June 04, 2018
Being first is about serving customer needs
During the 1990s the 3000 managers at HP started an enterprise revolution. Instead of creating computing systems built upon marketing research and technical breakthroughs, the division devoted to MPE/iX started a movement it called Customer First. It meant that to develop something for a 3000 owner, management had to be listening to the customer first, instead deferring to the business development mavens at the vendor.
HP got in close enough touch with its customers that it sent employees from the factory, as it called its system development labs, out to customer sites to interview the customers. HP's Unix division took note and started to follow suit.
Customer First doesn't sound that revolutionary today, but it put the 3000 leadership in the spotlight at HP's enterprise operations. In the 1990s HP was more of a computing company than anything else. Printers were important but computing was still earning the highest profits and paying for everything else. HP understood that while proprietary computer environments differ, they've got one thing in common: the customers who know what they need better than the vendors themselves.
Stromasys is picking up the concept with every quarter it sells products to support legacy environments like MPE/iX and VMS. Sustaining legacy investments makes sense when the system delivers what's needed. Customers needs come first.
"I do think that customers know what they want and need," said Stromasys' Sue Skonetski, "and no one else knows their mind as well. One of the things I am looking forward to at Stromasys is working with customers from so many different areas. Hopefully I will be able to help when questions come up, as well as post information as I see it."
Harry Sterling, who was the general manager at the 3000 group in those revolutionary time, passed praise on to Skonetski. "Taking care of customers based on their needs, and not the sole ideals of engineers, is key—and from your remarks, I know you believe that." Key concepts can get a revival just as surely as a good Broadway play gets another production after enough time has passed.Customer First got its first mission in 1991. After 3000 customers expressed their displeasure at HP's waning emphasis on IMAGE, CSY had to respond with improvements. Jim Sartain of the R&D lab was directly responsible for HP’s offering of an SQL interface for IMAGE, the first advance to signal the division's commitment to a Customer First strategy. Sartain worked with a revived IMAGE special-interest group to revitalize the database.
Gathering voices from differing platform bases was once important to HP. The vendor embraced the idea so much it published a Customer First Times, a PDF document that carried information about HP 3000s, along with HP 9000, OpenVMS and Itanium-based market products. It was the first assembly of the legacy ecosystem of HP.
In 2004 HP closed up Customer First Times. That was the first full year HP didn't sell a new HP 3000. The OpenVMS community was by then fully assimilated into HP's product plans, receiving the technology shift it needed to get the OS onto the Itanium computers.
Customer First was a mantra that the CSY division promoted to the rest of HP's server businesses. The legacy systems of VMS, MPE/iX, and even Sun are still in production mode at companies that know what they need. Assembling them to hear their voices is what Customer First is all about—as well as posting information about what they all need.
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