Can We Talk? Over 50 Years of Dialog

Janet L. Sun, Immediate Past President, SHARE Inc.

Last week, I was privileged to represent SHARE at the IBM Mainframe50 event in New York.  As I reflect on the presentations and celebration, I would like to highlight what Steve Mills, Senior VP & Group Executive, IBM Software & Systems, said about the characteristics of the mainframe – modularity, extensibility, performance, scalability, reliability, and security, including the principal design point being one of efficiency which makes the mainframe the workhorse of businesses around the world.

I want to echo the importance of discussion and dialog between partners, like SHARE and IBM, to ensure that we all continue to derive value from the benefits delivered by this platform. SHARE, the first independent computer user group, was built on the premise that as IBM’s key customers, we could provide input and feedback on major initiatives and decisions that IBM would listen and respond to. Our collective voice carries additional weight because we represent more than the needs of an individual customer. SHARE represents both IBM’s largest customers as well as the needs of those that are not as large. Smaller, mid-sized and large IBM customers can work together to help influence IBM to consider the needs of all customers.

IBM Listens

Looking at the resources that IBM devotes to SHARE, we absolutely recognize the importance that IBM places on our relationship.  We can point to our requirements process that provides input to IBM’s development efforts and see the results of our contributions in the updates that IBM puts in their products.  We recently observed that over the last few operating system releases, IBM addressed over 500 user group requirements.

As a user community, we said that the Total Cost of Acquisition (TCA) of mainframe computers was too high. IBM responded by delivering the zBC12, which has a starting cost under $80,000. We said that software pricing was problematic. IBM answered by providing specialty processors (IFLs, zIIPs, zAAPs), which had favorable software licensing terms; and, this week, IBM announced new pricing for transactions originating from mobile devices. The user community expressed concern about the lack of new skilled professionals coming into the workforce, so IBM responded with its Academic Initiative and Master the Mainframe program, and is facilitating Massive Open Online Courses.  IBM’s Academic Initiative spans 70 countries and 1,400 universities, reaching 180,000 students. Meanwhile, the Master the Mainframe contest has had 70,000 students participate from 38 countries. Recently launched Massive Open Online Courses are delivered at no charge through Marist College, Syracuse University and the Linux Foundation. 

The Importance of Listening

At the Mainframe50 celebration we heard executives from Citi and Visa talk about the importance of discussion. The relationship between IBM and its customers (and SHARE as a representative of its customers) was likened to a marriage, which seemed particularly fitting. We have both invested in the relationship. We both benefit from the relationship. We don’t always agree, but we have to take the time to work through the difficulties.

For some, the appeal of alternatives has driven them to consider substitutes for the mainframe. For a couple of decades, we have heard of companies who have tried to abandon the mainframe instead of trying to work through issues. They have spent millions of dollars and multiple man-years trying to move off of the mainframe, but results have not been forthcoming. So, figuratively, they were choosing divorce over dialog and both parties end up losing.

The Future of the Mainframe in Enterprise IT

As we heard in the presentations last week, the mainframe plays a significant role in the future IT enterprise. The characteristics of the mainframe lend themselves to business critical work where scalability, reliability, performance and security are required — where unavailability is unacceptable.  SHARE offers a great venue to discuss the role of the mainframe and the sharing of successful practices for optimizing the contribution of the mainframe to a company’s business objectives. SHARE brings together leading companies, leading hardware and software suppliers, and IBM to discuss issues and share ideas.

We heard Tom Rosamilia, Senior VP IBM Systems & Technology, talk about the Modern Mainframe, and IBM’s CAMS agenda (Cloud, Analytics, Mobile and Social) and the role that the mainframe plays in each of these. We see better multi-tenancy and higher utilization characteristics with cloud on a mainframe. Mainframes are delivering faster decision-making using analytics to get to data in real-time — get to data efficiently and often where the data lives — on a mainframe. Mobility is driving transaction volumes, then add social, structured and unstructured data — that’s a lot of data and a lot of transactions, where a minute of unavailability can be fatal to a business. 

As a user community, SHARE has recognized the importance of these initiatives for years. Cloud Computing and the role of the mainframe has been a consistent topic for several years. In 2011, SHARE invited Sandy Carter, IBM Social Business Evangelist, to be one of its keynote speakers. Additional keynote speakers have included Anjul Bhambhri speaking on Analytics for Big Data and Dayton Semerjian on Next Generation Mainframe Management.  In 2012, we sponsored a worldwide survey of our member companies and those of GUIDE SHARE EUROPE to better understand the industry’s plans for addressing social media and analytics issues and concerns. As part of its 2012 program, SHARE sponsored two full days of sessions on Big Data and Analytics. And, in 2014, SHARE surveyed its membership to get an update on their Big Data and Analytics efforts. 

In 2013, SHARE hosted a Mobile Computing spotlight featuring two full days of presentations on Mobile Computing. SHARE also conducted a worldwide survey of member companies (SHARE and GUIDE SHARE EUROPE) to understand plans for mobile computing. 

The concern about the next generation of IT professionals has also been a focus for SHARE for many years. In 2011, we researched the IT Skills Gap to serve as guidance both for industry and academia. In 2013, we heard from Jason Dorsey on Crossing the Generational Divide, helping us to better understand the four different generations in today’s workplace and each generation’s mindset and motivations. We have hosted many university professors and their students, as well as high school students. Our zNextGen community, a group dedicated to new and upcoming mainframe professionals, started in 2005, and continues to grow with over 900 members from 24 countries. 

So, is IBM listening to SHARE? Or is SHARE listening to IBM? Probably a lot of both. What’s important is that there is alignment between us.

Conclusion

As we look back at the tremendous heritage of mainframe computing, and the over fifty-year relationship between SHARE and IBM, we realize how critical it is for us to continue to have meaningful dialog. The list of SHARE member companies is very impressive as SHARE continues to represent many companies from many different industries including banking, insurance, manufacturing, retail, academia and government. As an independent organization, SHARE provides a neutral setting where customers, suppliers and IBM can meet to discuss issues, challenges and successes. Let’s continue to talk and move forward into the future together.

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