Bridges to Cross Before Useful Emulation
Older 3000 Birds, Earning New Wings

Making Changes to Continue Vital Business

After enjoying the Inauguration's ceremony, pomp and poetry this morning, we turned to the business of the day here in Austin and elsewhere. Our local paper reports that hometown Dell is taking itself private, a serious change in financing that might spark some recovery for HP's primary PC rival.

InaugurationFinancial recovery will be at the top of the US political negotiations starting tomorrow. There's also recovery to consider in the 3000 community. Some of the businesses that remain as 3000 customers do so because the computer is still the best value for their business plans. Even without vendor participation, a server that works because its OS is stable and the hardware is durable looks like a better investment than making changes.

But some businesses are not so fortunate. A recent article in Computerworld tells the tale of several corporations which build change into their plans. They're in high-competition markets, these customers, the kind where even fractions of a dollar per transaction can help turn red ink to black. One example is Hertz, where the HP 3000 held on for so long that Hewlett-Packard extended high-touch MPE support for years after the official end-date. At Hertz, there was no 2009-10 limited support plan.

The Computerworld story comes from the CIO's office, so it's short on details like legacy servers (the CIOs like to call older systems legacies) such as the 3000. But a few notes stand out on this day when changes in the US are now underway, even while the President's strategies strive to continue vital business growth. Like including more middle-class citizens in a recovery. Ironically, if the US economy launches into a robust recovery, more small businesses might be able to follow in the Hertz footsteps -- and afford to make changes which will fail, which lead to changes that succeed.

We like Hertz here as a car rental choice, just as we prefer to believe in a middle-class recovery that includes more citizens. Years ago I wrote a fun editorial about a trip to Hawaii to celebrate Abby's 50th birthday, a tale where Hertz played a role. Long's Drug, Chrysler, potato chips, and Hertz -- everywhere we seemed to look, the 3000 was supporting our trip.

So much has changed since that trip of the 1990s in the car rental business. Hertz -- whose bedrock systems looked more like mainframes than 3000s, owing to the need to link to IBM systems -- tried to install kiosks in airports in a significant change to its sales tools. Tried and failed, according to the article. In a section called "A Second Life" the company IT managers described the bad and then good of change.

Sometimes projects fail fast and then sit on a shelf until technology catches up to the idea. For instance, in late 2008, Hertz tried to launch car rental kiosks similar to those used by airlines. "It failed pretty fast," CIO Joseph Eckroth recalls. "Our process is so much more cumbersome than just checking in for your boarding pass and picking a seat. There are so many added things we want to sell, so it really didn't take off."

By 2010, the article notes, new video technology gave the kiosk changes a comeback. The new kiosks have two interactive video screens and Eckroth says they're a game-changer for Hertz.

Hertz, Hyatt Hotels, Steelcase, and Capital One were profiled in that report. They are not part of the 47 percent, as it were, of IT customers. They have large IT teams, and can build in the cost of failure on the way to change. Smaller companies, even if they're market space leaders like Dayton T. Brown, have to manage budgets differently, more slowly. Changes need to succeed sooner, if not on the first try. 

A broader-based recovery of middle-class IT customers, just like the one the administration seeks, might be just the thing to trigger changes. To put it another way, if the tide rises for small companies using the HP 3000, some of them might be able to afford major changes to their environments. Like migrations.