP needs to believe its CSY customers want this to happen. Speak up here (, or 512-657-3264). Or Ask Dick Watts at his Web page of the same name to look it over. Change the rules and show HP a new kind of investment protection, built around a system that's been cost-effective longer than any other.

-- Ron Seybold

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