Unix's Future: How much does it matter?
Personal emulator may help indie vendors

Planning for a Chain of Succession

Editor's note: I missed posting an article Monday because of a serious bout of the flu. (If you think 103 is tough on the outside themometer, try it on the inside.) One of our dauntless and profound supporters and sponsors, Brian Edminster, emailed to ask if everything was okay here. He reads us religiously and often sends articles which I'm happy to publish.

Today is one of those lucky days for me, while I get back on my feet. Brian asked about a chain of succession here at the Newswire, a great subject that most of the community should consider about their own operations, too. I plan to write a bit more about our succession here, later on this week.

By Brian Edminster

Some things are more noticeable by their absence, than by their presence. Highly reliable systems (like the 3000) fit in this category, as does regular delivery of news -- or any other product we've come to regularly rely upon. Can you imagine suddenly not receiving a newspaper or magazine because a key person became permanently unavailable?  Most well run businesses have succession plans in place to cover this contingency.

And succession planning for a small business isn't that far removed from the Continuity/DR/Growth-Upgrade-Path planning process for an IT department. Or to put it in even more 'close to the heart' terms: For a small business run by it's founders, succession planning isn't too far removed from the planning required to successfully homestead on a 3000.

It's all about how to keep things running -- when key components (or individuals) are no longer available. There's an old adage about: "Failing to plan is planning to fail".  It's true in succession planning, and it's true for homesteading.

In a small business, if the founder or other key individual dies, eventually the assets (both physical and intellectual) will likely be acquired by someone. The question is: Will that someone be as interested in continuing the business as the founder -- who might have been keeping the business going as much for the love of it and the platform as for the potential for maximizing profit?  If you use third party tools and/or applications, it's prudent to ask about their succession planning.  Same goes for your hardware support vendors.

The availability of the new Stromasys emulator for HP PA-RISC hardware greatly extends the potential lifespan of MPE/iX based applications -- by freeing us from the limits of the current pool of HP PA-RISC hardware (processors, interface cards, disk storage, etc), in the same way that having 'new blood' learning, appreciating, and working to keep the wheels turning in a small business does.  

The question for long-term viability of the MPE/iX platform is not really just having an an answer to long-term hardware availability, but rather long term availability of those with the skills to program and administer them.  When was the last time you found someone fresh out of college that was looking forward to the prospect of working on a 'legacy' platform, and how long until your current technical resources retire, or worse?

Robelle has noticed this and has recently started offering a scripting service -- to help sites that already have their products in house, but may be losing, or have already lost the expertise to use them effectively - to do modifications as application requirements change over time.  I expect that we'll be seeing more of this 'maintenance outsourcing' as time goes on.

Don't for a minute believe that application software can remain static forever, and still retain its business value. I once heard an interesting comparison of software and sharks -- in that they both must keep moving, or they'll die.  It's as imperative that the expertise required to keep your application systems maintained be preserved, as it is to ensure the availability of hardware to run it on.  Fortunately, in the 3000 community, "growing your own" by mentoring new staff is a tradition as old as the platform.  Just don't forget to start the process, while it's still possible to learn from those who've blazed the trails we follow.

While it's true that every organization's tolerance for risk is different, it's also true that every organization anticipating long term survival needs to have something in the way of a plan to support that goal.  There are several companies in the 3000 community that specialize in this kind of work - any of which would be happy to help develop a plan, regardless of whether it's to replace, migrate, or homestead.   

Do you have a plan yet?  If not, there's no time like the present to start developing one - before it's desperately needed.