Birket Foster is not running for election this spring, but he is campaigning for some new ideas. The founder of MB Foster, he’s stood on both the homesteading and migration avenues for more than six years — and as he likes to point out, much longer when you consider moving data as a migration.
This week the OpenMPE group which Foster has chaired since its 2002 inception announced election results, looking for volunteer help to get HP’s agreement on source code licensing. But the scope of Foster advocacy and business reaches well beyond software, stepping into services in a big enough way that it will soon overtake software at his company. That says something about a supplier who’s been selling 3000 solutions so long.
With an election on hand and services heating up, we figured Birket — one of those community members known best by his first name — would have something to say about the new 3000 opportunities and persistent challenges. We talked to him in the week before February’s election, on his cell while he traveled to a customer site.
Some in the 3000 community are wondering why, more than five years into the Transition Era, OpenMPE is having another election of its board. Can your volunteers make a difference, so long after HP sparked customers to migrate?
Our work for now is to make HP realize there is going to be a presence of people who will be there, after HP leaves.
Are there enough members in OpenMPE for HP to consider putting MPE into the hands of the community?
HP will never put MPE in the hands of the community. They will only put it in the hands of someone who will be qualified to manage and maintain the source code — which is the whole purpose of OpenMPE, becoming that group.
Is there any chance of HP selecting OpenMPE as that group?
Absolutely. We’ve talked about doing a mini-project up front, like soon just to prove ourselves, so HP gets a fire drill on what it’s like to do a patch without people internal to HP. And they haven’t done a patch in the last little bit, right?
So what does a mini-project look like?
Oh, you’d find something that needs to be changed, you’d make a specification, and you’d sit with a contractor and say what you need them to do. There’s no reason why OpenMPE can’t be those guys. The talent that has put their names forward to be part of the group to do development is rock-solid.
So the OpenMPE mission will certainly consist of services. The 3000 community’s market seems to be turning toward services now, especially from the well-known vendors which the customers rely upon. What’s MB Foster doing today to expand services in addition to its product support and migration expertise?
For some 3000 sites we already provide some services in the area of our specialties, which are dealing with data. We have assisted customers in recruiting people for full-time employment for multi-year contracts in the HP 3000 space — because those people needed staff, and didn’t know where to find them.
This location service costs something for a customer?
It’s a courtesy for the customers. It helps them out, and they like us, they buy our products, and they get other services from us. In some cases, we’re hosting their data marts, because we do this every day. It’s a lot easier on the customer when they can rely on a data mart team that’s working on a bunch of sites, knows the tools inside out and helped develop them. Most of those are on Windows or HP-UX.
Hosting in this case means having a server running so the customer doesn’t need to run one, or keep staff busy?
That’s correct. In the long run, hosting is going to be a very important part of how small- and medium-sized business and departmental computing gets done. That’s because the cost for staff these days is five skill sets, although you might find them in as few as three people. That means your staffing cost is going to be $300,000 to $800,000 in order to get the right people involved. That’s quite a bit of money, so a lot of divisions would rather buy part of someone’s time, knowing that person is an expert and will do exactly what’s needed.
This kind of expertise, is it beginning to leave the industry?
Retirement is an issue, both the retirement of end-user experts as well as the technical experts. The end-user experts are as important, or even more important, than the technicians. Once the application is running, so long as someone can follow the script for daily, weekly and monthly processes, it’s not a big deal. But when they go in and lose an end-user, it takes awhile to train a new one. Many times what that end user who’s been there a long time hasn’t been written down anywhere.
By end-user expert, you mean someone who’s well-versed in how to run an in-house application?
Not just in-house, but any application that runs the business. Take a look at what’s happened to MANMAN. It’s changed hands four times, from ASK to Computer Associates to SSA GT, and now it’s gone to Infor. It’s had multiple owners and definite changes in the way that things are supported and maintained.
MANMAN is a pretty big manufacturing application for the 3000 community. People are still running it, although not as many as there were, but a lot of them. The challenge with knowing how many is that some of those customers are a division of a larger company — and that larger company doesn’t share the IT plan down to the division level anymore.