Selling TPF - All It Really Takes Is Teamwork
Orbiting the Earth for the past 11 years is one of mankind's stellar achievements. This floating motel/observatory/laboratory has been the site of thousands of scientific experiments and innumerable advancements in space medicine. Lately though, Mir has fallen on hard times. Starting with the docking incident that knocked out electrical and environmental controls, Mir has suffered a string of human and computer problems that became life-threatening for the space station as well as it's occupants.
Faced with potentially dire consequences, man's intellectual spirit and instinct for survival appear to have turned things around and granted this island in the sky a second chance on life. But the thing that strikes me as being most noteworthy about this entire episode, is the fact that this collaborative effort was achieved by former adversaries - the United States and Russia. Here was a situation where both nations had personnel at risk and where there was the potential for serious scientific setbacks - setbacks that could have very well spelled the end of the manned space station venture for all of mankind. The lesson here should be clear to all of us. When you get right down to it, the survival of Mir far outweighs the political differences of the players. And that boys and girls brings us to the real subject of this editorial.
For years now, I've done just about everything short of physical violence to get IBM to actively market TPF to the world at large. Unless you're privy to some inside information that I'm not, there hasn't been a new TPF customer licensed since the UAB project was conceived several years ago - not what I would call an aggressive marketing effort on the part of Big Blue. And while I'm overloaded with motivation and conviction, I have to admit that up until a few days ago, I was flat out of ideas. That's when it struck me. There isn't a person reading this who hasn't benefited from the product, not only as an airline passenger, or a hotel guest, or a credit card user, but as an employee. Most of us are gainfully employed through the graces of TPF. Now add to the equation the hundreds of people in the vendor community who also owe their livelihood to TPF. There's the hardware side of the house - mainframes, DASD, tape SILO's, protocol converters, etc.. Now consider the software contributors - VPARS, CMSTPF, Personal TPF, console automation products, and the entire repertoire of system tools and application programs on the market today. Don't forget to factor in the companies providing TPF technical training, or the growing number of professional recruiting firms that specialize in TPF placements, or the people who publish ACP/TPF Today! There are literally hundreds of people just outside of IBM's sphere who are dependent on the successful growth of TPF, and would suffer greatly if the customer base stagnates or shrinks.
Part of the problem as I see it is that IBM has chosen to cater to it's existing customers whenever upgrades or enhancements are made. I can easily imagine someone in the Development Lab coming up with a great idea, and the acid test for acceptance of the proposal is whether or not the airlines can use it. Now it's no secret that the airline customers are the bread & butter customers of the product, but by ignoring potential customers in the decision process fosters an environment which overlooks the opportunity to expand the use of TPF in other commercial ventures. Another concern I have is IBM's fear (personal opinion) of not being able to support new customers either in the Lab or in the field. Any company, and I mean ANY COMPANY that fears success is ultimately doomed to failure. I can't promise you that these reasons are part of the problem, and honestly it doesn't matter if they are or not. Let's just say that for reasons unknown at this time, IBM will not market TPF.
So what do we do about it? Do we sit around waiting for some sort of miracle where companies are suddenly pleading with IBM to sell them a TPF license? Do we wait for the day when IMS systems just can't handle the workload, and the only option left is to move to TPF? Or, do we take a queue from the folks at NASA and Star City? What we have here ladies and gentlemen is a technological outpost that's in trouble. It's old, it's never gotten the proper attention, it's not at all popular with the people holding the purse-strings, and it's in danger of losing the little momentum it has and falling into a decaying orbit. What I would like to propose is something that has never been done before. I propose that everyone with a stake in the game has something to lose if we continue to sit around while IBM does nothing. I suggest that we market TPF.
The three basic rules of marketing: (1) Provide the customer with something they can use. (2) Provide the customer with a quality product. (3) Provide the product at a cost the customer can afford. TPF does it all. As a transaction processing system it has no equal, there is certainly no argument as to the quality of the product, and on a cost-per-transaction basis no other transaction processing platform comes close to TPF. Since we're all in agreement as to the merits of the product, what we need to do now is advertise it. If everyone who advertised their product or service in a newspaper, magazine, or trade journal mentioned TPF in their ad, the word would get out. The want-to-knows would start asking questions if they saw Amdahl and Hitachi touting IBM's product. The need-to-knows would be challenged if they saw EMC and Memorex touting IBM's product. And the have-to-knows would be frothing at the mouth if the airlines, and the hotels, and financial institutions also touted IBM's product in their ads.
It's has all the makings of a win-win situation. Ideally, the consumer is exposed to a wonderful new product that everyone in the industry is talking about, and the growing interest in TPF leads to several new licensed customers. Now the doors begin to open for the hardware and software people, the educators, and the technical recruiters. The benefit is shared, and the cost has been negligible. But as I see it, the real issue here will be IBM's response to having TPF marketed by the competition. And again it's a win-win situation. Hopefully, they'll finally get off the bench and run with the ball. If on the other hand they take steps to restrain others from showcasing TPF in advertising media, it's time for every one of us to question IBM's real motives, and to become very concerned about what the future holds for us.