Monday Jan 21, 2008

Information for the People, by the People



It's 1979, and I'm a 27 years old sales rep at Computer Sciences Corporation. CSC has invested six months in training me and 29 others in how to sell solutions, not hardware, a necessary skill for success in their new timesharing division, Infonet.

CSC was seen as the enemy by a fair number of IT managers back in the day. Most IT shops were IBM - lock, stock and barrel. CSC was Univac (remember them?), and not a welcome visitor. On top of that, Infonet was selling interactive computing, meant to displace those big batch jobs that IT specialized in at that time. As a result, there were darn few IT managers who were willing to meet with me. (One memorable cold call I had involved the receptionist passing my business card back to the IT manager to see if he would be willing to spend a couple minutes with me. I watched through the slightly ajar door as he ripped my card in half and tossed it in the trash. Hmmm...I guess the answer was "NO!")

Locked out of talking with IT guys, we determined sales reps moved on to users, and that's where we discovered gold. Executives and managers weren't getting what they needed from IT - and they had discretionary budgets to spend on a solution. I suspect that IT had treated these guys about as nicely as they treated me, and line folks were thrilled to ignore IT and get their own solutions in place. Thanks to Infonet, McDonald-Douglas and others in the timesharing business, dumb terminals , uh, I mean thin clients, started to appear on the desks of finance folks, marketing managers, operation guys. By ignoring the needs of users, IT had lost control of their computing environment. (And I bought my first house with a couple of those fat commission checks.)

Sun signed an agreement to acquire MySQL last week. Now whether you think this is the most brilliant move we could have made or if you think we did Oracle's dirty work for them, when a company ponies up $1B in assets for another, there's something interesting happening. MySQL's appeal is its open source database, which allows users to modify the code to meet their needs. And closed source companies really, really hate that. Are scared of it, in fact.

Why? Well, as I discovered 30 years ago as a freshman sales rep, when you let the customer (or developer, as the case may be) create the solution they want - not the one you're peddling - you can make a lot of money in the long run.

One last thought. Timesharing wsa a wake-up call to traditional IT and batch processing. PCs were the death knell for timesharing (I still remember when one of our reps, a guy fortuitously named Bill Smart, who quit CSC to open a PC store). Will open source be the end of closed systems? Time will tell. But I do know this: standing still is not an option - not if you want a future in technology.


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terrymckenzie

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