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Tony Perri on Marketing Mainframe and How Technology Is Changing

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Reg Harbeck: Hi, this is Reg Harbeck and today I’m here with my friend and colleague Tony Perri who is the founder and CEO of Perri Marketing. They work very closely with mainframe organizations to really get the word out and keep the conversation going in the whole mainframe ecosystem. Tony I understand you’ve got some interesting mainframe background that led up to this current iteration of your career. How did you end up on the mainframe?

Tony Perri: That’s a good question Reg. I was—in about 2006 or 2007 or so, I was in education space. I started in software in the late nineties and endured the Y2K and then moved to Roanoke, Virginia to work for a software company and then that company—I left that company and had an opportunity to go into the education space, so I was EDU for a few years and then really had this hankering to get back into the software business and at that time I had moved across the country to Salt Lake City, Utah. This job came up in South Florida at a company called Allen Systems Group—

Reg: Oh, I’ve heard of them.

Tony: And they were a huge mainframe—well huge-medium sized mainframe vendor. You know they had a spot open for a marketing—a product marketing person and so I went down there and that was my first mainframe job. That would have been 2008, around the summer of 2008 and so migrating from the desert of middle to upper Utah to the warm humid climate of tropical southwest Florida was very interesting. Working for Allen Systems Group, I got a lot of drinking from the fire hose as we would say because the mainframe was quite different than any other software that I’d every worked for. If you know Allen Systems Group, you know that they’re big on telemetry monitors and so I had to understand about performance and availability, how data is collected from the mainframe and plastered in dashboards, and dashboards were pretty innovative back then too. As you know the mainframe is a lot of 3270 screens and Vista with a little bit of GUI in there but ASG had some really cool technologies for displaying information on dashboards that you wouldn’t get elsewhere. They had this really cool CMDB product that would aggregate just an enormous amount of data and give you these really beautiful dashboards with it and I think it was the beginnings of being able to have that enterprise-wide visibility for the mainframe and all of the dependencies that deliver services from the mainframe, so it was a pretty interesting time to be learning about the mainframe and jumping in there. Over the years at ASG, I eventually moved up to run marketing there. I ran global marketing there for a couple of years­—

Reg: Cool.

Tony: And then decided to leave and go out on my own and start my own software company. One of the first people I talked to was a guy that owned CorreLog and CorreLog was a security information and event management companion the mainframe and at the time not very many people were doing mainframe security. So, I met with them and I asked the guy I said hey, I’m looking to start my own business. He said what can you do? I said well I can do this, this, this and this. He said I need all of that and so that was the beginning of this company here and that’s been ten years ago this summer so we’re about to cross the 10-year threshold of my company right now—

Reg: Cool.

Tony: Which is a technology marketing company and I would say 80 to 90% of our business involves mainframe vendors both U.S. and in Europe so I have a couple of clients in Europe, do some work with a company down in South America and you know we just help people talk about the mainframe and how—how good the mainframe is and how it’s not going anywhere; we help them optimize it and secure it.

Reg: Cool. Now of course the journey you’ve taken has been sort of multidimensional because on the one hand you came up through technology but then you found yourself in marketing and yet it was when you found yourself in marketing that you discovered the mainframe so you must have a very different perspective on the mainframe from other people. What are some of the kinds of insights do you think that you might have been able to get that other people who just do pure play technology career on the mainframe might have missed?

Tony: Yeah, that’s a—that’s a good—that’ a great question and it is a different perspective Reg. I look at the mainframe as probably more holistically than a developer might or a programmer might. I look at it as a connection to many other things delivering a business service and because of that perspective, I—I—you know if you look at the inner workings of an enterprise software company, the marketing people and the product managers are really the hub of—of the wheel of all of the activity of the life cycle of selling that software so the marketing and product manager peo—guys and gals are connected at the hip and they—they bring together a multitude of different departments in the organization: development, customer services, deployment services, integration services, sales. They work on the operation side. You know it’s an integration of many different org—business units of a large organization and the communication and the knowledge is in a best practice, in a perfect world is funneled through the product manager team as well as the marketing team. I was very fortunate at ASG to have the most brilliant product managers I’ve ever worked with and they taught me a tremendous amount of old school mainframe learning, you know these guys were—were in the mainframe business dating back to the seventies and eighties. You know I had an extreme thirst for knowledge because I’m a marketing person but I’m a bit of a geek and so I latched myself onto these product managers and they were instrumental in the learning that I got back then and a lot of the learning I have today.

