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Users shrug off iSeries GM shuffle

Longtime iSeries users are doing what they do every time IBM moves its executives around – they cross their fingers and hope for the best.

IBM's announcement earlier this month that Al Zollar would no longer lead the charge for the iSeries raised more than a few eyebrows. But once the shock wore off, it was business as usual for longtime users who've seen it all before.

Now, they're just hoping for the best.

Al Zollar, who moved to the iSeries as general manager in January 2003 after a successful stint at Lotus, has been named general manager of IBM's Tivoli software. Mike Borman , general manager of IBM's $30 billion Global Business partners group, will now head up the iSeries group.

As a user [pushing for positive change] you feel like you have to start over.
Paul Dunn
Advisory systems engineer/consultantLes Schwab Tire Centers

It's not that anyone thinks Borman is a bad choice, but many would have preferred Zollar had more of a tenure. In a recent poll, 58% of the respondents said they believe Zollar did an excellent or good job in running the iSeries group.

Under Zollar's tutelage, the iSeries got a major makeover – new technology , new name , more partners, and marketing initiatives that include television ads – a first for the platform. The enthusiasm and momentum was obvious at the most recent COMMON user group conference in May and many users said they believed the iSeries had finally turned a corner.

It's the interruption in leadership that has them concerned.

"I would personally like to see someone there on an ongoing continuity basis," said Paul Dunn, advisory systems engineer/consultant, Les Schwab Tire Centers, Prineville, Ore. "Someone who's more stationary so the message is carried forward. As a user [pushing for positive change] you feel like you have to start over."

Some industry observers note that taking Borman off of the partner beat and putting him on the iSeries is more an iSeries play than a channel play. With as much as 90% of the iSeries being sold through the channel and revenue from the platform a big disappointment, there's a lot of opportunity for Borman to prove himself.

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"A guy coming from partner relations seems a pretty good preparation for iSeries, which after all is all about software and channel partners," said Jonathan Eunice, analyst, Illuminata Inc., Nashua, N.H.."

Eunice noted, however, that the real impact of these changes is on the software group, which like the iSeries has seen a drop in revenue. Most of the changes occurred within the software group.

Donn Atkins, a 25-year IBM veteran who was most recently vice president of worldwide software sales, has replaced Borman. Robert LeBlanc, who was heading up the Tivoli organization, was named general manager of WebSphere. And John Swainson, who was heading up the WebSphere organization, has replaced Atkins as the top software sales executive for IBM Software.

Charles Turner, a senior programmer/analyst with Keane Inc., Health Services Division, a developer of health-care related software products and an IBM business partner based in Jacksonville, Fla., said despite Zollar's efforts, the platform wasn't being promoted as effectively as it could have been, so he's hopeful that an executive with a strong background in partner programs will expand on the groundwork laid by Zollar.

"The fact that [Borman] has an understanding of the relationship [between vendor and partner] helps considerably and hopefully he will understand that he will need to nurture that relationship," Turner said.

While change is inevitable, playing musical chairs with general managers is not the kick in the pants that say, ousting the senior vice president would be. In fact, industry observers note that the general manager's role is primarily for short-term tactical initiatives that will see immediate return. So although Borman's moves will be watched closely, some users don't seem too concerned that catastrophic change will occur.

"If they were to change Bill Zeitler [senior vice president and group executive, Systems Group] then the world would need to take a closer look," said Bob Cancilla, managing director of IGNITe/400, a user group devoted to e-business on the iSeries and AS/400 platform. "At one time, the general manager was the king of kings—owned manufacturing, sales and marketing. Today, he controls the purse strings for where the money will be invested but it's been years [since] the direct reports [include those outside] of marketing. He decides what iSeries investment is going, but the developers don't work for him."

Still, Cancilla said that while Zollar brought a lot of value to the iSeries, Borman's background is vital for future growth.

"The key to what he's selling is about enabling customers to use the products," said Cancilla. "Borman seems to have an awareness of customer needs and value. I think he brings promise."

Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Kate Evans-Correia, Senior News Editor

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