Terry Simpkins knows how to focus while meeting his
computing challenges. One of the founders of the ASKUS manufacturing
user group for MANMAN, Simpkins has managed HP 3000 shops for more
than 15 years his current post is that of IT director for the
Sensors & Components Division of TRW. His slice of the TRW empire
is a $200 million enterprise flung across 17 time zones and 10 plants
in the US, China and various parts of Europe. All of the Sensors
& Components operations are run off a single HP 3000, a resource
shared so judiciously most users dont know theyre
computing alongside a handful of other sites.
What makes Simpkins noteworthy is his success at keeping
the HP 3000 at the hub of such a widespread operation, moving
manufacturing from acquisitions onto a platform thats proven
and reliable. This accomplishment isnt easy in a world where
vendors claim platforms dont matter as much as applications
a place where churn is the order of the day from the
mainstream IT media. Hes most recently testified for the
platform in the first cost-of-ownership brochure produced by the 3000
division, saying the reason his company has stuck with the system is
it just works. Hes doing that while employing
Windows NT as a mail system server with file and print sharing
duties, so its not like his testimony is without comparison.
Simpkins began his career with the HP 3000 in 1981 as a
programmer-analyst at HPs Disk Memory Division, maintaining an
inventory control system. In the 1980s he grew a $10 million
manufacturers IT operation to handle business of $100 million
at Spectraphysics, then left to consult while looking for his next
post. His current position has him directing an IT staff of 22, and
hes been through a corporate acquisition when the TRW group
purchased Lucas Verity.
We think Simpkins stands as a prototype of the modern
IT director whos putting the e3000 and MPE in the drivers
seat for his corporation someone whos defended the
business sense of the 3000 through corporate change, politics and
technological fashion. In an era when the 3000 is getting little
mention outside the systems installed base, we wanted Simpkins
to tell us how modern IT manager can keep a company focused and
migrate other systems onto its 3000. His answer seems to be,
Stay focused on the platform that delivers the best
Youre known as an IT director whos moved
manufacturing systems from other platforms to the 3000 and MANMAN.
What platforms have you converted from to a 3000? How do you sell
that concept to your management?
All of our manufacturing plants were run as autonomous
businesses. We had six MRP systems, six order entry systems and five
general ledgers, running on five different platforms. We had PDP 11s,
Prime, an IBM System 36, an IBM mainframe, one PC-based application.
The HP 3000 applications were GrowthPower and MANMAN. As we built
this business from a group of autonomous businesses into more of a
cohesive business unit, one of the things we had to do was to have
common business systems and architectures.
decided to run on the HP 3000 and MANMAN. As we went through the
process we would migrate those people. We sold it on capabilities,
price and performance. We were able to show them that while MANMAN on
a scale of 1 to 10 wasnt a 10, it was certainly a 7 or an 8. We
were able to convert eight manufacturing facilities over to MANMAN in
about two and half years for under $2 million. That included
hardware, software, licenses, training, consulting and travel. If you
were to look at the new, snazzy, sexy SAP or Baan, or Oracle, you
started at about $4 million and went up from there.
started the process about four and half years ago, and there was a
critical shortage of that kind of Baan-SAP-Oracle talent in the world
then. The standard horror story is that you had consultants in and
youd change them out every six months because theyd get a
better job offer, take it and leave you high and dry. We said we
didnt see that as a plus. The one of our sites that was running
MANMAN was running it well and was happy with it. We asked them about
it and they said, It just works. It runs our business.
There was nothing overly complicated about our
manufacturing processes. We adopted a strategy that said wed go
with a known, proven, reliable product that we believe we can get
sufficient resources to run, both on the people and the hardware
side. We had experience on the 3000 and knew how it worked. We had
experience on MANMAN and knew how it worked. There was a fair amount
of believing in the devil you know versus the devil you
dont know. We felt we knew where most of MANMANs
shortcomings were, so we wouldnt get blindsided by them.
management didnt have any attraction to having the latest and
greatest. They said they wanted to devote our capital and resources
to making our business better, as opposed to having better
likes to tell us in the press that IT managers at your level
dont make deployment decisions around platforms anymore, that
applications are the only thing that matters. What do you
think thats bullshit. If Im looking for an application
and I find two that run equally well, and one of them runs on a
platform I already have expertise with, Im all over that one. I
dont believe that were all in a heterogenous environment,
or that we want to be in one. Im not afraid of a heterogenous
environment, but why do I want to add complexity to my life if I
dont have to? I think HPs selling that because its
a way for them to tear down a barrier to entry in businesses
theyre not in already. If somebody says we can do this equally
well on a 3000 or an NT server, my initial reaction is Why
wouldnt I want to put it on the 3000? I may come back and
see that it may put me over capacity on the 3000. But then Ill
look to see if its cheaper to up my 3000 capacity or to put an
NT server in.
