It is now some 12 months since Open Access (OA) was announced by IBM and some nine months since it first emerged “in the wild.” The original hype has died down and folks are beginning to get a far more realistic feel for where it fits in the overall picture of application modernization for IBM i. It is not a silver bullet, but as we have so often said before--neither is anything else and almost certainly never will be.
So why do we say that decisions are needed by Rational? Seven reasons:
1) The vast majority of IBM i users have still not heard about it. This is not for a lack of effort on the part of a number of people, notably the ISVs who market products based on OA. However, the majority of the efforts to publicize Open Access to date seem to come from IBM Rochester rather than the folks who get the revenue--Rational.
2) It is still way too difficult to place an order for the product. Rational’s own sales force often doesn’t seem to understand IBM i in general and Open Access in particular. We have heard many stories of people being told by sales staff that they’ve never heard of it, and even that it doesn't exist, even when the product code is supplied. Then there was Aaron Bartell's tale of his attempts to purchase the product which he described on his blog.
Now admittedly, Aaron did not know the correct process and tried to order the product before it was available. So we thought we’d give it a try today. We found our way to the Open Access product page and found a prominent green button on the right-hand-side marked “View US prices & buy.” Looks good, right? Sadly when we pressed it we got “Following error occurred while processing your request. Error: 102 No products found matching your search criteria. Please try a different search.” Note this is from the product page!
Even those in IBM who are spreading the good word have their efforts undermined when a customer hits a brick wall once they decide to go ahead and try to buy the product. Someone at Rational needs to follow the principles behind the TV show “Undercover Boss” and try to buy their own products.
3) There's no free trial. You can try RDP (an $800+ product) free for 60 days. But you can't try the $500 OA. Yes, you can order it and try it for 70 days and return it if you don't want it. But that presumes you can persuade your manager that he really wants all of the pain of trying to order it just to experiment for 70 days.
4) The majority of sales will probably be at the $500 (P05) or $1,000 (P10) price levels. From that revenue IBM has to cover the cost of handling the order, paying commission, shipping CDs, etc. Can there really be enough profit left after those expenses are factored in to make it worth while? When you add in the “cost” of frustrating your most loyal customer base it just does not appear to make economic sense. And if anyone at Rational is reading this, please don't think we are suggesting that the prices are too low (more on this later).
5) The cost and difficulty of ordering OA are barriers to innovation. We have reached a point in time when open source is beginning to take off in the community, and indeed several ISVs are also experimenting with supplying their software free-of-charge. But nobody is likely to explore building open source OA handlers when they cannot be used without buying OA from IBM.
6) Every barrier to modernization increases the likelihood that companies will move off the platform. Rational has made good money over the years selling compiler and tool licenses to IBM i users. It doesn't seem to make sense to continue to take actions that may reduce that potential revenue stream.
7) Why charge for Open Access? We’ve heard various reasons, ranging from needing the revenue (see point 4) to tracking the number of users etc. Users can be tracked without making them pay for a product. Ask Zend. For convenience of installation Zend Server is shipped on every new box. All you have to do is install it and then enter your serial number on Zend’s website to get the full activation key. Voila--usage tracked.
So what's to do? In our opinion the longer-term solution is simply to bundle OA with the operating system, where frankly we believe it should have been to begin with. If Rational needs to make some revenue from the product then the organization should simply increase the compiler price a little. That way those who want to stay with their green screens are helping to subsidize those that want to move forward.
In the short term Rational should follow Zend's lead. Make the product available for instant free download and activate it via the Web if activation tracking is needed.
The solution seems very simple and once it is in place, the door is open and we can all get on with exploiting this great little tool.