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New iSeries exec answers 'million dollar question,' sort of

Elaine Lennox, new iSeries marketing chief, is two weeks into her new job. IBM appointed the former small and midsized (SMB) marketing exec quickly after the departure of Peter Bingaman. caught up with Lennox this week to talk about her views on the most recent name change, viral marketing and the outlook for 2006.

Will the System i5 attract new customers -- and if so, how and from where?
If you look at our sales model for this year, one of the things we've done is put specific sales people over the target of gaining new customers onto the platform. Obviously, our installed base is incredibly important to us, and we have sales reps covering our largest customers. But this year one of our focuses was to put specific people on the acquisition space. So not sharing folks on the sales side, but to have specific sellers whose job is to work with business partners to acquire new people to the platform.

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How do you get past the dated AS/400 perception of the iSeries and into a more modern, mainstream perception of the platform?
Isn't that the million dollar question? The future success of this platform is all about us doing that.

One of the things I've been talking about with my team is what I call the Intel generation. They are just not considering us some of the time. We need to be able to show them not to think about this as a 20-year-old platform. Think about this as a platform designed ahead of its time that we've hugely updated and added functionality to since the AS/400 days.

[System i5] can run Linux, Java, new workloads. It's not at all the same thing it was 15 years ago. It's got all of the good things, but it's changed and we need to show the market this is a forward-looking progressive platform.

But that's part of the challenge, people love the AS/400. It's reliable, it's perfect, it's wonderful. You don't want to go out and say we're not what we used to be. You don't want to upset the installed base. On the other hand, you have to be able to talk about all of the new and exciting things. Integration with Windows servers was a big part in the latest release of System i5. Where does that play into your plans for modernizing the role of the iSeries?
The modernization goes broader than any particular operating system. It's about getting new functionality onto the platform.

Windows plays a part in that we have to recognize customers have Intel-based servers. We live in that world, and we can't come at it from a standpoint that says, "You silly people, you chose that. You should have chosen us." Our perspective has to be to help them integrate and simplify that environment.

The value proposition of the iSeries is that you don't have to baby sit it. It's just going to run. So you stretch that value proposition into looking at the other servers, enabling an iSeries to also do the management for the Intel servers. When a customer already has an iSeries, they see that very clearly.

It's about how you coexist with the Intel architecture. We can't come at it from a perspective that it's them versus us. It's about us enabling customers to simplify an environment, which is going to include both most of the time. People are annoyed with the system's third name change in six years. What's your take on it?
Everybody's first reaction to change is not generally positive. The reason we decided to change the names across all of the Systems and Technology Group is that we wanted to move away from the server message and into a systems message. What are some of your concrete goals for next year?
We want to keep going on the awareness. How do we get the message out to the mainstream market about the value proposition of System i5?

The second thing would be to continue to modernize and get new ISVs on the platform. We've spent a lot of time and energy getting the right people on the platform. 2006 is going to be a year of partnering to generate demand and acquire new customers, bridging from how to get people on board to how to go to market. Then transition into the new sales model where we have a focus on getting new customers onto the platform. The strategy hasn't changed. It's more the next logical step in the execution of that strategy. I'd heard you mention something about viral marketing. What's that about?
The fundamental tenet of viral marketing is that it provides people with things they really want to share with others. We're looking at how to help the community we have effectively tell the story to the rest of the market, to their friends and colleagues. I can't give you the exact answer after one week on the job, but I've got a team working on a plan that is going to execute in this half [of the year]. If you had a college aged son or daughter in computer science, would you have them taking classes in RPG?
If I had a son or daughter in college, I'd tell them to learn about System i5 and to make sure they have a range of skills, both RPG and other new programming languages. I wouldn't tell them to do only RPG. I'd ask them to think about Java, WebSphere and Lotus.

Purely programming is one thing, but you kind of need to break into the next level of the stack and think about the functionality you're going to deliver. Often there is more packaged middleware than custom programming today.

Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Matt Stansberry, News Editor

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