Everyone keeps harping on how our beloved AS/400s, iSeries and IBM i systems are going the way of the dinosaur but nobody seems to offer a way to remedy the situation. Many folks keep criticizing IBM for not running more space ads in industry publications or on television but I think they are missing the bigger picture.

The reality is regardless of what the computer platform is, the only thing that will bring customers on the i system is the need to have business problems solved. Without innovative software solutions there won’t be anything to attract or retain customers.

I remember a project called WyattERP that was an open source ERP system. After having looked at the source code and going through some of the programs it looked fairly complete. In fact I believe it was actively in use in several companies. It was a project that I had wanted to get involved with. But the author of the program passed away and the project just completely withered away.

I also wonder how many businesses that where reliant on WyattERP could no longer get any support and dumped it altogether.

Unfortunately this is becoming a commonly recurring theme. The visible leaders of the industry are retiring or passing on with no clear champions to take up the reigns. The Young i Professionals group is a good start but I don’t think it’s going to be enough. I hope you guys prove me wrong but I think it’s going to take more.

I believe it’s time to start investing in the next generation of passionate geeks that are going to drive solutions to business problems with inexpensive education and accessibility. What Holger Scherer is doing by offering free accounts on AS/400 and iSeries systems is a fantastic start. This is greatly increasing the number of after hours hobbyists and tinkerers accessibility to tools to create new applications.

This is a concept that IBM could easily deliver on state of the art equipment and the very latest software. IBM should also offer cheap “developer” type licensing for second hand systems bought from places like eBay that come with all the compilers and development tools.

This will create affordable accessibility to the platform that nurtures new development and is going to help create applications that sell systems to new customers.

IBM also needs to start seriously supporting and working with companies that sell software for the i platform. For every ERP package a company like Infor sells to a new customer deeply discount or practically give away the hardware because these new customers will turn into long term customers. The competition in this space is selling customers ERP solutions on super cheap x86 hardware with Linux. Hardware cost does matter.

A burgeoning small business with a few users is not going to run out and buy an i just to run Notes and Domino. But if they already have the platform running the core business system and grow to need collaboration software then getting Notes is an easy and logical extension. But the key here is that the business already needs to have an i platform.

Offering cheap hardware is essentially buying customers. But that money will be recouped in the new and recurring software licenses as these businesses grow and the eventual platform upgrade that customer will go through in five to seven years.

As you can see this is a more long term strategy that won’t drive immediate profits next quarter or make today’s shareholders happy. But by creating an environment where the barrier to entry for entrepreneurs to enter and solve business problems will drive sales. And once a business in on the i platform and find how reliable the it is they tend to be sold and become life long customers. But first businesses need compelling reasons to get on the platform in the first place.

About John Andersen:
John Andersen is an IT manager and RPG programmer for the midrange platform. Check out his AS400 Tutorials blog and sign up to claim your free system i tutorial and video courses.