That last question could easily tell me its cheaper
to put an NT server in, because I wont have to pay the license
upgrade fees on the 3000. But if I can put a separate 3000 in and run
it from there, as opposed to putting in an NT server, you dilute that
argument, because the cost is the same. With some of the used 3000
boxes of today, the costs are about the same. The prices have come
down dramatically on them. Ive already got the resource, I know
how to use it and use the tools on it, I can buy second copies of
tools I need and not have to pay first-copy prices. Again, it comes
down to a devil I know versus a devil I dont.
How are you handling the tight labor market for IT people
in general, and are you experiencing a shortage of experienced MPE
staff? How are you training for the platform specifics?
The market is a little bit tighter than it was four or
five years ago. But I dont perceive it as a reason to change
platforms. I havent had too much trouble hiring IT people. We
feel a lot more comfortable hiring MPE people, because we feel like
were able to judge well and get good ones. Ive had
several instances where we hired PC and NT people, and we got a
little buffaloed. Were not as good at weeding out the bullshit
from the truth with them. Since our background wasnt as strong
in that area, we werent able to differentiate the truth.
Im focused on getting a little bigger, so we can afford to
bring people in and train them on the 3000.
havent been able to do a lot of training. Ours lately has been
limited to getting people to user group meetings and sitting in on
MANMAN training when we were doing it for users.
there 3000-specific training you want could find and use?
dont feel too constrained by the availability. I feel more
constrained being able to bring in people who need the training. The
problem has been that were understaffed and under the gun, and
havent had time to do some of the training wed like to
do. We want to bring in some sharp people who just havent been
on the 3000, and bring them up to speed. Id set them with
somebody on my staff. I probably wouldnt send them to the HP
system managers class. Id be more inclined to send them
to a Cognos class for a week. If theyre a programmer whos
just unfamiliar with the platform, they can get what they need. If I
was hiring somebody in from college and I dont know when
the last time was I did that Id consider sending them
off to HPs intro programming class. Theyd go through a
real good learning process on the programmers intro.
Whats the advantage to your company in sticking with
MPE for mission-critical apps?
looked at it from a price and performance curve, and said we were
running 350 users each day on a 959/200. That system is pretty cheap
these days. I dont know of anybody running that many people on
Unix box thats the equivalent of a 959/200. When I was
consulting we were directed to write some stuff on Unix, and we found
that with five of us doing development, it took one full-time person
to be the system and database administrator. I dont have
anybody dedicated to that. I have a system manager, but he works on
utilities, menus, takes care of the 3000 operating system upgrades
and some applications work and handles payroll. My gut tells me that
hes maybe half-time on the system, and spends virtually no time
on the IMAGE database. You just dont do anything to IMAGE, so
you dont worry about it.
know the platform, so we stay with it. Its doing a hell of a
job for us. I dont remember when the last system failure
Is there any downside to you or your company in staying
committed to a platform not on the lips of many analysts or industry
never has been on their lips. The 3000 has never been on the radar
screen for the industry. I think theres a lot of hysteria or
paranoia about that. I share it, and it frustrates me when you look
at how loyal the customer base is and what great stuff the 3000 has,
and HP just tends to ignore it. I think it becomes a bit of a
self-fulfilling prophecy that HP tends to talk about the things they
think the media will quote, and the media is always a driver of
thrash and change. Its what they do by definition, except where
you have media outlets like the NewsWire that have a focus. The
general media InformationWeek, PC Week, pick the rag of your
choice thrive on thrash, because if theyre not churning
the water, what are they going to write about? They have a vested
interest in controversy and stirring up change.