Reg: Now that’s—one of the things I—I take from what you’re just saying is just that—that most essential and uniquely mainframe thing and it shouldn’t be uniquely mainframe but I—I assert that it is and it’s the middle name of both COBOL and IBM which is business, that in the world of mainframe we’re as close as you can get to being unapologetic for being business. Now sometimes you get people who are sort of you know sticklers for one particular approach and don’t want to see money being made but for the most part, most people I think recognize that the mainframe is all about healthy functional business that’s about generating solid credible revenue with a really credible platform. I think that’s one to the things a lot of mainframers don’t really get a chance to immerse themselves in during their careers because they’re so focused specifically on the technology. I’d be interested in your additional thoughts then about just how you see business unique on the mainframe vs. other competing platforms that might have a more generic perspective.

Tony: Yeah, you know it’s a—it’s another interesting point that I probably should have brought up when I was telling you about just my perspective on the mainframe in general is—is that if you think about somebody walking into a bank or—or walking up to an ATM machine, you know they don’t—they don’t really care what technology is pushing the service that they’re consuming. They just know it—it better work you know and it—looking at it from that perspective, you know there’s—I’m trying to think of the number of times that I’ve ever gone onto my banking portal or walked up to an ATM machine or something that was a result of the service being pushed out by the mainframe and it not working and that’s— that’s a very rare occasion you know and so I think the—the thing that I would say about my role and my perspective on the mainframe is I get to see that whole transaction. You know I get to see it from the depths, from the bowels of mainframe in the—in the you know the bits and bytes of it and even the hardware all the way through to the life cycle of the service being delivered to the end user and you know that—that is a—that’s a big space you know and if you’re fortunate enough to be able to see if from the sales and marketing perspective that it’s just one big—one big transaction or one big series of transaction that delivers something of value to the world, you know America, you know the consumer. You know that’s a perspective that you get if you’re—if you’re on the marketing side and the product management side—

Reg: Cool.

Tony: That you wouldn’t get from the—from a being down deep into the weeds of the technology.

Reg: Okay. Now as I listen to that and think about it, you know I guess one of the things that really jumps out at me is the—the—hmmm, I’m just trying to think of how to phrase this—the way that the technology is—is growing and expanding and adapting that meets business needs that is sort of almost invisible and underappreciated but is so responsive to specific business requirements and I think part of that is the way that people who have that that “above the partition” sort of view; you know think about the people doing the gopher or whackamole thing at work and they sort of stand up above the partition to see what’s all going on of what’s happening from a—a broader perspective and as I think about that, I’m just sort of wondering what some of your thoughts are things on the one hand that you’ve seen happen on the mainframe that have really marked it out over the past few decades of your experiences as you know doing something unique and spectacular but perhaps even more important given that you know in so many ways I would assert the mainframe is sort of like a permanent ground floor experience, you know we think about those bands like Beatles that took you know ten years to become an overnight success, you know the Malcolm Gladwell’s requisite 10,000 hours of experience but we look at the mainframe and it’s got that requisite experience many times over and yet it keeps being rediscovered. I sense that we’re at sort of the cusp of a new age of mainframe as it becomes yet again an overnight success but I would be really interested in your thoughts on some of the ways that it has and more important that you think it will or should or that you would like to be participating in it happening.

Tony: Yeah. That’s a good question you know, and we were talking before we—we started the podcast and you were talking about the work you’re doing with your PhD, I guess. You’re getting a PhD—

Reg: Master’s degree, Master’s.

Tony: Master’s, I’m sorry.

Reg: That’s okay.

