Steve Will Sells the IBM i as Strong, Silent and … Sexy?

IBM’s Steve Will, chief architect for IBM i, strolled before fellow IT pros lunching at the 2017 MAGiC IBM i User Conference in Virginia Beach, Virginia, last month.

One hand remained in the pocket of his black and blue suit; the other waved a skinny remote control while his dark-rimmed glasses reflected slides on the projector screen standing caddy-corner to the intimate crowd.

Starched to the neckline, Will smirked. “Why in the world would somebody who’s as buttoned up as I am talk about sexy?”

The tall, methodically paced developer who said he “can’t stop learning” is responsible for strategy and planning for the IBM i operating system.

Ooh, la, la.

But he had come to talk marketing. And — in case you haven’t heard from the outside world in a while — “sexy” sells.

Members of the growing Mid-Atlantic Group of IBM i Collaborators, or MAGiC, are already sold on the steadfast stability, reliability and visionary prowess of the industry icon IBM and its revolutionary i. According to Laura Hamway, president of Hamway Software Solutions and founder of MAGiC, the next step for many in the field is to effectively convey to bosses, IT managers, clients and other decision makers what makes it irresistible.

“They don’t know what they don’t know,” Hamway said. “The IBM i does all that the other traditional platforms do, and in most cases does it better. But silence surrounding its strength is deafening. If our bosses and clients don’t know that they’re missing out on game-changing technology, we’re not serving them well.”

For instance, she continued, “often upper management doesn’t know that the IBM i can use all the same languages as other platforms. You have many options: PHP, .NET, Python and other open-source technologies,” she explained. “I’ve also found that non-IBM i vendors like to portray the IBM i as an outdated system,” she noted. “Then we have to show the management that is not true. A lot of it is about education.”

Add provocative new insights, cross-generational perspectives and an eye on the future, and you’re golden. That’s why Hamway corralled the likes of Steve Will, Trevor Perry, Charles Guarino and others to present at the conference.

Get a whiff of these digital pheromones — a few key takeaways from Will’s Bringing Sexy to IBM i:

“Most of you in this room are fans of IBM i,” Will affirmed as the flatware clinked. “And most of you have probably encountered people within your organization who think less of IBM i than you do,” he acknowledged. “And so I want to help you understand how you can help other people see IBM i as ‘sexy.’

“As a chief architect, I have to continue to learn what the new technologies are so that I can help my team make decisions about what we’re going to invest in,” he continued. “I spend a lot of my time talking to clients, and a lot of that time I spend talking to CEOs, CIOs and CTOs about this platform and what makes it valuable to them,” what’s so powerfully appealing.

Boil it down to a universal language, call it “sexy,” and define that in IT-speak.


“Head-turning good looks is part of what makes people sexy,” Will analogized, “but what makes technology sexy?”

The looks have to appeal to today’s IT people, including executives, he posed. “If you do something that takes your interface and makes it go sexy, you begin to look different,” he explained. Attractive applications, applications that people want to claim as their own, are sexy. This is particularly true of a CEO or a CTO, he noted, and attractive applications are mobile-enabled.

So spread the word. “At IBM, we’re going to enhance RPG to enable RPG applications to do mobile,” Will said, “and we’re going to bring in development tools — languages and so on — that can do mobile on IBM i so that people can have applications that are ‘sexy’ in their environment.

“And then we’re going to work with partners, open source and (others), to embrace mobile,” he continued. This should reassure people involved with turning traditional applications into applications that can be mobile. IBM i applications, which have front ends on mobile devices and are running RPG code in the background, don’t resemble generation AS/400 applications, Will noted.

“These are head-turning good looks,” he compared. “If you show your bosses that the application that they’re using or having their customer use looks (fresh), they are going to think, Ahh, that’s what I was looking for. This is what I want.

“That,” Will said, “is IBM i sexy.”


It’s head-turning good looks that capture attention “but personality which captures your heart,” Will said. “We who are IBM i devotees, it’s in our hearts. So how do we help (others) get there? Well, we have to teach them about the personality of the machine and the personality of the people who are around it,” he said.

One characteristic of a person others consider sexy is heroism, Will proposed. “If you’re heroic, that’s a pretty sexy thing,” he said. “We tend to find people who solve problems in major ways as being very, very sexy.

