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iSeries community pins hopes on Zollar

Few tears will be shed over Buell Duncan's departure from his position as iSeries chief, but some wonder whether his replacement, Lotus' executive Al Zollar, has the political clout to do what Duncan couldn't or wouldn't do.

IBM's announcement last week that Lotus' Al Zollar would replace Buell Duncan as head of the iSeries server group took many industry folks by surprise. Yet few are shocked by the change. In fact, many users, experts and business partners said they believe the decision to appoint Zollar was a good one.

"This shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who has watched IBM over the years," said Jon Paris of Partner 400, a training and mentoring firm located in Toronto.

Although Duncan has done a great job, Paris said, it was time for IBM to "groom" him for bigger and better things. "I doubt he'll be there more than 12 months or so until his 'real' assignment comes along," Paris said.

IBM made the announcement to employees late Wednesday. IBM would not comment further on the move, except to say that Duncan had been moved to IBM's software group to become general manager for developer relations, replacing Bob Timpson, who is retiring. Ambuj Goyal was named to replace Zollar at Lotus. Little is known about Goyal, a 21-year IBM veteran.

Zollar, who has been with IBM for 26 years, has been head of IBM's Lotus software unit for three years and oversees the company's flagship products, Notes/Domino, Sametime and QuickPlace. It is unclear exactly when Zollar will take the helm at the iSeries group. Duncan's appointment is effective immediately.

Apparently, no one is shedding any tears over Duncan's departure. Instead, users are focusing on what Zollar can bring to the iSeries table. Many believe that, with Zollar at the helm, the iSeries is probably in the best position it has ever been to get the attention it deserves.

According to Boston-based Aberdeen Group analyst Wayne Kernochan, Zollar's appointment makes perfect sense. The fact that the iSeries and Lotus' Notes server are so closely tied is a bright spot in this overall positioning.

"It's not like he's going to walk over and be another cookie cutter IBM guy in a new slot," Kernochan said about Zollar. "It makes sense that he has had more and more to do with the iSeries because that's where a lot of the growth has been."

The appointment isn't likely a matter of IBM just picking someone to shake up the iSeries, Kernochan said. "This guy, relative to other guys, has some prior knowledge [of the iSeries]."

Analyst Maria DeGiglio of the Robert Frances Group in Westport, Conn., agreed that Zollar's appointment is strategically good for IBM -- and ultimately for users. The iSeries is about integration, and integration is about software and the iSeries is getting a guy with software and integration experience. That can only be a plus, she said.

"There's always been huge synergy between Lotus and IBM," she said. "It's a positive move and reinforces the importance of integration."

Paris also sees the software group connection as a positive for the iSeries.

Zollar has a lot of experience with IBM's software group, and the inability of Rochester and the software group to communicate with each another is legendary, Paris said. With Duncan going to the software group and Zollar coming from Lotus to the iSeries, the iSeries group is probably in the best position it has ever been to get the attention of IBM's brass.

"There are many things in the software area that need attention, from fixing the SQL pre-compiler to adequately funding the Toronto-based development tools," Paris said. "Hopefully, these may now get the executive attention they demand."

iSeries user Christian Eidsmoe of Safeco Financial Institution Solutions in Irvine, Calif., said he too is hopeful that Zollar's background with Notes/Domino and Sametime will be a boost to the iSeries platform.

"As a 17-year S/34/38/400/iSeries IBM-certified development veteran who keeps up with technology, I think that Mr. Zollar will probably add some of the wonderful Lotus technology to the iSeries," he said.

But Zollar isn't likely to come in and change things overnight -- if he can at all. Much of Duncan's problems as iSeries head weren't of his own making but were being controlled from higher up. According to some experts, unless Zollar has more political power than Duncan, he'll have to deal with those same problems and probably be just as ineffective.

Whether he has the requisite political clout is yet to be determined.

"That political power will prove to be the key to success," Kernochan said. "One of the preconditions for turning things around is the ability to convince the higher-ups to accommodate you. Specifically, [Zollar] has got to figure out how to if he's to be effective."


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Users speak their minds on the iSeries, IBM's treatment of it

Comment on this story: E-mail Kate Evans-Correia, News Editor

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