IBM recently launched its Asia software strategy at the Asia-Pacific Executive Software Congress in Maui, Hawaii, where it aligned its enterprise and server software behind the concept of network computing. In order to get a better insight on this latest and most significant software push, IDG's Gerald Wee met up with William Zeitler, vice-president of software for IBM Asia-Pacific, to discuss IBM's products and plans for the region.
IDG: For the record, will IBM ever drop OS/2?
ZEITLER: I don't think you will see IBM drop OS/2. It is too important for our major customers and it plays a too important role for their strategy and our software strategies.
IDG: Two years ago, one of the key focuses of OS/2 was to be strong at desktop productivity. What is happening now?
ZEITLER: Our primary strategy for OS/2 is to make it a strong platform for productivity applications in enterprises, particularly connected applications, and to make it a strong platform for connected and mobile users - good Internet and Notes connection. That's what we are focused on. We are not focused on making it a games machine or optimising it for disconnected clients.
IDG: Do you feel you have achieved that goal?
ZEITLER: We have a relatively strong position as an enterprise client, particularly in banks and financial companies. I am pleased with our progress there. There is much more that we could and should do. What I am not so pleased with is that for a while we diverted our attention away from the core strengths of OS/2 into competing in an area of disconnected clients, which wasn't our strength. It was Microsoft's major strength. Since then, we have focused our energies on enterprises and connected consumers.
IDG: Have you increased overall desktop market share?
ZEITLER: External sources are better, but my view is that we have held position while holding or increasing in the enterprise market, while we have decreased in the consumer market.
IDG: How has the Lotus acquisition helped in your enterprise strategy?
ZEITLER: The Lotus acquisition has helped an enormous amount in getting us connection into enterprise IT strategies and it has helped get us in the door in a lot of places. One of the consequences of having Lotus is that people have a better appreciation of the other things in our software portfolio - MQSeries, DB2, and things like that.
Particularly in the Asia-Pacific region, we have had good success in selling Lotus in combination with other elements of our software portfolio. One thing we have done here better than anywhere else in the world is to work together with Lotus to join sales and installation activities.
IDG: Is the whole software strategy a push for network computing?
ZEITLER: Yes, network computing presented the opportunity and the challenge to companies to re-engineer their operations to take advantage of network computing, and we wanted to present them with the whole breadth of IBM software available to use as they did that re-engineering.
We think it is important for people to not only consider the Web and Internet, but how they can integrate these into their enterprise computing installations, and that is to talk about the total problem and not just the Web itself or what is the best browser engine or what is the best Web server. Whatever browser engine or Web server companies choose to use, they still have a lot of other issues to face in terms of security, scalability and reliability and manageability.
IDG: Different companies define their network computing strategy differently. How is IBM's view better or worse than the others?
ZEITLER: In the early stages, it is not clear whose view is better or worse. The reason I think our view is better is because it tries to be more inclusive not just of the new technology, but how you introduce that technology into the enterprise systems people currently have.
The other thing we are trying to do is not to conduct the battle of the browser level - we learned that lesson in the Microsoft Windows battle. We are going to use whatever people have.
Thirdly, we are recognising that the nature of the devices and the nature of the applications that will be dominant is not yet known. All you know is that the fundamentals will follow these sets of standards.
They will offer universal connectivity and they will involve a network computer - anything that will have a browser engine, and that network computers are going to be things you never even imagined.
This is not an area that is black and white, where you can say this network computing strategy is better and this one's worse, but we think ours is pretty inclusive. It involves mainframes right down to PCs. And the reason it makes sense to customers is twofold.
One reason is that so much of their important business data resides on mainframes already, so when you can offer them a way to hook mainframes into the Internet, that is something they nod at and say, "this makes a lot of sense".
The second reason is because of scalability. Because so many realise that if they get something that is very successful - if they don't have something like the SP/2 or a mainframe, they could be overrun with transactions very quickly. So, the more people consider the full dimension of network computing, the better off we are. Many people now realise that scalability and reliability are important issues to them.
IDG: In Asia, where SMEs reign and don't really operate on the mainframe enterprise level, will IBM's strategy fare as well against offerings from Microsoft or Netscape?
ZEITLER: That is the reason why our strategy is to have Internet on everything and Notes everywhere. We have almost 400,000 AS/400 customers with very strong positions in places like ASEAN. And the fact that the AS/400 can be a full participant in the Internet and Notes is attractive to those people. We have a strong and improving position in PC servers. And we have the ability to run all of this middleware on NT as well as AIX or HP/UX.
I think that while we tell more stories about large companies than small ones, they are both important examples of what is going on. There is an enormous amount of interest from SMEs. The question is the same: how do I get my stuff, my data, my transactions onto the Internet. The fact that you can run an AS/400 transaction on the Internet using the Internet connection stuff is very important.
That is what distinguishes our strategy. We are trying to empower organisations, not force them to change.
IDG: What are the components of the strategy?
ZEITLER: There are three elements I want to get across. Internet and Notes is the first. The second is an open multiplatform middleware so that all our middleware will run on any platform. The third is that we are going to integrate all of our products to make them simpler to use and implement.
IDG: Notes seems to be a critical component of your network computing strategy. Will that pressure companies to use it?
ZEITLER: Not really. We have a lot of customers where Notes is not critical. We had earlier and better technical and marketing relationships with Netscape than Microsoft, who is at war with them. Same with Java. Java is on all the VisualAge products as well as Lotus and AS/400. It is on everything.
If nothing else, we have learned from our mistakes in the PC/PC LAN wars that we need to be very, very inclusive. And that an exclusive strategy on any tack, even one that is as strong as Lotus Notes, is not as good as a strategy that is inclusive.
IDG: What are you doing to push the network computing paradigm in Asia?
ZEITLER: We have had a network computing task force in Asia for some time now involving people in the hardware industries. We have an executive steering committee where we give network computing education to our own people and to business partners. We have been to everywhere in Asia doing that.
Then there are five focus areas - what products we have, what software companies we have writing solutions, what partners we have selling the product, what technical services we offer, and what we are doing to merchandise the product.
All these five things have to be done simultaneously and equally well because you can fail if you don't have enough partners, or nobody knows you have products, or if you don't have the technical support skills. The biggest problem is to focus too much on one of these elements and not enough on the total value proposition to the customer.
IDG: What are some of the infrastructural changes that might take place in the next year?
ZEITLER: There is a software general man-ager in each of our five major regions - Japan, ASEAN, Australia and New Zealand, Greater China Group, and Korea. Almost all of those people are new since the beginning of the year.
Underneath those people, there are country GMs in places like ASEAN. Our basic focus is to get more technical support people who can assist in sales, sales specialists and software account managers or people who will work with major accounts. We are hiring a fair amount of people outside IBM, particularly in ASEAN/India, because we are trying to invest rapidly in some of these groups.
These GMs are new and won't change. What will change is that we are making additional investments in staffing, particularly in sales support.
We are also staffing to support more Tivoli sales and Notes installations because we have a lot more opportunity. So, I don't think the fundamental structure is going to change.
We have set up integration support centres and we have channel support teams in place to support BESTeam partners.