The region where NGS is based is growing rapidly and experiencing a real estate boom. Of course, every buyer needs a seller and nearly every seller must become a buyer. For long-time residents of this area, rising home prices mean that the price of buying a smaller home is very likely equal to or greater than the price of selling a larger one; buying a new home comparable in size to the one being sold will cost substantially more. Given these financial factors, what motivates people to sell and buy? Real estate professionals say that many people simply like to buy a new home every 7-10 years, even at a higher cost, to avoid the repair and maintenance projects they put off during that time.If you’re involved in developing or maintaining enterprise software, you might recognize this thought process. Maybe your company’s application software is showing its age. Through the years, updating and enhancing it has become a low priority. Gradually, the functional gap between the software and your current needs or expectations has grown. Now, you face a decision whether to incur the cost and disruption of implementing new applications or the cost of revitalizing your current ones.
Opportunity Awaits for Companies Still Using Microsoft Access
Recently, we’ve had several conversations about Microsoft Access with potential new customers and longtime NGS Business Partners. While it doesn’t get much press anymore, Microsoft Access is still widely used as a reporting tool in small to mid-size IBM i shops. The companies talking to us are eager to move away from Microsoft Access, but only if they can find an affordable, easy-to-use, point-click alternative.
Most of these companies have small information technology departments with one or two staff members doing all of their IBM i and network management tasks. In every case we’ve encountered, reliance on Microsoft Access originated many years ago as a “work around” when these IBM i customers assigned database reporting responsibility to a Business Analyst with Microsoft Windows and Office skills, but minimal understanding of IBM i.
It’s a credit to these desktop wizards that so many were able to get so much mileage out of such a modest database tool with little support or training. But anyone who has worked in an environment like this is familiar with the weak data integrity, data latency, control, and security it breeds. Additionally, Microsoft doesn’t seem very committed to future Access development.
Next time you are speaking to one of your IBM i customers, ask if they transfer DB2 data to Microsoft Access for reporting. If they do, suggest they evaluate NGS-IQ. We’ll work with you to schedule demonstrations and free trials to help your customer step forward.
IBM i on Power – An Inheritance to Appreciate
Once upon a time, you could assume that any mid-size or large company running IBM i had an IT Director with a strong foundation of IBM i knowledge. Today, companies usually have an IT Director who inherited the environment and needs education to appreciate what it has to offer. It’s a testament to the ease of managing a small IBM Power server running IBM i that smaller companies also often delegate responsibility for the system to a Human Resources Manager or other non-technical executive. These managers, too, need at least a foundation of knowledge.
NGS’s Benefits of IBM i page has links to resources that can help these managers. The first link on the page, Getting Started with IBM i, directs you to a terrific IBM website written especially for people in this position. We also provide a link to a new Total Cost of Ownership study conducted by the market research firm Quark + Lepton. Those who are evaluating IBM i and x86 servers and software costs should download and read this document.
Fall Is Showtime
During September and October, NGS-IQ product specialists will be traveling throughout the continental USA to attend events, meet users, and conduct tutoring sessions. We hope you’ll look for us, ask your customers if they would like to learn about NGS-IQ, or request a chance to meet with our team member privately to discuss marketing tactics. Our fall calendar is below:
OMNI Technical Conference, IBM, Schaumburg, Illinois, September 19, 2017
COMMON Fall Conference, Hyatt Regency St Louis at the Arch, St Louis, Missouri, October 2-4, 2017
RPG-DB2 Summit, DoubleTree Park Place, Minneapolis, Minnesota, October 17-19, 2017
Mincron-Dancik Fusion17 User Conference, Sheraton New Orleans, Louisiana, October 15-18, 2017
IBM’s Strategy and IBM’s Customers
Since you are reading this newsletter, there’s a good chance you receive IBM Systems Magazine each month in its digital or print format. IBM uses the magazine to soft-sell their strategic direction and remind customers about the strengths of IBM Power.
