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Vision board member guarantees high-availability satisfaction

System i high-availability (HA) software vendor Vision Solutions recently added former Procter & Gamble and Microsoft technologist Bob Herbold to its board of directors. We talked with Herbold about his role at Vision, the importance of HA software, IT management and more.

How did you end up working with Vision? I have always enjoyed the technology business. This goes back to my school...

days. I received my bachelor's in math and my master's in math and my Ph.D in computer science. I [started my career] with Procter & Gamble because they were doing very interesting science. They were simulating chemical reactions on computers so they didn't have to set up test environments, for example.

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I had a long career with Procter & Gamble, where I ran some data centers, worked on some of the marketing research and did some other things. In 1994 a friend at Microsoft asked me to speak to them about heading up some things there, which I did more as a friend. I ended up falling in love with what they were doing.

Now I'm retired, but I still like to get involved with technology and business. Vision has some very valuable applications that can play a critical role for a company. The banking industry, for example, is a big consumer of Vision Solutions' products -- in particular, retail banking. If a bunch of investment bankers lose their computing capacity and they're down for an hour, they wait and when they're back up they can continue their work. But when bank customers are trying to do transactions and the system is down, it can be very frustrating and lead to poor customer satisfaction. So high availability is very important.

[Vision Solutions'] breadth of product offerings in the HA area and depth of expertise is very impressive [and] makes the company attractive to prospective HA customers. Also, the quality of the people at the company and at [Vision Solutions Inc.'s parent company] Thoma Cressey Bravo is very high, and it is always fun to work with such people. Can you talk about your role as a board member? How does it compare with other boards you've served on or roles that you've held?
The key difference for me is that the company is privately held. Most of the corporate boards I have been on or am currently on are public companies. It is immediately clear to me that private companies have more flexibility.

What I mean by flexibility is that … a lot of people might have the perception that privately held equity firms represent short-term views that inform their decision making, whereas publicly held firms focus more on long-term decisions. In my experience, the opposite is true. In privately held firms, you have the flexibility to allocate resources that have long-term impact. In publicly traded companies, you're obligated to look at the quarter-per-quarter short-term decisions. To what extent should IT people rely on technology and to what extent should they rely on good management practices to ensure availability?
There is no substitute for good IT management practices. Without them, numerous problems can crop up in a number of areas that can hurt a company. Good management means making sure you have reliable power and ventilation, proper configuration and making sure you're properly managing services. Furthermore, you have to make sure communication doesn't break down, because software and technology can't keep people from making mistakes, and it can't make sure everyone knows what to do when power goes out.

While HA software can certainly provide a valuable insurance policy to achieve very high reliability and availability, it is no substitute for good fundamental approaches to managing a technology infrastructure.

The System i community is somewhat skeptical about Vision's commitment to quality service. Additionally, how do you respond to those who might be distrustful of your history with Microsoft?
Now that the acquisitions are behind the company, and the ongoing operating model is in place, I can guarantee that the management team of Vision Solutions is totally focused on providing best-in-class service.

Also, I suspect that most customers are totally focused on what Vision Solutions can do, or is doing, for them. The performance of the products, and the service provided by the company, are what most customers will react to.

Second, Microsoft as a company has traditionally had great customer satisfaction scores with its customers. Hence, I don't really think customers would have a problem with Vision Solutions having a Microsoft alum as a board member.

Next year, how does Vision plan to continue servicing System i people?
This is a very exciting time for Vision Solutions. They have a broader set capabilities than ever before to offer their customers, and now that the acquisition activities are completed, total focus can be put on providing customers with those very exciting products and terrific service. Those are the objectives.

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