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The IBM i Marketplace Survey Reaches Year 10

This transcript is edited for clarity.

Paul Tuohy: Hello and welcome to another iTalk Business with Tuohy. Delighted to be joined again today —we’re seeing a lot of each other a lot of each other recently, Tom [laughs].

Tom Huntington: I think it’s a good thing though, Paul. It’s a good thing.

Paul: Oh, I know it is. Feast or famine though, you know—

Tom: Yeah.

Paul: This is what I like. So sorry—let me finish the introduction. So joined today by Tom Huntington, who is the executive vice president of technical solutions at Fortra, and Tom what we’re going to be talking about today is it’s that time of year again you know.

Tom: It is. It’s the IBM i Marketplace Survey. It’s open for all to fill out. Yes, it’s that time of the year.

Paul: So not that I’m going to make myself feel old when I ask this, Tom. How many years now?

Tom: We are working on year 10, which is hard to believe, but it’s the tenth annual survey and time flies.

Paul: Wow. Okay so for those who have been living in a box, do you want to tell them what the survey is please?

Tom: Yeah. The survey is a result of not having enough information around the ecosystem for IBM i, or for some people AS/400, and so what we’ve started out to do was to capture what’s happening in the market, you know, what technologies are they using? Are people staying on the platform? How many partitions? What OS levels? Are they thinking about their backups and HA and all those kinds of things? Programming? So it’s meant to capture the profile of the IBM i customer.

Paul: Cool. So okay so over ten years Tom with this. I mean is it a thing that every year, it’s the exact same stuff coming up? Are we seeing trends over the ten years?

Tom: Absolutely there’s trends. There’s goodness in things being consistent but there’s also trends that are happening along the way. We’ll talk about some things that are consistent in it too, but you know we’re seeing more people moving to the cloud or asking the question should we move IBM i to the cloud. We certainly have seen a big uptick over the last five years in cybersecurity interest. Everybody has cybersecurity on their minds. That’s another growth area. Those two things have been very common, and then another thing since we started is the popularity of partitioning. Partitioning has grown up and up. In today’s world we call them VMs, right? We’ve had partitions for a long time but you know the virtualization of the server has become more and more commonplace.

Paul: Yeah, so now just before I go on, I just want to backtrack a bit here, Tom, because I think it’s an important point. So, this survey—just to make clear—it’s not for companies to take; it’s for individuals to take, correct?

Tom: Well actually we’re having individuals take the survey, but we want their company’s profile. So in other words I’d rather have just one person from Coke Cola fill out the survey to reflect the IBM i environment for Coke Cola.

Paul: Okay so looking back on the ten years, Tom, what would you say is sort of the most interesting thing that has come out of the survey?

Tom: I think the biggest surprise in the data was the fact that people are not leaving the platform like those feared. You know if you think about the longevity of this platform, what did we just celebrate—the 35th anniversary of IBM i. And if you talk to Gartner or Forrester even 20 years ago, they were predicting the platform would be gone. It would be irrelevant. Well, I talk to customers everyday and the survey shows that customers are staying on the platform. The platform is unique in that the applications, a good portion of the applications, are in-house written or homegrown, whatever you want to call it, or heavily modified. So the uniqueness in those applications is what’s running America and the world’s business, and so to a certain extent it has allowed many companies to build little niches within their business application to make them unique and that uniqueness makes it hard to just move onto a generic cloud offering or SAP or whatever it may be. So that’s the surprise in the data is that people are sticking around longer than what was predicted by some of the other companies out there that are consultants. Quite honestly the neat thing about the survey too is I’ve had those same agencies tell me they point to our survey whenever they talk to an IBM i, iSeries, AS/400 customer.

Paul: Yeah, because there always has been the—and it’s strange. I mean I can think over 20 years of the last 35 the doom and gloom has been there about, oh it’s going to disappear, yeah?

Tom: Correct, yeah and I think it’s technology that has stood the test of time and it’s very viable.  The IBM i platform is as modern as you want it to be. As you know, you’re in the modernization business and helping people do GUIs or web interfaces and all those kinds of things. You can do all those things but you also can run IBM i as if it’s an AS/400 and just totally green screen and old practices. If that’s your thing, you can. Who am I to argue about how you run your business, but I’m more on the modernization side. I want things to be modern because today’s workforces, you know they’re coming out of college and technology is just second nature to them. They expect it, right?

Paul: Yeah.

Tom: A green screen scares the people right out of college, the millenniums you know, etc. [laughs]. It does.

Paul: I’ve started so many conversations showing a green screen going in my day, but let’s not go there.

Tom: Yeah, right.

Paul: So you mentioned there Tom some of the consistencies though that have been throughout all of the surveys. Do you want to touch on a couple of those?

