IBM Welcomes COMMON Advisory Councils to Rochester – IT Jungle

IBM Welcomes COMMON Advisory Councils to Rochester

December 7, 2022

Alex Woodie

One of the hallmarks of a good company is listening to customers. A company may not do everything that its customers wish, but it must show that it’s listening to maintain the relationship. This dynamic was in play during an IBM i meeting that took place last month in Rochester, Minnesota, between IBM and the advisory councils for both COMMON North America and COMMON Europe.

The three-day meeting that took place November 14 through 16 involved a handful of members from the COMMON Americas Advisory Council (CAAC) as well as the COMMON Europe Advisory Council (CEAC). Both advisory councils had about a dozen members attending, with some CEAC members coming in via Zoom. From the IBM side were Dave Nelson, director of IBM i development; IBM i CTO and Distinguished Engineer Steve Will; IBM i Product Manager Alison Butterill, and other product owners.

While the meeting was not open to the press and the specific discussions were confidential, IBM was kind enough to provide IT Jungle with a rough summary of what was talked about at the CAAC/CEAC meeting, which is the first joint meeting involving these two advisory groups since 2019.

There are basically two orders of business at meetings like this. First, IBM gives an update on the state of IBM i today and the roadmap. Then, the advisory councils provide input to IBM on the types of things they would like to see in the operating system or the platform. The advisory councils also share information about IBM i functionality that COMMON members would like to see implemented by IBM into the platform. These used to be called requests for enhancements (RFEs) and are now formally called “Ideas” by IBM.

At this particular meeting, after providing the roadmap to the CAA/CEAC members, IBM drilled down on specific areas of the platform. It talked about systems management, including the future of Navigator for i (“New Nav”) and Access Client Solutions (ACS). It also talked about how IBM i can work with third-party tools, according to a summary provided by Will.

The database is the beating heart of the IBM i platform, so it’s no surprise that Db2 for i was brought up. There was a specific focus on the new Watson geospatial capabilities that IBM recently released with IBM i 7.5 TR1 and 7.4 TR7. Db2 Mirror, the continuous availability solution that runs off Db2, was also discussed.

Application development was another topic of discussion, according to IBM, with both traditional (i.e., ILE) and open source (i.e., PASE runtimes) being discussed. IBM i Merlin, the new containerized vehicle for Web-based development and DevOps on IBM i, also made an appearance.

Last but definitely not least was security, which has been a focus of IBM in recent releases, particularly in IBM i 7.5. Members of the COMMON councils were given a preview of an enhancement that is in the works for the next major release of the operating system. What exactly is it? Well, IBM isn’t telling.

But the hush-hush security update definitely got the attention of CEAC board member Steve Bradshaw, the IBM i Champion from the UK who was in attendance at the snowy Southern Minnesota shindig on behalf of the CEAC.

COMMON Europe director Steve Bradshaw talks with IBM i CTO Steve Will at the IBM Lab in Rochester, Minnesota in November 2022. (Source: YouTube)

“I can’t tell you what we’ve been talking about,” Bradshaw affirmed in a video posted to the YouTube. “I think I am allowed to say we’ve been focusing more on security. And I didn’t think I was going to be able to say that, because we put so much in 7.5 for security. But if security is your thing, then you’re going to be delighted with what’s coming next.”

Security has become something of a thing for many an IBM i shop, who have been living with deteriorating cybersecurity conditions for years, even before the ransomware epidemic hit critical new heights in 2021. For five straight years, security was the chief concern among respondents to HelpSystems IBM i Marketplace Study (HelpSystems recently changed its name to Fortra).

That security message is bubbling up the chain to IBM i brass, like Ian Jarman, the former IBM i product manager who is now the CTO of Technology Services (formerly Lab Services), who declared nearly two years ago that he was “alarmed” by the poor security postures of IBM i systems.

What exactly the IBM i engineers in Rochester, Austin, Toronto, and Shanghai have up their security sleeves will have to wait until IBM is ready to spill the beans (possibly in a version eight of the ohh-ess, and possibly early next year). In any case, this whole case of give-and-take between IBM decision makers and IBM i customers is a working example of how Big Blue likes to do business: Customers share their concerns, IBM listens, and a solution is hammered out.

This new-feature engine has been running well the past few years. IBM says that, between the delivery of IBM i 7.4 in the spring of 2019 GA and the delivery of IBM i 7.5 in the spring of 2022, 499 Ideas (formerly RFEs) were implemented in IBM i. “And the Advisory Councils saw every one of them,” IBM says. Since 7.5 shipped earlier this year, IBM has delivered 128 more Ideas, and the councils were again heavily involved. In fact, it championed many of them, according to IBM.

IBM and the COMMON organizations (Europe and NA) are hoping to boost the visibility of the advisory role of that the CAAC and the CEAC play in determining the future of the platform. If this role in coming up with Ideas was more clearly visible to the general IBM i public, the thinking goes, then perhaps more members of the IBM i community will get involved.

If this were to happen, it would benefit everyone in the IBM i community. But there’s a certain sector of the IBM i market that is especially important to represent: small and midsized businesses. SMBs make up the vast bulk of the individual members of the worldwide IBM i community, but they don’t often speak with a united voice.

The community of large IBM i users already has a sponsor: the Large User Group. IBM hosts LUG members in Rochester and collects their thoughts and concerns in much the same way that it does for CAAC and CEAC. But the concerns of large IBM i shops don’t always jibe with those of the SMB community, which is one reason why IBM and the COMMON organizations are looking to shine the light on the role that CAAC and CEAC play (for what it’s worth, the LUG is also looking to expand its reach, too.)

The best part of the recent Rochester meeting was having both advisory councils there, according to Will, who was named a distinguished engineer earlier this year.

“It was amazing how they fed off each other,” Will said in the video that Bradshaw posted to YouTube. “The partners who were in the room from the U.S. and Europe have similar things but different things, so they have that feedback that feeds off one another . . . . It’s been great to have that synergy together across the advisory councils.”

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