COMMON: Duncan pledges to 're-engage' with iSeries customers

Buell Duncan says that IBM is serious about investing in the iSeries and that the company is spending $300 million on development to prove it.

DENVER -- Buell Duncan wants users to know that he's serious about the iSeries. More important, so is IBM.

In addition to spending $300 million on research and development, IBM's general manager of iSeries servers said that his company would aggressively promote better pricing programs, commit more to independent software vendors ISVs) and see that it spends more time with users.

Duncan spoke Monday during IBM's iSeries Nation Town Hall Meeting, a forum for IBM executives and iSeries users to engage in a discussion of industry issues. The meeting was held during the COMMON IT Education Conference and Expo.

IBM initiated the iSeries Nation forum two years ago, shortly after the release of V5R1. The meetings are usually heated, and on a number of occasions at these events, users have backed IBM executives into a corner. This particular meeting however, was a bit on the dull side, attendees said. Many thought that the lightweight questions might indicate a shift in the way users perceive IBM.

Ann Fisher, director of information technology for Madison County, Indiana, said she has seen differences in the way IBM markets things.

"I think they're doing a much better job [in reaching out to customers] than they did two years ago," she said. Fisher, a 14-year veteran of the AS/400 industry, said she doesn't doubt that Duncan will follow through.

For the past two years, IBM has aggressively tried to change its image from that of a server Goliath to that of a company that knows how to get in touch with its users. Duncan's comments played into that strategy.

"We have 250,000 customers worldwide and we're going to have an IBMer call and talk to every single one of those customers," he said. "We're going to stick to our discipline. We're going to re-engage our customers."

According to Cecelia Marrese, vice president of iSeries marketing operations, most of the calls Duncan refers to will be made by IBM telemarketers who will survey users about how things are going. Every customer will get at least one call each quarter.

Fisher said she gets regular calls now but said she thinks they could be a bit more personal.

"They usually discuss with us our objectives for the year or two ahead," she said. "If we have a problem, they refer us to a business partner." She welcomes the effort on IBM's part just the same, she said.

Duncan said that IBM would also develop stronger relationships with their ISVs across all tiers and continue to be competitive in pricing.

In July, IBM introduced a pricing incentive program that was part of an attempt to nudge smaller AS/400 customers onto the iSeries platform. The program offered hardware discounts of up to 50% for entry-level iSeries machines. While the program came under fire from a number of groups, it was successful in its objective. Not only did the program allow many users to move to the new platform, the system is now more price-competitive with Unix, Windows and Linux servers.

The program will end in December, but Duncan said the program showed IBM how important price is to many customers . Pricing, therefore, is something IBM will take into consideration when marketing the iSeries in the future.

"There's a perception out there that we're not investing in our platform," Marrese said. Duncan's remarks "were to say that you don't spend that kind of money and effort on a platform you're going to let fade into the sunset. It's a viable product in the marketplace."

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