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Shearer reflects on one year at the helm

In his first 14 months on the job, iSeries general manager Mark Shearer has brought stability and growth to the platform, following years of declining revenues and ever-changing leadership. caught up with Shearer at the biannual COMMON user group convention in Orlando, Fla., this week to discuss the trials and tribulations of his first year on the job, the progress of the highly touted Initiative for Innovation and what the future holds for the "i."

You said in the Town Hall meeting at COMMON that you look at the University Initiative as your "pet project." Why do you think it's so important, and what steps are you planning to take to further that?
It goes back to what customers and business partners are telling me around the world. They want to hire iSeries skilled people, and when I reflect on the IT curriculum in most universities, normally industry standard programming languages are taught, but business applications [are] often left out. So the types of things we're doing around the world in the coming years [include] building a new basic curriculum that we can provide to universities that participate. We are providing, in some cases, hardware, and access to iSeries systems that are remote. But I think one of the most important new twists that we are going to bring going forward is partnering with our clients and partners to provide internship and employment opportunities, and really connect the full circle of building skills and hiring skills. It is a personal priority of mine because revitalizing the iSeries skill base around the world -- it's just a very important thing I need to do. What do you hope to accomplish with the recent increase in iSeries TV and print advertising?
We hope it will inspire c-level executives, business executives, to reevaluate how they're spending their IT dollars. I believe that in the coming years, business leaders are going to realize that they spending far more money managing their inexpensive technology than they really were aware of. In the past decade IT expenditure went from being 70% new hardware and software to 70% on maintenance and operation. That's a reflection of the very high cost of managing industry standard technologies. I think we communicate to business leaders that there is a much more cost-effective way to run their IT infrastructure. How is the Initiative for Innovation going, and is it where you want it to be for right now?
I am very excited about [this]. It is ahead of where I expected it to be at this point. We have hundreds of new applications on the platform, nearly 100 tools providers with over 150 tools available on the platform. I think it has helped give confidence to our client base that we are really serious about growing the ecosystem of solutions. Now, is it where I want it to be? No. I want thousands of more and new business applications on the platform, and I want the iSeries to be top of mind for business critical applications. We've got a long way to go, and I'm giving myself three years to do that. Where does the iSeries need to improve?
It's the same three things I've been on all year. First of all, we need to be more visible in the marketplace. The brand presence has to be better. Secondly, we need more solutions on the platform. We need i5 OS to be considered as new solutions providers come to market, and we need to continue this momentum with the tools providers. And the third thing is we need to continue to build the skills and the business models for our business partners, our resellers, and continue to build the skills of all of our sales channels. I think if we did those three things very well, while maintaining the excellent hardware and software base, I think that will bring us where we want to go. What has surprised you in your first year on the job?
Something that overwhelmed me -- I was expecting it but maybe not to this degree -- was the passion of our client base around the world. I have made it to over 40 cities and some 15 countries this year, and our clients sincerely want IBM to continue this investment. They really do value the very unique integrated value proposition, but the way I see it expressed, whether it's in Eastern Europe, Germany or the U.S., is in such colorful, passionate ways. Whenever anything happens in the industry related to the iSeries client base, I get e-mails from around the world with new ideas and suggestions. It's such an interactive community. I think the passion and the sharing of ideas -- the coming together in user groups like COMMON -- I think it's extraordinary how iSeries users organize themselves and share [their] experiences and articulate requirements to IBM. It's just an amazing community. Even more passionate than I had expected. What are some of the major areas in which users can expect new upgrades and new tools in the near future?
Our next release of the OS will provide a long list of incremental functions that our clients have requested. The operating system for the iSeries is really a fundamental part of our value proposition. I will continue to believe that the real innovation around the iSeries solutions is going to be done by our ISVs [independent software vendors] and our tools providers. And in certain industry segments, we are seeing an awful lot of innovation, [such as] the banking industry, the public sector, retail and distribution, so I think we are going to see innovation in very specific vertical markets … in the coming year. I do think that we're going to continue to see the iSeries Initiative for Innovation catching on, and it means that our clients get more options in terms of applications they can implement.

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