HP hopes to stay in step with the needs of its 3000 customers this month, even while more than 70 years of experience with MPE/iX departs the company or the 3000 business. Corporate behavior relies on "tribal knowledge" to bridge the gap when longtime, well-versed leaders and executives depart. This month will be busy with the drumbeats of the 3000 tribe at HP, even while it loses a significant number of its warriors.
Customers who know the work of mainstays such as Jeff Vance, Mike Paivinen or Dave Wilde try to imagine how issues will be resolved, plans made and policies proposed without these tribal members.
"Jeff [Vance] has been a rock for the MPE community for as long as I have been using HP 3000 systems," said Joe Dolliver, an expert in the healthcare applications field and independent consultant at Dolliver's 3K Solutions firm. "I can't imagine HP or the 3000-L [newsgroup] without him."
Such loyalty stems from familiarity. Whether a customer agreed with Paivinen, Vance or Wilde, they often knew what to expect. Those expectations, and the intentions of the 3000 loyalists still inside of Hewlett-Packard, are what the tribal knowledge is supposed to carry forward and protect.
A search on "tribal knowledge" in Wikipedia yields a definition about knowledge carried forward without writing, in oral form. But the Wikipedia page also refers to "institutional memory," something closer to what the 3000 community will need from the HP successors of Craig Fairchild, Bill Cadier, Walt McCullough and Jim Hawkins — as well as new 3000 business manager Jennie Hou.
Wikipedia's entry explains institutional memory as an element often found in corporations:
Institutional memory is a collective of facts, concepts, experiences and know-how held by a group of people. As it transcends the individual, it requires the ongoing transmission of these memories between members of this group. Elements of institutional memory may be found in corporations, professional groups, government bodies, religious groups, academic collaborations and by extension in entire cultures.
Institutional memory may be encouraged to preserve a group's ideology or way of work. Conversely, institutional memory may be ingrained to the point that it becomes hard to challenge if something is found to contradict that which was previously thought to have been correct.
HP's intentions are to preserve the facts, concepts, experiences and know-how of the group of departing people. Employees have left the 3000 group before now, but this is the first time the community watched the exit of such prominent players. This month, and probably for the month before, the replacement staff, already working on other 3000 issues, is faced with learning and taking to heart the intentions and desires of departing staff.
Tribal knowledge works in the other direction for those who desire change as an effect of departures. It takes time for new players to develop a differing view of what to do for a customer base like 3000 owners. Time may not be on the customers' side; if you take HP's promises to heart about the vendor's exit, about 19 months remain until all goes dark in the 3000 labs and cubicles. Retaining the intentions of HP's desire to ease the exit of its customers who are going — that's the challenge. At least those who are taking on the role have been in the group for many years.
"Craig Fairchild, welcome aboard and do the right thing for the community and be productive for us," Dolliver said in his message to the community." HP's intentions were clear four years ago. We'll recall them on Monday.