IBM has sold Universe and Unidata (U2) to Rocket Software – Is it time to look forward or back?

David Jordan posted some comments to the U2 forum that made me think about how this isn’t just about IBM and U2 – this event is yet another loud message to the entire MV community.

Here are selected quotes from David’s posting:

U2 business has still been growing double digits for many years now.

Any organisation has one focus and that is to make money.

Informix and IBM never bought U2 as a product, it came with the baggage. Rocket has made a strategic decision to buy U2.

Informix and IBM were both staggered at the passion of the U2 community, if we present this to Rocket, they will be too.

Let’s accept that IBM and Informix were staggered by the passion of a community for a product line that has been growing double digits for years. Most of us will also agree that the goal of business is to make money.

We lament that IBM never really gave U2 a chance, that the platform was baggage that came with what they really had their eyes on, that they would ignore profitability in the name of staying focused on other products of higher interest. “Silly them,” one might say, “they were too busy with other things and didn’t know what they had, and now the fools sold it to someone with vision.” We could say this about any company that sells off their MV assets – and we’ve seen that a lot over the years.

Then again, IBM people are generally pretty smart. Despite a few blunders they’ve been pretty successful in the business of making money for decades – that’s one of the reasons why they have such a good reputation. As soon as they realized that their acquisition of Informix included this arguably profitable gem, as soon as they saw significant profitability (assuming that’s really the case), you’d think they would have shifted to nurture this line of business in the name of the “prime directive”. But now they’ve sold it to another company that (we hope) perceives some value. (Hey, this could be the DBMS Division of…) I think there is a lot that we don’t know about the motivations for this sale and for the purchase.

While we may be disappointed at IBM’s lack of interest in this platform I have to believe they had ongoing reasons to remain disinterested, something other than simply “other things to do” and a collective failure to recognize what this community perceives to be a treasure. One can’t have it both ways: If you were proud to have IBM as a business partner, and you used their credibility to sell your software, you can’t also fall back on how clueless they’ve been (“they” meaning a LOT of people over a LONG period of time) not to recognize a good thing when they had it, and how smart some other company was to buy it from them. I suspect we won’t know the real story about this for many years.

Corporations do not live on Passion alone

Regarding David’s note “Informix and IBM were both staggered at the passion of the U2 community, if we present this to Rocket, they will be too.” To that I’ll paraphrase what I’ve been saying for years: Passion doesn’t cut it with corporate decision makers. As a community, U2 VARs and other supporters will need to do a lot better at selling U2 to Rocket than they did with all of the other owners. The same is true for any reseller channel where the upline vendor changes. Let’s hope this event will prove to be a motivational experience for the reseller channels for all MV products.

What? Why should the channel be “motivated” to sell something to the upline vendors? Traditionally we expect the MV DBMS vendors to convince us that they’re better than all the others.

If VARs don’t sell the platform to new end-users then the supply of companies willing to serve as upline vendor eventually dries up. The MV market needs to earn its keep – this is an ongoing process. This isn’t all on the VARs of course, industry growth needs to be a partnership between the upline vendors and the reseller channel. VARs can’t get credibility with their prospect audience if their upline vendors are unknown – which explains why a lot of companies flocked to IBM when U2 was acquired. VARs also have a hard time selling to prospects when their platform is unknown – that is, when the upline vendor, even one that’s well known, doesn’t do any marketing. But DBMS vendors won’t spend marketing dollars if their VAR channel isn’t generating enough revenue to warrant the investment. That’s why there needs to be a partnership, with both sides convincing one another that they’re worth mutual investment.

So I use the term “motivated” to imply that MV DBMS VARs need to be more proactive about selling their software, so that their upline will be more motivated to support their platform and to help them to sell it. You see, it’s a symbiotic, reciprocal relationship. If VARs sit back and leave all the work to the upline (offering only the passion of the community to convince their upline that this is a worthy investment) they can look forward to one sell off after another. Investors need to see the profit. People who are passionate need to translate that passion into currency – and they need to convey the right message to their upline. The message to the upline is not “we love the software so you should support it”, it should be “help us to market our software so that we can keep you profitable”.

MV VARs need to do their part by finding out what the end-user community wants, not just selling to end-users what the VARs are comfortable selling, and not just trying to sell whatever the upline provides. VARs need to drive the upline vendors to create products that respond to market demands, and then they need to use the tools. Again, this is reciprocal – DBMS vendors and other providers create tools, VARs use the tools to create competitive solutions, everyone makes more money and uses it to fund a new round of marketing to end-users who will drive the next wave. If VARs don’t satisfy the needs of end-users, end-users will go somewhere else – and all of the passion that people have for these platforms won’t be enough to stop corporate decision makers from chasing after wherever the end-users are going.

What’s the take away here? Be confident that you’re using a product that’s excellent for many reasons, but be mindful of the fact that people (like those at IBM) whom you respect and/or rely on might disagree with you about its value, and that grassroots support isn’t enough to convince them otherwise. You can’t rely on the vendors of these MV products to take you and the platform mainstream. That has to come from the community. Corporate support will follow the money. You’ll know you’re doing a good job when your vendor doesn’t want to sell their rights to your tools of choice anymore. The best thing you can do for yourself and for your vendor is to get them to help you to sell your software. Ask not what your vendor can do for you … well, OK, that’s taking it a bit far.

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