Derek Sayers, ICL’s manager for mainframe marketing, has recently been out and about meeting the press to reassure them that mainframes (ICL’s in particular) are not the dinosaurs that open systems and networking seem to be revealing them to be. ICL’s mainframe market is a constant source of interest in the trade, not least because of persistent speculation that the company is about to be sold by its parent STC Plc. However, gauging the health of a successful mainframe vendor’s market is never easy because the business, with its coveted profit margins, is shrouded in secrecy. ICL’s primary geographical market for mainframes is the UK, but the company claims a significant penetration in France, Germany, Denmark and Holland, as well as in Commonwealth strongholds such as Australasia, Africa, Asia and Hong Kong. Around the world ICL has 3,000 mainframe accounts and Sayers admits that the number of accounts is not increasing as fast as it did in the 1970s, nevertheless, he expects them to grow at about 5% per year. This slowdown in growth is not vendor-specific, it is simply that the information technology climate has changed. Ironically enough, in the proprietary arena of the 1970s, Sayers reckons, around 50% of accounts were prepared to switch suppliers on the basis of a data processing manager’s decision. Nowadays, there’s a lot more investment tied up in software, particularly as with the advent of open systems it is increasingly possible to move applications between different vendors’ hardware.
You would think this would lead to more switches between suppliers, not less, but Sayers disputes this, explaining that manufacturers now spend a lot of time and effort in building a relationship up with a customer, tying him in to their hardware via software and services. For example, ICL has its Project Heineken, in which 20 or so organisations participate, to reach the parts other manufacturers can’t reach. Under the project, when ICL is building a new machine it takes the workloads of various large customers to give the new hardware a taste of the real world. In return Sayers says customers get a ready-configured machine. The participating members meet with ICL every quarter and discuss future hardware strategies. According to Sayers, British Telecom, which is one participating organisation, is trying to get other manufacturers to operate in the same way. Anyway schemes like this mean that around 95% of mainframe customers stay with their favoured supplier, since it can take up to 10 years to sever the connection with a mainframe vendor completely. –
By Katy Ring
Approximately 20% of ICL’s mainframe business is derived from central government, with around 60% of its customer base lying beyond the government scenario in the utility and commercial markets – the Bankers’ Automated Clearing Service and the Automobile Association were cited as large commercial customers – Sainsburys, once an ICL stronghold now has a centralised IBM system, while W H Smith still has a large ICL corporate computer but also buys a lot of DEC front ends. In the UK ICL has around 1,000 corporate computing accounts, some 200 of which are large accounts which will have at least one other manufacturer’s hardware – most commonly DEC VAXes at the front end of an ICL mainframe. Sayers says it is normal policy within large corporate organisations to have more than one hardware supplier nowadays to keep bids competitive. However, within the 800 or so smaller corporate accounts, there are far more ICL-only sites. And with these lie ICL’s future, since with the combination of the company’s recent launches, the Essex mainframe, the DRS 6000 and the PCT personal computer range, combined with the preferred database, Ingres 6.0, Sayers says there is really no reason for them to go elsewhere. With the decline of Honeywell, Sayers says ICL is making successful inroads into these vendors’ customer bases. He reckons the mainframe business is growing internally in size at ICL at about 40%, and that 45% of ICL’s worldwide sales come from mainframe
s or corporate computing (which includes software and services, consultancy and so on). He believes that around half of ICL’s sales of other products are driven by mainframe sales.
As for taking on IBM, ICL seems bearish – Sayers says customers rarely have to choose between the two, but that if he were to have to construct a sales pitch for a customer choosing between the two vendors he would emphasise applications such as OfficePower and the superiority of the VME operating system as against MVS. He has no worries about ICL facing a demise of software applications, since, he says, there are more and more software houses appearing on the scene writing for Unix systems, and, as ICL is a proud member of both Unix International and X/Open it has no qualms that its hardware may die from a lack of interest by software developers. Particularly, since VME may (ho hum) be described as X/Open conformant because it will soon be Portability Guide 3-compliant, and Unix source code can be recompiled to run under VME. Communications between the DRS 6000 and Series 39 mainframes is key to the future of VME. For this purpose Ingres is crucial, since it integrates applications running between the Unix box and mainframes. The launch of Ingres 6.0 by the end of this year is particularly exciting for ICL, since this version will work with its information retrieval system CAFS, and integrates with ICL’s database management system IDMSX. This means that users can run applications with Ingres and switch between Ingres and IDMSX or use CAFS with Ingres as an alternative to IDMSX. Sayers says that there is a strong ICL imprint on Ingres 6.0, especially in its ability to provide a CAFS type of functionality. Sayers says ICL has helped Ingres develop into an open systems product, encouraging the company to get into the DEC and IBM market, where ICL believes it can make a killing with OfficePower which is integrated with Ingres.