Friday, May 29

We should import more from Japan

Before the nationalists among you cry out in protest, I should explain that I am not advocating a widening of our trade gap. Instead, a colleague in our Asia Pacific subsidiary has just told me about an uprising by the IBM partner community in Japan. It sounds like another innovation from the East that could well be heading West.
A group of over 70 IBM partners and Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) has joined forces in Japan - the world’s second largest IT market - to launch the IBM i Manifest initiative. The coalition has three main objectives:
  1. To revitalize the IBM i market in Japan and increase the customer base
  2. To assure IBM i customers, resellers and ISVs selling IBM i solutions that IBM i will not only survive but continue to prosper
  3. To inform the wider IT community of the unique value proposition of the IBM i server
The partner community has taken this unusual step in response to a change in focus of IBM’s corporate marketing and server positioning. Below the level of their global campaigns (like Smarter Planet) IBM now promotes its software and services offerings before its hardware portfolio. IBM’s Systems and Technology Group offers a range of server platforms, powered by operating systems which in many cases are also promoted by other vendors and communities - Linux, Unix (AIX) and Windows. In contrast IBM i and z/OS are owned by IBM and so require different marketing, sales execution and ecosystem development strategies. IBM needs to be more proactive in areas like market education, establishing a core value proposition and selling on value. But the harsh reality is that IBM has neglected its responsibilities and now the partner community is left to take up the slack. The question is: can the partner community make a better fist of it all? Well, some of the steps already taken by the iManifest membership include:

Recruiting 71 foundation members for the launch
Preparation of a manifesto known as the 'IBM i Manifest', or iManifest for short, to articulate passion and support for IBM i and a promise to support IBM i customers reliably into the future
Placement of a full-page advertisement in Japan’s most influential daily newspaper, the Nikkei (equivalent to the Wall Street Journal or Financial Times)
Provision of web access to the iManifest Declaration on Japan’s iForum community web site
Formation of the iManifest Advisory Board, to coordinate 7 task forces focusing respectively on Technology Advantage, Leveraging the Media, Collaboration with IBM, Marketing of IBM i, Winback Strategy Formulation, New member recruitment and Immediate Actions

What struck me most was how quickly they raised the circa. USD 100,000 required to pay for that full page advert in the Nikkei newspaper. I have seen many such coalitions come and go over the years, but I've never seen one make such a splash and so readily put its money where its mouth is.The advertisement was a success. Immediately the committee started fielding numerous phone calls and receiving emails from IBM i users, IBM employees and business partners to congratulate them on the venture. Competitors sat-up and took notice. Web access to the iManifest page on the iForum web site spiked at 24,000 hits as against the usual 1,000 or so hits per week.The close cooperation demonstrated thus far between the members of the iManifest initiative in Japan is an impressive achievement. While IT vendors often give lip-service to “co-opetition”, defined as simultaneous co-operation and competition amongst vendors, the reality of delivering genuine benefits to the market by co-opetition is much harder to achieve.

S. Kakizawa, President of Sanwa Comtec and one of five directors on the iManifest Advisory Board, puts the question to his colleagues very simply by adapting a well-known historical saying: "And so, my fellow IBM i partner community members: ask not what IBM can do for you, ask instead what you can do for your IBM i community."

Take a look at the iManifest Declaration (originally written in Japanese and now available in English) to see the passion and the determination behind this new initiative. Those of us outside Japan should follow the iManifest initiative’s progress with interest, and see what lessons can be learned for our own markets.

If anyone wants to kick-start such an initiative in EMEA then let me know and I'll gladly help to construct the board and hereby pledge a contribution to a similar full-page advert in the Financial Times.