Tony: And talking about the human interaction to the mainframe and the thing that popped in my head was you know Ken Burns did a movie about baseball and how baseball—if you look at the time line of baseball, it tells you a lot about America, you know and about the many different phases that America has gone through from the 1850s and 60s when baseball first started into the 2020s you know where the things that things that are happening in America were reflected on the baseball field and vice versa and if you think about technology from 19—the early 1950s to—to 2020, you know it could be—that you could follow the mainframe along that timeline and get an understanding of technology in America over the past 70 years and that’s the thing that people who aren’t in this business don’t really see and understand is—is that you know there was a time when technology was not really a part of society, you know and so the mainframe comes along and it helps put somebody on the moon you know and so then it starts to become an integral part of technology and they started saying well how do we—how do we put this into the hands of you know Joe Smith in his basement you know and so then they started making it smaller you know and making technology more accessible. Then over the years, it becomes even more accessible and as they make technology smaller, the mainframe just kind of goes away from the public eye, but it’s still there because you know lo and behold in the late 1990s the Internet comes around and so then the mainframe becomes more front and center to—to the general population. Then about ten years later, the mobile device comes along and so now the mainframe is more connected to—to consumers than everything you know and so you know if you just look at the lifecycle of technology from around the 1950’s to today, you understand that it is part of America and it is part of this technological journey that we find ourselves in now to where—you know I’ve said this to friends before but we won’t have technology companies and software companies in the future; we’ll just have companies you know—

Reg: You remind me of what Intel’s Andy Grove said at a keynote that I sat in on in the late 90’s. He said you know in the future, there will not be any e-business because any business that isn’t an e—business—

Tony: Exactly.

Reg: Will be out of business.

Tony: Exactly. I see—I see the term digital marketing all the time and it just kind of makes me chuckle inside because I think well all marketing is digital now because you know you don’t send film to a printer anymore. You send a digital file and that was the last vestiges of anything that’s not printed but you know the mainframe, you know even crime you know you could follow the—the line of digital crime along the journey of the mainframe as well because you know around 2008 when the explosion of mobile devices created this—this massive amount of transactions on—on the internet you know the thieves come through with the opportunity that they see and so you know that was sort of the beginning of—we talked about this the other day—security information management and security event management.

Reg: Yeah.

Tony: You know it’s been a mad race ever since. It’s been a mad race over the last ten or 12 years to you know find Jack the Ripper if you will, so I don’t know if that answered your question but that’s kind of what popped into my head when you were talking about that stuff.

Reg: Well, it’s tough. Sure. So, this has been really good and I sense that you and I could just keep on going. In fact you and I have had many great conversations; that’s why I’m interviewing you but I guess I wanted to just throw one more at you before we tie up and that is you know I’d like you to envision yourself making an important demonstrable difference in the future of the mainframe in some way with your company or some other initiative you might undertake and—and just sort of think about what impact that would have on the mainframe ecosystem, technology, you know whatever and maybe if you could just talk about you know how you’d see the mainframe ecosystem improving in some way that you intend to or hope to contribute to.

Tony: You know that’s—that’s—where do you start? You know the first thing that comes to mind is the dearth of experience that we’re going to have for—for mainframers in the next five years and how do we solve that problem.

Reg: Yeah.

Tony: Zowe is part of the solution; more—more integration with other systems is part of the solution. We now have this role that BMC introduced me to called the universal DBA where there is such a shortage of DBA’s that they’re grabbing you know DBA’s from Oracle and SAP and Windows and throwing them on the mainframe and filling gaps. I have one client that has an application parallel testing product to where it’s just a Windows based GUI where you can just you know be a system—a Windows system administrator and they can show you click here, click here, click here. Grab this library and create a testing container for these mainframers because they don’t have time to do it, so we have to introduce the mainframe into more of a wide audience. You know we’re going to see some more platforms being available to nonmainframers to be able to transition to the mainframe. They did the same thing with Word Press. You know Word Press did that for HTML and you know there are these other tools like mobile application development platforms that do the same thing for application development on mobile devices, the stuff you hear about low code, no code applications and so we have to make it more accessible and more native to—to a wider audience to ensure that it’s going to move into the next 50 years because it’s not going anywhere—

Reg: Right.

Tony: And you know that’s the—if I can help—if I can help be an evangelist that the mainframe is not going anywhere and that if you’re a young person and you want to make some good money fast and get a job right out of college, you know learn how to program and learn the mainframe and some of these hybrid tools that are going to be used to help backfill the roles that are disappearing on the mainframe then I’ll be—I’ll consider myself a success in technology.

Reg: Cool. Well Tony, it has been a real pleasure to chat with you as it always is and thank you so much for taking the time for this podcast.

Tony: Thank you Reg. I appreciate it, appreciate you having me.

Reg: I’ll be back with another podcast next month but in the meantime check out the other content on TechChannel. You can also subscribe to their weekly newsletters, webinars, e-books, solutions directory, and more on the subscription page. I’m Reg Harbeck.