In a continuation of our Q&A interview with MB Foster's chairman Birket Foster, we asked what issues a replacement migration sparks for 3000 sites. His firm is one of two HP Platinum Migration partners still active out of an initial four (Speedware is the other). After six years of delivering advice on the migration, he had plenty to share.
What have you seen at the 3000 site which needs to replace an application, rather than adopt a system from a corporate parent?
We’ve been on many sites where we’ve helped customers through the software selection process. We look at what kind of items would be mandatory, then nice-to-haves, and build a matrix across software choices so they can compare apples to apples.
Does your company, as a Platinum Migration partner, give away to the community some of what you know and have learned?
We certainly help coach people through things, especially through our series of seminars and Webinars. Our basic criteria these days is to make sure the business side is involved. You have to have someone from the senior management team who can okay a budget. To give you an example of costs, in the small and medium businesses they think it’s $13,000 a seat all in. If you have 50 people, that racks up pretty quick.
You have to end up talking to senior management because there’s a business fit as well as an IT fit. In the absence of that, you’re just grading things against what IT thinks they should be. Frankly, the application runs the business, and IT just provides the wheels underneath it.
How many migrating sites consider the share of budget that Windows requires?
There are lots of people who have never managed where they spend their money. There is some consciousness-raising going on. There’s also the possibility that the senior management team doesn’t understand what their investment in IT should be.
So we’ve been doing some work in the area of application portfolio management, so people can understand how a portfolio of applications that run a company can be evaluated. So people can understand how to plan their investments in IT.
How busy is your migration service staff today? In the past the Platinum partners had expertise still on the bench.
Now they’re all actively working here, and in fact we’re hiring additional members into the team. Everybody’s busy, and we’re probably running a dozen migrations.
Does your hiring extend to people with 3000 expertise?
It’s more likely to be domain expertise, where somebody knows the healthcare industry or they know the manufacturing industry well. That’s more important than specific application knowledge on an HP 3000. Unless they’re the person chosen to hold the fort while everybody else goes off and starts up the new application.
In a case of someone who could look after an application and make sure that it ran smoothly, so it would free up the current staff so they could work on the new app, that might be a situation where we would hire someone on the 3000 side.
For a large part of this, the application is being replaced by something off the shelf. So quite frankly, the 3000 skill sets aren’t going to help. Things like understanding COBOL and how to compile it, FORTRAN, Pascal and C++, all of those things might be handy.
Replacement projects like that sometimes have to hurdle the use of very specific HP 3000 software, right?
Yes, there are tools that have been used in the HP 3000 environment in creative ways. The trouble with having somebody MacGyver something is that it’s really hard to find the equivalent in a new environment. Part of the process is always to survey how people used what third party tools, what they were using, what did they write themselves — and then understand how the entire environment works with the entire corporation. And perhaps with trading partners on the supply side and the demand side.
Do you sometimes have to encourage training in a new solution to get those MacGyver-isms replaced?
In some cases they have no idea what it actually does. The problem is that the guy who wrote it is long gone. The current folks don’t know what’s there, or why it’s there. They just pray that it keeps running.
You’re one of the most prolific presenters at HP 3000 conferences and community meetings. Would it be fair to say that the overall message of these presentations is “There may be many points to consider which you’re not yet aware of?”
We’ve been helping people move data since 1985. We’ve been in this business a very long time, and it only got formalized six years ago. We’ve learned a ton of stuff along the way for things that are going to bite people. It’s called wisdom, and wisdom comes from experience — and experience can come from doing it wrong once.
Is your business starting to trend toward services being the larger part of what you do for the community?
I think migrations, and the sale of migration tools which do include some of our own software tools, will be a bigger part of the business this year than they have been in the past. I expect they will cross the line and become the larger part of the business.
People are starting to recognize in their own organizations that the ability to support an application, do any major modifications, all of those things are becoming more difficult. The customers are doing an evaluation to see if their application operations are sustainable. “How will we train the next person?” When people start asking those kinds of questions, they’re quite surprised sometimes. Like finding spreadsheets which run a department, but have nothing to do with an IT department, but probably should have.
The informal stuff is what you need to find in your organization, these rogue applications. When we’re engaged to work with a customer, there is a mandate to understand the departmental applications and operations.