The current issue includes the results of a survey of over 300 readers. A quick review of the results alongside the content of recent issues suggests a gap between what these customers want to read and what IBM marketing wants them to hear. In a table showing their level of interest in various types of content, readers showed their strongest interest is technical information and articles about new IBM technologies. In contrast, strategic content was least frequently cited as being of strong interest and most frequently described as being of little to no interest.
When your most loyal customers aren’t interested in your strategy, it’s either a weak strategy or you aren’t communicating it in a meaningful way. Let’s hope IBM has begun to recognize this and is actively working to enhance both.
Working with NGS: David Gillman is wrapping up his long career at NGS this month. Bill Langston has assumed his job duties and request that you address your questions to him going forward. We thank David for his many years of service to NGS and wish him the best. Please contact Bill Langston at (916) 920-2200, ext. 254.
As you may know, COMMON is the largest IBM user group providing education to IT professionals who work on IBM POWER systems. SHARE is a similarly organized user group for IT professionals working on the IBM Z or “mainframe” platform. A friend at another company recently mentioned they were attending the SHARE conference. That casual comment lead me to do some research.
I've never attended a SHARE event, and New Generation Software, Inc. does not play in the IBM Z marketplace. But when I looked at SHARE's website, I couldn't help but notice how much the curriculum and feel of things resembled COMMON. Whereas in years past the sessions offered at the two conferences probably did not have much overlap, today's situation seems different. With IBM focused on Watson, LINUX, and open source software development on both POWER and Z, the technical content of the two conferences looks surprisingly similar. I believe there are some people who attend and speak at both conferences, and some of the same vendors seem to exhibit at both, too. Of late, attendance at the two conferences is also about the same.
Bringing these two groups together just might make educational and economic sense. I wouldn’t be surprised if IBM or a few large Z and POWER customers have already suggested this idea.
Fall Season Marketing
Leaves change, the weather changes, people change…but the IBM i marketplace and its customers, in general, seem to remain the same.
Thanks to their frequency and the difficulty of getting your message through to your intended audience, Webinar marketing is a challenge in 2017. I hear from partners who have been disappointed with attendance at recent events, but regardless of the attendance numbers, the more important concern is getting those who do attend to take the next step. Webinars remain a low cost way to share product and technology information, but you need a compelling subject, not a sales pitch, that raises issues your audience will want to discuss further after the event is over.
What does continue to work in the IBM i market is good old-fashioned personal contact. Calls and in-person meetings have returned as the main way to spur IBM i customers to action. It seems that what is old is new again.
Many IBM i IT people know there are additional products or services which can improve operations, but they are hesitant to sell them internally. Having an external subject matter expert come into the office both lends an air of credibility to their internal argument and gives the IT person a reason to involve decision makers in the discussion.
We can work together to create a marketing campaign where the call to action results in lead qualification and is closely followed by a face-to-face appointment with one of our subject matter experts who will travel to your area.
Watson and IBM i
If you are reselling Watson into IBM i using accounts, I would love to talk with you.
Despite several years of announcements and advertising, Watson is still in the early-adoption stage, particularly once you step outside specific industries like healthcare. NGS has created demos and business case discussions for how to integrate Watson-produced data into IBM i-based reports. They work and they make sense to customers, but very few IBM i customers are moving forward at this point.
We get the usual excuses at first – no time, other priorities, and so on. However, with just a little probing we can attain the true reasons for most small and midsize companies’ reluctance – management doesn't know how it might gain a tangible business benefit from Watson, and the IT department isn't sure how to frame the conversation needed to initiate a project. Small, focused projects targeting a narrow business use seem to have the best chance of gaining interest.
What is working for you in selling Watson services to midsize companies using IBM i?
Many companies seeking to change their ERP application weigh the pros and cons, comparing the cost of change against the benefits of a new system. There are lots of hard costs in everyone’s numbers — hardware, software license, implementation, and customization charges add up quickly.
For many on IBM i, the cost is too high to justify the change, especially when they can stay with a proven system that continues working just as it has done for years. But for some, the benefits of a new system are worth the cost.
Those who do opt for a new system often choose a server system other than the IBM i. In that case, the experienced IBM i technician is usually relieved of his services to the company.