pisses me off because HP wont talk about a very large group of
very satisfied users. Youd think theyd throw them a bone
occasionally and talk about the 3000. Im inclined to believe
theyre doing it intentionally, because its been brought
to their attention so many times. I find it very telling and
borderline offensive that [CEO] Carly [Fiorina] isnt making a
personal appearance at the HP World show. It might be that Im
an ignorant hick and shes a busy person. But as I like to tell
people, Im the customer and thats my perception,
therefore its reality.
dont think [staying on the 3000] its a big risk to my
career. It may limit my career as far as the breadth of opportunities
available to me. But Ive made that choice. And in all honesty,
the 3000, on a day-to-day basis, is less relevant to my career than
the fact that its up all the time. Thats much more
relevant. The fact that its a 3000 is irrelevant, just so
its up. And its up.
And your operation serves 350 users and 10 plants with
just one HP 3000?
Yup. To be fair, it really helps that were scattered
over 17 time zones, so I never hit it with everybody all at once.
How much in-house development staff do you need to keep
your 3000 resources running? Are your sites doing much coding for the
have a strategy that says you run MANMAN as it is. We run it vanilla,
with nine modules and 15 mods. Theyre all reporting-type
modifications. I dont believe weve changed the
transaction flow of MANMAN anywhere.
have said its better to modify our business processes to fit
the way MANMAN works. Its pretty doggone flexible, not like
Baan, which says, You will do it this way. They tell you
what your processes will look like. MANMAN doesnt, and it
provides a substantial amount of flexibility. Weve said
well modify our processes to the way the system works so we
dont spend lots of money on system development. The old adage
still holds pretty true: For every dollar you spend on development
youll spend $10 to $15 maintaining it over the life of the
code. A new system that only costs $100,000 means you just committed
to a million dollars.
have about four people who can touch MANMAN to modify it, and we
dont do it. We will clone code occasionally if theres a
report someone needs and it needs a few fields added to it. We want
to be able to stay reasonably current to migrate to new versions.
MANMAN is no spring chicken, in terms of applications.
Whats been key to your success in keeping it capable of
handling your companys business?
recognized the warts that MANMAN has. It doesnt come standard
with a graphical interface. That doesnt really do a lot for you
as far as productivity. I dont buy the argument that it makes
you substantially more productive. If you put a couple of bolt-on
[software products] onto MANMAN for not a lot of money you can get
partial key lookup capabilities. You can dramatically improve its
reporting capabilities with a couple of tools.
Who does the integration when you use bolt-on software for
rely on whoever were buying from to provide something that does
bolt on. And we spend our time making sure it integrates correctly
and works. If it doesnt we dont modify the [MANMAN] code,
we go back and tell them we found a bug and dont think
its integrating correctly.
Have you found the need to make much use of the newer MPE
features, like FTP, Java, Samba, or the Apache Web server?
Were trying. Were finding a growing need to
use ODBC to extract data out of MANMAN and put it into spreadsheets,
for some bolt-ons our users have created. Theyve created some
RMA systems and want to get the data right out of MANMAN. We go get
it with Minisofts ODBC.
use Minisoft for our terminal emulator, and got a worldwide license
when nobody else was offering one. We also use their NetPrint
product. I typically try to have fewer vendors and use more of their
products. We try to leverage our relationships. On a selfish note, it
tends to make me more important to them, because I have more of their
One of my guys is off looking at Java, reading up on it.
Were trying to find places where it might be a good tool for
us. Im very glad to see that it is ported to the 3000. It goes
a long way to helping me maintain more of a homogenous environment,
because I can use those tools on the 3000. If I find something Java
can do, I can run it on the 3000. At least I have the option; I
dont have to go get NT.
What level of public commitment do you want to see from HP
for the 3000? Is what the CEO or other HP corporate officers say
about MPE important to you or your career?
dont think its got an impact on my career. But it depends
on your boss. My boss trusts me. He hires me to know and asks me
questions, and doesnt second-guess me. Id have a very
hard time working for somebody like that.
Id like to see HP use MPE in the same breath as they
say Unix, Linux and NT. People dont know every since Hertz
rental car transaction runs on a 3000. Why dont the beat that
drum, or about OpenSkies? They argue that people dont care
[about platforms]. Bullshit. People care. Those customers put those
things on the 3000 for a reason. I suspect that its because the
system is scalable, reliable and secure. So why not tell people that?
I think theyre doing themselves, and me as a shareholder, a