Tom: Yeah, I think the consistencies are, and IBM Rochester is very interested in these things like RPG is the most popular language even still today, very consistently high 80%. The other thing in the programming language area, we see consistencies in the number of people still using COBOL. There’s like 15% of the market using COBOL yet today, and then that other piece I talked about was the homegrown, the self-written applications. You know probably 80% of the market has some form of that. Even though they might have an off the shelf business application that they run, an ERP or banking application, they still do some of their own customization on the platform. Then some other consistencies are just the year over year keeping current. We see IBM releasing new technology like Power10 or IBM i 7.5 and then we just see this consistency that customers continue to upgrade and keep current. However, there are laggards too, right? They’re the ones that are stuck in time but that number keeps pretty consistent over the years. And then again the consumption of partitions and VMs on IBM i has been a consistent uptick to where in the survey around 30% of the customers only have one partition. That’s it. The rest of the market has multi partitions. And then the other consistent thing, probably the most important number in the survey from a satisfaction level is this 94-95% of the market saying they feel IBM i gives them a great return on their investment. I’ve often had people arguing with me—well of course they say that. I’m like well no, think about that. That’s somebody who’s using your product, and 95% of them are saying I’m very satisfied with it. They go well yeah, but what about if you ask somebody in the Microsoft or the UNIX world? I go well, think about that. Paul you drive probably what? A Fiat being up in Dublin or something right?

Paul: Yeah.

Tom: Fiat is going to come and ask you how do you like your Fiat. Toyota is going to ask Toyota customers how they like their Toyotas and in this case, we’re asking people who run IBM i how do you like IBM i in comparison to everything else that you run, and there’s always a high satisfaction level. That’s something that we all should be proud of, the whole ecosystem, because it’s COMMON, it’s COMMON Europe, it’s IBM, it’s the business partners that nurture this ecosystem from an education standpoint and from an application standpoint that makes everybody happy with their investments, right? That’s important.

Paul: Yes, in full agreement with you in that one. So why should people take the survey though, Tom? I mean am I going to be just one of many voices?

Tom: Well you are, but we’re going to compile those statistics. We’re going to compare them year over year to see how the market is moving on things like hardware and operating system and upgrades, and there’s probably a little bit of fatigue. Ten years later we’re asking a lot of the same questions year over year and people are like well why are you doing the survey again? I’m like, because you have to. You have to be consistent with something like this and each and every one of you who takes the survey is going to help the IBM i community a ton because it shows 1)  it’s a vibrant community, and then 2) it shows what we’re using in this platform. Are we leaving the platform? Are we staying on the platform? IBM uses that information in their development, and what they’re doing with RPG and open-source and things like Merlin and RDi and all the different applications that are used to help modernize your system. So believe me, Rochester looks at this survey and so do all the different business partners around the ecosystem. So it is very important: please, please, please, fill it out. I know we don’t pay you to fill it out and we don’t give you any incentives. Your incentive is your love for the community.

Paul: Yup, which should be enough. So the survey itself though Tom, just sort of speaking like people taking it. Has it been consistently growing over the years?

Tom: Well surprisingly it has ebbed and flowed. We’ve had as many a nearly a thousand, we’ve had as few as 350. We’ve had a mix of international—you know, outside of North America—of about a 60/40 split, and that number has been really good. Initially when we started it, it was mostly North America because that’s where we aimed initially, but now the split is 60/40, so you got 60% North America and 40% the rest of the world and it reaches places like Singapore and Japan and Australia and down into Latin America, Argentina and Brazil and other places like that. So it’s very well received, but the numbers have gone up and down. You would think that it would just be going up and up and up, but again we don’t give any incentives for people to fill it out. You’re going to get a $50 gift card from Amazon or your favorite pub around the corner in Dublin, right? You’re not going to get that.

Paul: Yeah. If I was getting that, you know I’d be doing the survey about 50 times for you, which is a problem.

Tom: Yeah, exactly right, and so that kind of even speaks more to the legitimacy of it. And then the other thing I like about it is the demographics from little customer to big customer, different industries—finance, insurance, transportation, healthcare—IT type organizations, we get such a variety of people from CIOs to admins that fill it out and we do track all those demographics too with the survey.

Paul: Yeah, so there’s one of the interesting things I find Tom, like when you were talking about the importance of the survey to IBM. If it was IBM that was doing the survey, I think a lot of people would take the opportunity to vent at IBM, you know since they’re the providers of it okay—

Tom: Right.

Paul: So I think for me, this is one of the most important things about the survey is that it is not IBM asking the questions. It is a non-IBM company obviously involved in the industry, but asking the questions.

Tom: Yeah, and our name is on the survey but we quite honestly don’t use it as a marketing tool—in other words to capture names. We don’t capture the names of the people that fill out the survey. We don’t go after them and start marketing at them. We certainly could, but we’ve decided that let’s keep it as much as a piece for the industry, and we just appreciate people filling it out because it provides that knowledge that we need in the market. You know all the different MSPs that use it, other software companies that look at it, IBM of course, and then you have all the consultants of the world that look at the results of the survey. It really has helped the entire ecosystem understand what’s happening on this platform. So I have to say after ten years, I’m very proud of what we’ve done here. It’s been great. I can’t say enough to our own marketing team and the effort that they put into it, in making it high quality. I mean we review the questions every year so hopefully you never find a typo in it. Hopefully everything makes sense. There’s a lot of conversations that go on every year in the background about every one of these questions—you know, should we change this? Do we need to modify this? Do we need to add in 7.5 this year and Power10 this year? You know those things are being done, so it’s really kind of a continuous improvement, continuous evolving survey to reflect what’s happening in the marketplace too.

