Can Rocket Software fix the Pick industry?

I’ve had a lot of chats with people about what’s wrong with the Pick/MultiValue industry. The discussions are similar and usually end with a “that’s nice but there’s nothing we can do”.

Then I get a call about another site migrating, about another VAR who didn’t tell them they could do all the things they were leaving to do. But it’s too late. By the time I hear about it the papers have been signed. I usually get the word from a BASIC programmer looking for work, or from an IT director looking for .NET people to replace the BASIC developers, or from one of my well-qualified colleagues who got the same late word from the grapevine. These stories could have ended so differently. What if the IT director had called beforehand? What if the BASIC programmers had some clout or authority to bring in a technology adviser before management made their decisions? What if the “value-add” reseller had called in some help before the end-user got tired of waiting from modern solutions from a reluctant provider? What if the DBMS provider had called in an industry professional to represent them, next to or if necessary in place of that “value-add” reseller.

I think a lot of migrations from MV are self-fulfilling prophecies. Migration is absolutely not necessary but too many sites have convinced themselves that it is, and the providers and resellers in this industry often do little to stop it. The industry thus shrinks and gives everyone else reason to follow. I was hoping that InterSystems was going to save this industry like they did Mumps. They have the organization, the talent, the money, the positioning – but not long after they completed the implementation of MV into Caché they seemed to lose interest in this industry. That’s a shame. They could still do it if they wanted to. Rocket Software has invested heavily in a customer base that is paying licenses and looking for reasons to continue doing so. An investment is nothing without that next step that produces and sustains the ROI. It’s the step that InterSystems decided not to take. So what is that next step?

First note that the problem is not the technology. People almost never leave MV because they’re lacking for tools. They leave because they can’t find people qualified to work in a modern IT department. The work force is aging and retiring, and when end-users can’t find a Pick guy who can spell API, they start looking at other platforms. So the next step is to get more people into this industry who can work on both sides of the fence. (BTW, when I say “guy”, that’s generic, I include women too.)

How does that happen? Bring the platform to a modern audience. Stop looking at the platform like it’s old and stop calling it “legacy”. It’s just as capable as any other platform when used properly. Pick fans are its worst enemies because they lament about how much they used to do without paying attention to what they can do. The MV DBMS companies are as guilty as anyone else. They throw technology at the platform to appease the existing base while looking for alternative sources of revenue and planning their exit strategy. Every one of these companies has had 1-2 decades to pitch to new audiences but they’ve chosen to stay in the comfort zone and grab migrations. It’s time to do some real marketing.

Real what? Just do what they do for every other tool: Get the platform into the hands of new users. These people write blogs, wiki’s, videos, and how-to’s. They publish FOSS and debate in public about their platform of choice. There’s a whole generation of people who don’t know what a database is. When Pick Systems did trade shows I could take people from logon to dicts and BASIC code, with rules and reports in 10 minutes – and then they’d stick around for longer to ask questions. Of course these days we need to combine that with GUI tools. But after that event the excitement needs to be reinforced by ongoing word of mouth and other references on the internet. We need evangelism – yes, a concept that’s shunned by some and embraced dearly by others.

And who does this? Everyone. The DBMS companies expect the VARs to market the database but we’ve all been saying for years that we sell applications, not databases. VARs hide the platform so that they can sell their app. That does us all an injustice. The DBMS providers need to encourage their VARs to evangelize, and partner with them at shows and in media to represent the platform under the application. The DBMS providers need to ensure that end-users know what platform they have, and make sure decision makers know that the platform is fully capable, despite the occasional limitations of the resellers. We all respect the reseller channel, but this industry has left platform marketing in the hands of people who are interested in selling applications, not platforms. Ironically they can’t sell the application without platform recognition. The VARs are nice and hard-working people but they just don’t do this thing that we collectively need done. They can participate in the distribution of information, but where they fall short they need assistance. We can’t have people who sell a character app talking about GUI like it’s 1990, or trying to convince people they don’t really need GUI. And those things that they are unwilling to do, like educating their end-users, need to be done by someone else. We’ve already seen what happens when we don’t do this. The DBMS providers need to take a more active part in driving their own destiny, and that will help all of us.

The real goal is to bring in new developers, to get them to write new apps that integrate with modern platforms, frameworks, languages, and devices, to get them to announce their success to others, and to repeat the process over again. This is how other technologies rise to success. There’s no reason why we can’t follow successful examples of platforms that rise from nothing to worldwide recognition within a few short years.

At this time, Rocket Software is now in the best position to make this happen. There’s a path that can be followed. It’s been cleared and lit by thousands of other companies and individuals. Just look at common names like Twitter, Sqlite, jQuery, and Angry Birds. They all started small and exploded into the global consciousness. It’s all about public awareness. All Rocket needs to do is to get on the path.

If not, what is this whole game that we’re playing? Just keep living through the next paycheck until it’s time to retire or until the company gets sold again? Look around, that ain’t workin’. Personally I’d rather be a part of a vibrant growing industry. That’s where the fun and money are. And for those who don’t care for fun – that money thing is related to the ROI that I mentioned above. Maybe that’ll turn a head or two at Rocket.

Have any questions? Just ask me – you know where I am. Or look around and see how every other successful platform got to where they are. But, and here’s the real kicker. Just do Something. Cuz this do Nothing thing isn’t going anywhere.

I expect there will be a Part 2 of this, touching on character apps, mobile, retraining, collaboration, job ads, and the value of a good cup of coffee. Stay tuned. 🙂

Oh, this is funny, immediately after posting this blog I stumbled on this article: Developer Evangelism is a Process, Not an Event. You really need to read it.

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