With IBM and AT&T promoting proprietary network management systems, and Hewlett-Packard responding with its vendor independent OpenView, network management systems are suddenly hot properties: Helen Beckett finds that ICL does not intend to be left out in the cold as the network gains supremacy over the computers hung off it.
The radical restructuring of ICL’s sales and marketing efforts at the beginning of this year was forced by the realisation that it will have to earn its bread and butter in a more disciplined way. More important, it has realised that over the past few years, the bread and butter itself has changed – nowadays, ICL stresses that the network forms the heart of a good information system and will seek increasing amounts of revenue from this source. Priorities Changes wrought in the sales channels were therefore accompanied by changes in the product devlopment infrastructure to reflect this new set of priorities. The main thrust of the reorganisation at ICL UK, the marketing arm of the computer company, was to disperse geographic- and product-based sales forces into nine vertical market units, three of the key ones being retail, health and local government. The idea is that a customer should have just one point of contact with ICL. So Network Regions, a business centre set up two years ago to provide marketing expertise in the communications field has been disbanded and its resources funnelled into the various new industry sectors. But this does not mean a lower profile for networking at ICL. Back at base, the grass roots research and development machine for networking has been given a higher priority. A total of four businesses – Mainframes, Office Systems, Industrial Systems and Network Systems – share responsibility for developing the product lines and supporting the marketing efforts worldwide. Network Systems has taken on board three new divisions to take its sum up to 10, and it has also been allocated a more generous share of ICL’s research and development budget as part of the reshuffle. Having given it a staff of 450 and a budget for research and development of UKP15m, ICL reckons it now has one of the largest networking development outfits in the UK. Miles Flint, managing director of Corporate Networks, a key division within Network Systems says that nowadays the corporate philosophy is to put the network in the centre and then hang on the machines: five years ago, the mainframe was at the centre. Such talk is a radical departure from ICL’s surround IBM policy, which is the strategy it has used to claw a way into the mainframe sites of its principal competitors. Ever since Robb Wilmot took the helm, IBM and DEC kit has traditionally been treated by ICL as a target to be surrounded with its own networking capability and machines.
Three key factors have prompted this change of heart at ICL, says Flint: the of deregulation of European markets; the growing momentum of Integrated Services Digital Networking; and the demand for the electronic messaging standard X400. Flint points out that in line with these developments, There is a growing need to deliver applications from the network. For example, as deregulation within the European Community approaches and removes those barriers that currently restrict trading patterns, the company that is armed with an appropriate network infrastructure will be able to identify and tap into new business opportunities. For example a transport company, suddenly allowed to bring back loads from foreign countries rather than bring its delivery trucks back empty, the network structure may be the key to its survival over the next 10 years, claims Flint. He also expects that companies will want to maintain full control over these new business tools and not farm out the management to third parties. Like majors such as DEC who predict a boom in demand from the facilities management market and are busy gearing up, ICL is concentrating its resources on providing the integrated network for the user to manage himself. The one big obstacle that blocks the way to true i
ntegration is the thorny issue of network management. Lack of standards and a belated start in this area pose problems in a multi-vendor network environment, although Flint stresses that the fact that there isn’t a standard there today doesn’t mean we are not prepared to manage other vendor’s kit – it simply means that at the moment we have to take a very pragmatic approach. Flourishing But it is an issue to which ICL is devoting considerable resources under its Community Management program. Community Management is the umbrella philosophy for a raft of products ICL is developing so as to enable the user to manage an entire network and all its resources. The Community Management protocols were launched last year and ICL had originally hoped that they would be accepted as the international standard, but this looks increasingly unlikely as other proprietary standards for network management are flourishing. These ambitions have been replaced instead by a determination to take a leading role in those panels that decide the standards and to make Community Management as open as possible in order to migrate to the international version when it becomes available. The pace of business dictates that users cannot wait for standards to be defined before implementing networks, and Flint is confident that increasingly, an integrated stance will be adopted from the outset. Out of necessity, a new spirit of co-operation has been injected into office politics: The number of organisations where there is a deadly rivalry between data processing and telecommunications departments is on the wane, he notes. The coming months and accompanying challenges of deregulation will see ICL and other network suppliers relying on the glasnost to sell the integrated message.