Paul: So when the survey is completed, Tom, and all the information accumulated and that, you do publish the results out there for everybody to see?

Tom: Yeah, we do. We do a couple of things. One, we go through the results. We compare it year over year. We actually meet with IBM and we meet with key executives here at Fortra. We go through the results. We comment and then we generally have a marketing writer who writes up a proof of that. We go through and we build out a nice PDF every year so there are results from the last nine years out on our website already, and people can use that information. Then we also do a follow up webinar, generally in mid to late January. So we’ll do that. Again, that’s already scheduled. We’ll have key executives from IBM, and then throughout the year, at least our team reflects on it in webinars that we do or we speak at COMMON or other conferences, and I know IBMers use it as they travel around the world speaking at user groups and other events that they do, and of course other business partners. It’s always fun when I talk to a business partner and they say, I use your survey. You should get paid for that. And I’m like yeah, well I get taken care of through Fortra. They take care of me pretty nicely. I’ve been pretty fortunate, been doing it for a while and have gotten to see a lot of great things around the globe on business.

Paul: Yup. So I do recommend to people by the way to go and have a look at the results of some of those surveys. A lot of us, when you work in an industry and that, you’re living in your own little bubble. So just go and have a look at the actual IBM i industries that are out there and the numerous markets that it’s in. So, listen Tom, before we go, because we’re coming to the end of this. So for all the years that I’ve known you, you actually satisfied one of my curiosities, and I only found this out when we were talking recently, okay? And that you—I always wanted to meet someone who had an experience with a bear [laughs].

Tom: Okay. Well now you have. Bet you didn’t know that about me.

Paul: I’ve ticked the box. Please, tell people about your bear meeting.

Tom: Right, right. So I’m a bit of an outdoorsman. I do a variety of things around outdoors. One of the things I’ve had the pleasure of doing is going up to the Boundary Waters canoe area in upstate Minnesota. It’s about a 5-hour drive from Minneapolis where we’re located. I’ve done that many times over my years. The last time I was up there, we did have a bear encounter. We got to our last post—this is no motors, only canoes, carry in, carry out, traceless type camping, so it’s pretty rugged. We get to our campsite, we get all set up and we make this wonderful smelling cheesy Italian stuff that’s in one of those kinds of packets that you have, and it smelled great. Unfortunately, so did the bear think it smelled really good. So about 7:00 at night this bear comes in and we’re just—I’m with my daughter and son and we’re sitting around chatting and stuff and all of a sudden, we all look and go oh my God. Thirty feet away there’s a bear leaning on a log looking at us and just staring at what we’re having over there. You know, we watched the video. You get this video about how to handle bears. So we’re running around, trying to clank on pots and pans and scare it away. We defer to the bear a little bit, but you can hear in the brush around our camp going on and on and finally I’m like “shoo Bear!  Shoo Bear!” I’m trying to scare this bear away from our campsite and it like stomps and growls at me. I said “okay, kids.  Let’s hop in the canoe and let’s go out in the water [laughs].” And so now it’s almost dark—this is like 8:30 at night. We’re out in a canoe watching this bear [rummage] through all of our stuff and chew through some different things that we had and wrecked one of our packs and wrecked our water bottles. I wish I could show you. Podcasts aren’t good for video, but I have a little tooth mark on a water bottle that has HelpSystems on it from this bear. It actually chewed on a metal bottle. Needless to say, we sat out in the water for about an hour, hour and a half. We took our food pack and put it on another island. The bear left us. We came back into our spot and my wife said how did you guys go back to sleep? I said well, we did. We went back, crawled into our tents, but we were up very early in the morning. And the other ironic thing is that this bear came in kind of the evening, and so there was light out. We talked to another group. The same bear hit them at like 2:30 in the morning. So I’m happy that we can see it. It’s always good when you can see the danger and confront it, right? So that’s my bear encounter. I survived. It was a black bear; it wasn’t a brown bear. You know generally they’re after your food and that’s exactly what this guy was after. Unfortunately for the bear, you know it’s never good. Usually they capture them and put them somewhere else hopefully, because they will do that. That’s my bear story. I’m sticking to it, Paul.

Paul: Okay, cool. You know rumor has it that the bear will be taking the survey this year, Tom. Just so you know that.

Tom: Yeah, okay yeah. He’s not going to give me good marks. He’s still mad because I didn’t leave him any of that Italian noodles with cheese on it [laughs].

Paul: Okay, so listen: everybody please go to the Fortra website. I’m sure the link will be here for you to see. Go take the survey. It has become a crucial part of our industry and has been for a number of years, so please go support the community. And Tom, I would say on behalf of the community, thank you for doing this. It really is, I think, a fairly critical thing at this stage—not just a nice to have, a truly critical thing. So thank you for that, Tom.

Tom: You are welcome and I think so too. On behalf of Fortra, we thank all of you for filling it out, and the community thanks you. So have a wonderful day.

Paul: Okay so that’s it for this iTalk, everyone. Thanks for tuning in and once more Tom, thank you. Bye all.