Sunday, November 29, 2015

To profit from business the business must profit!

There’s very little need to introduce this post as the previous post signaled that this would follow – and yes, it’s all about the strategy and vision for NonStop as presented by HPE executives during the 2015 NonStop Technical Boot Camp.

Last year, at the 2014 NonStop Technical Boot Camp, I wrapped up my presentation on big data and its importance to the NonStop community by quoting race car driver, Rick Mears, when he said “To finish first, you first must finish!” I followed that reference with one of my own, to leverage big data, you first must participate. In other words, before you consider the potential value proposition from what big data has to offer, you need to take a couple of baby steps forward and try integrating with big data.

Now it’s a year later and this message remains as true today as it did back then. But here’s a new variation on that original remark by Rick Mears, to profit from business, the business must first profit. It’s a hard lesson the marketplace provides us all – a business needs to demonstrate its products make money before the business can become profitable and return dividends to stakeholders. For the NonStop community there’s no escaping the reality that the future of a NonStop system hang on by a thread for quite some time as first Compaq, HP  and ultimately, HPE, wrestled with how to return NonStop to profit – for many of us, the fact that Tandem Computers stopped being profitable back in the 1990s escapes us.

In my previous post to this blog, What did I learn from 2015 NonStop Technical Boot Camp? I included a teaser for this post when I blogged of how, in his keynote presentation, Martin Fink, EVP and CTO, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, told all of us that his marching orders when being promoted to head the NonStop Enterprise Division (NED), were “Fix it … or, Exit!”  I then added how Martin said he never really contemplated an exit even as he was given little room to get the business healthy. What I didn’t include was Martin’s follow on comment, “I needed a plan and I needed a strategy.”

What followed was cheat sheet for all future leaders faced with oversight of a business that wasn’t profitable; a guide map that leads to a significant turnaround (of fortunes). Martin called it his seven rules of strategy and right off the bat, as he began to walk us all through the list, it didn’t start with a customer centric focus. Nothing as cute as “Put the Customer First,” or similar, but rather, when it came to rule one it was “Be Selfish!” And here’s where he took control of the audience as he said, “If a company doesn’t make money, all other considerations are not possible.”

Several years ago, at a CTUG event, I was struck by the smile that grew across the face of Randy Meyer, VP and GM, Mission Critical Systems at Hewlett Packard Enterprise, when he told all gathered to hear his keynote of how the NonStop organization had returned to profitability. This I touched on too in the post of May 6, 2014, Step on the gas! where I referred to Randy’s presentation of the previous year, where his energy had been spent on righting the NonStop ship and plugging the leaks – the prognosis at the time was less than appetizing. It seemed, according to Randy, that with every shipment of a NonStop system, HP was losing money and on that basis, it would have been easy for HP to simply walk away.

If being selfish, as Martin admitted, resulted in the righting of the ship and a return to profitability, then many other executives should be just as selfish. But there were more rules of strategy Martin explained. If the first rule of strategy is Be Selfish, then next two rules fall somewhat into place – rule two is “Make a Contribution” followed by rule three, “Observe the Customer.” Martin then explained that for him, “I don’t just want to compete; I don’t just want to win: I want to make a contribution.” Furthermore, “In order to make a strategy, we need to observe your actions.” As opposed to “listening to your customer which is tactical.”

Talk to anyone in customer support or even product management and every community witnesses firsthand how every new widget needs to be supported even as every bug needs to be corrected and these are the most pressing issues of the day. Not! Having an opportunity to count how many x86 systems are arriving on the dock outside a data center can tell you a lot about where IT is headed and I picked up on the groundswell of support for the Plug-Compatible Mainframe (PCM) business when I first read of the plans by Fujitsu in Australia to move out of a small suburban office in Sydney to a very large new building overlooking Sydney Harbor. As they say, something was very much afoot!

Rule four of strategy brought smiles to the faces of everyone in the NonStop community, “Know your Value Proposition.” According to Martin, “I was blessed when I came to NonStop; everyone in NonStop knew the value proposition by heart – Data Integrity, Scalability, Fault Tolerance.” No matter who he talked to in the NonStop community, whether they were developers within his own organization, vendors, or customers, they all said the very same thing and this was a first for Martin. Nowhere else in IT is the value proposition as well understood as it is within the NonStop community. I believe that knowing your value proposition also brings with it incredible focus and an ability to make decisive moves in support of that value proposition, something we all have seen with the arrival of NonStop X.

Rules five and six evolve from rule four. “Understand the Technology at a Very Deep Level” followed by “Structure follows Strategy.”  Understanding technology was behind the decision to move on from ServerNet and embrace InfiniBand even as Martin’s staff at NED, all those years ago, became more and more focused on NonStop as a software offering. The transition from Fault Tolerant hardware offering to a NonStop software solution began with Martin’s promotion to NED. Readers of this blog will know full well of how long I have been writing about this transition and where it’s headed. If Martin revealed much about strategy the other word heard for the first time was vision, and with NonStop as a software solution, it’s time to think of virtualization and of a role for NonStop in a fully virtualized world.

The final rule? When it came to rule seven it was as if we were circling back to the beginning. According to Martin, this rule was “Know Your Business Model” When I heard this it brought back many memories from my childhood school days. I went to an all-boys high school as was the fashion in Sydney at the time, Normanhurst Boys High School. Our school motto was “Know Thyself” and I suspect around the planet, our school wasn’t alone in selecting such a dictum. One explanation of the meaning of Know Thyself I came across in the magazine Psychology Today, suggested that “Personal intelligence opens a privileged window into our own minds as well as into the most byzantine motivations of others.” In short, to be selfish, you need to know what it is you’re being selfish about – and for Martin, the deeper into his presentation he went, the more the audience could see there was no hiding from his enthusiasm for NonStop.

In future posts I am going to cover in more detail the vision for NonStop even as more information on this topic came the following day in the presentation by Andy Bergholz, Director of Engineering, Hewlett Packard Enterprise. As with strategy, expressing publicly a vision can only be done when there is confidence in the future of a product or service and the resounding message coming from this year’s Boot Camp was that NonStop was at the heart of numerous funded projects deep within HPE. A long term vision that has NonStop as a service? And what about NonStop SQL as a service?  There will be additional posts shortly on these topics so watch for them. Yes, truly, we have seen the return to profitability for NonStop and with profitability, all of us who are stakeholders in NonStop will profit from NonStop.  

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