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Q&A with IBM's new iSeries marketer

Here's some from a Q&A with IBM's new iSeries marketing guru Elaine Lennox. Of course, the iSeries is the mid-range server formerly known as AS/400 that is made in Rochester. This interview was done by Cheryl D. Ross of the iSeries Network:

fter word leaked out last month that Peter Bingaman had left his job as vice president of iSeries marketing, IBM quickly announced his replacement: Elaine Lennox, an exec in charge of small and medium businesses (SMBs) in the Systems Group. In her first week on the job, Lennox saw very little of her San Jose home — a trend that she expects to continue as she shuttles between the iSeries' Rochester headquarters and IBM corporate offices in Somers, with several detours to visit partners and customers.

Although few in the iSeries world may have heard of Lennox before her appointment, she's long been a fan of the platform and even looked upon it with envy when she worked for Hewlett-Packard. "I believe in this platform," she says, in a cheery, energetic voice that scarcely betrays her Scottish roots, sounding instead like a cross between a Canadian and a California girl. She says she learned to tone down her native brogue while working in Europe for HP after Russian partners, confused by her accent, sent out a product launch on a Tuesday instead of the following Thursday.

iSN: As somebody walking in fresh, what do you find as being the state of the iSeries?
Lennox: We've obviously made a ton of progress in the past year. In particular, we've made a ton of progress on reenergizing our ISV community. Actually we're just coming up on the anniversary of the iSeries Initiative for Innovation. I think that's one of the smarter things we ever did.

This year, with the iSeries Initiative for Innovation, we're going to keep innovating with ISVs and bringing new people onto the platform. But the other question we need to answer is how do we help ensure those ISVs we've already brought on board are successful in generating business on iSeries? How do we effectively get those solutions in the hands of the right customers and generate demand for those solutions and give visibility to those solutions?

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Overall, what I'm walking into is a combination of things. A team that has reenergized its ecosystem over the last 12 months — but still has a long way to go on that journey — has made some good progress in getting awareness back up, informing clients of the benefits and the unique simplicity the platform can offer. And an incredibly passionate community. You always hear about how passionate the iSeries community is, but until you actually land in Rochester and start talking to clients and partners...

One of my goals in this job will be to take that passion and leverage it into what I'd call the mainstream IT marketplace. We have this IT community. They're incredibly passionate, but they're not always viewed as mainstream. So how do we share that passion and that understanding of the unique benefits of the iSeries platform with the people in the industry who may be from a new generation?

There's a generational gap going on here. There's the Intel generation. They grew up with distributed architecture. That was sort of the de facto standard, or the way they thought the world should be. So they grew up in a world where employing tons of people to look after your servers is just the only answer there is. But that isn't the only answer there is.

So how do we get out to that generation, not the AS/400 generation who understands the benefits, who've lived through the iSeries world, but the new generation of IT people. How do we show them that there's another?

iSN: So what kind of feedback were you getting from the community?

Lennox: The first thing they wanted to tell me was how special the iSeries is. The second was, when can you come out and spend time with us? The next was, we need to keep the clarity on what our true value proposition is and explain that to the world.

People asked a lot of questions about the awareness advertising: "You spent a lot of money on advertising last year. Are you going to keep that up?"

iSN: I understand that the advertising isn't handled by Rochester, but by IBM corporate.

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Lennox: That's true. We plan with the whole IBM team how to do our advertising. One of the reasons being that we don't want conflicting messages in the marketplace, and if everybody ran their own advertising completely independently, we'd end up with things falling on top of each other on the same date.

But I've already talked with the corporate team, and keeping this focus on awareness of iSeries and the iSeries value proposition is definitely one of the priorities for this year.

iSN: What do you think about the fact that the BladeCenter has taken over the iSeries' "Take Back Control" message?

Lennox: In fact, that's been a point of conversation with some of the partners this week.

We have to differentiate what we say the value proposition of the iSeries is. And it's all about solutions, easily implementing solutions. It's about simplicity and the whole environment of running this platform, and it's about integration.

It is true that in the latest commercials, perhaps we weren't as differentiated between the platforms as we needed to be. It's not the fact that the logo is the same or the fact that the campaign has the same character in it. It's that we need to be very pointed in showing how differentiated the iSeries proposition is.

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