Inevitably, and sooner rather than later, the company realizes it has lost a special breed of IT person. IBM i people are typically more experienced and have worked more closely with the actual line of business departments than the new IT people brought in for the new system. Basically, all that valuable knowledge in translating true business needs into IT processes is gone.
That is a huge cost only understood too late.
We continue to add customers for our Qport Office utility. It is a software application which takes Query/400 produced output and automates the process of delivering the data to the business user’s Excel, Word and other applications.
With the increasing rejection of DB2 Web Query as a viable option for IBM i based reporting, Qport Office is making more sense to people as the next step for easier access to IBM i data without needing an IT person to “walk” the data to the business user’s application. It is especially valuable as a tool since many IT people at small and midsize companies spend more and more of their time NOT working on the IBM i system.
Since so many queries are written in Query/400, companies who depend on the system can use the long existing queries in new ways by letting business users get the data directly from the Query/400 report. This ability can be incredibly useful for companies that lose their veteran IBM i IT person. Business users can sample the existing queries to find reports the IT person had run, formatted and then distributed.
NGS customers who are current on maintenance can take advantage of a variety of valuable, free, and educational offerings. These offerings include online tutoring sessions, share and learn Webinars, on demand videos, and even onsite product reviews with NGS product specialists traveling in your area. Most of these offerings only require an hour or two of your time. I hope you or your coworkers have taken advantage of some of these services and found them very helpful.
But if your company is planning to change to a new ERP system or computing platform, there is probably a multi-year timeline attached to that project. Meanwhile, dozens or even hundreds of employees in accounting, operations, human resources, marketing, logistics, and other departments still need to use your existing software applications and tools every day to help your company meet its near-term goals.
Unfortunately, and all too often, once a major software or platform change is planned, even low and no-cost education related to current applications is deemed unnecessary or a distraction. While that education may not be required anymore for application developers engaged in learning about the future system, it could still hold a lot of value for the business users who will continue to work with your existing systems for one, two, or even several more years.
Take full advantage of your educational opportunities until your company is ready to roll out its new system. Even a few hours saved each month over a year or two in multiple departments can yield a tremendous return on investment. And, let’s face it, enterprise software migration projects routinely take much longer than planned, and you could still be using your current system years from now.
In machine learning, decision trees are a great algorithm family to work with business information. They are not the most precise nor are they considered cutting edge, but they are a first pass algorithm for many data scientists. Maybe in version two of a project, another algorithm family might create a better model for delivering a reliable model, but over most types of transaction or ERP data, decision trees as a class are where most data scientists start.
One of the great things for business use is that decision trees can be deciphered and understood by people. That capability lends them an air of credibility if managers and executives can look at the logic of the tree and follow how the final answer is made by tracking the tree at each branch.
It also lets IBM i programmers code the decision tree splits in familiar programming languages. Realistically, this is the only way decision trees are going to work with IBM i programs natively on the box without making calls out to other servers.
In reality, you'll want to make those calls out from your programs rather than code the decision tree. There are many reasons that go beyond just the simple work of coding hundreds or even thousands of decision points into a program. The easiest way to explain is to ask the question, “What happens when they change the model?”
It will happen. It always happens.
Many machine learning and predictive processes struggle when they encounter missing data; entire records are bypassed if one field value is missing in the algorithm. For example, in a decision tree, if no value exists for the field where the tree splits, that record is useless because the algorithm cannot say what tree branch the record needs to follow.
Most software implementations of machine learning processes get around this problem by offering the data scientist the option of ignoring missing value records or imputing a value. Often, the imputed value is used so as not to waste what is otherwise a good record. Most of the time an average, median, or similar generic value is used in place of the missing value. Null often looks like a missing value, too, and usually receives the same treatment by data scientists.
Most IBM i IT professionals are close enough to operations to know that average values across the entire database are unlikely to be good substitutes. Using domain knowledge, IBM i professionals can easily create levels or classes based on experience that better substitute for the missing values. This work is best done on IBM i before it gets to the data scientist.
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