“Now let’s talk about ‘heroic’ in IT,” he continued. “Really what it’s about for us is that we do the heavy lifting; we do the things that nobody else can do, or at least no one else can do as well as we do.

“We can do more with less, and we can do it better than other platforms can,” he said. “That means that we are doing what heroes do in IT. We’re doing for the business what it wants.”

Will cited two recent industry surveys which found that more than 70 to 80 percent of clients who responded run their business applications half or more of the time on IBM i. If IBM i runs half or more of a company’s business, “that’s pretty heroic,” he declared. “Our clients do have other things in their shops, but most of their workload runs through IBM i. And that makes you pretty important; it means that you’re doing the heavy lifting. If IBM i can do that, you need to make sure that your bosses know that.”

Why are any of them oblivious to this? Simple: “Our system tends to be so reliable, they don’t pay attention to it, and they forget that most of their business is actually running through it,” he said.


“That level of commitment, the knowing that you can be there, that is really important to many people,” Will said. “And in business, it’s important to know that commitments (made) with this platform in the 1980s have continued to be met.”

For example, “30-year-old code continues to run today,” he noted. What other platform has made and can keep that commitment? “For more than 10 years, we’ve been telling you we’ve got new stuff coming, and we’re supporting you” in existing technology. “We’re meeting those commitments,” he said, and plans for existing and future releases and support lengths are easy to access.

“I really think this is important for people to understand” amid unsupported fear and uncertainty in the community, Will said. “We put (information) out there so that you can carry it to your executives” and prove that IBM has delivered consistently. “And by the way,” he added, “we’ve been delivering new function with technology (refreshers) ever since 7.1 came out so we can give you new things all the time. Whether you use them or not is up to you.”

Speed and reliability exemplify the commitment. Power Systems are profoundly fast and “from generation to generation gain the ability to do more and more and more with less and less and less,” Will said. Pair the right hardware and software for any specific objective, and speed and efficiency increase exponentially. Time is money.

Furthermore, despite tolerance by alternative platform users of what IBM i aficionados consider unreasonably high down-time rates, it’s not “normal business practice” to be down as often as some systems are, Will said.

Since the days of the AS/400, “we have always been known as the platform that never goes down.”

Never might be a stretch, he conceded; on average, across an array of businesses, “we are down some,” he said. But those built on top of other environments can be down three to four times more what they would be if they were on IBM i and Power, “and that costs money.” In comparison, “we stay up and running,” he said. These advantages save money and add value — competitive edges to any business.

A provocative look … at budgets

Studies looking at a variety of competitive environments shed additional insight on value.

“We tend to have a total cost of ownership over the course of three years of about 60 percent less than our competition, particularly in the mid-range space,” Will said. How is this possible despite the higher initial cost over some other platforms? “You have to look at the whole thing,” he explained. “The biggest component of total cost of ownership over the course of three years is how much are you paying your people. It isn’t that i people are cheaper than non-i people, because (they’re) not, but there would have to be a lot more of those other people,” he said. It simply makes fiscal sense to choose a solution that requires fewer people and does so much more. So with all costs factored — initial acquisition costs vs. operating and add-on costs over time — the compounded savings with i is significant.

On trend

Seasoned IT pros extol IBM’s history as an industry trailblazer. But if trailblazer conjures the image of dusty old pioneers to anyone, dust off that guy’s glasses. Talk trendiness, trendsetting.

Avoid using terminology that ages the platform, Will urged. For instance, “when people use the AS/400 word to describe what we do today, that can be a very difficult thing to get past in an organization,” primarily “because of the connotation that AS/400 is old,” he explained. “Any CIO or CTO who has never had experience with our platform and hears you call it AS/400 thinks 1990.” Instead, use modern terminology to explain the architectural history and evolution if necessary, and usher the person up to speed with the abilities and implications of i.

So what’s trendy in the IT marketplace today? “Things like cloud and big data and mobile and social,” Will said. “And does IBM i do those things? Oh yeah, they do,” he assured. Big time.

“We have i clients doing cloud, analytics, mobile and social,” Will affirmed. “Our clients (see) the value of this stuff and they’re using IBM i to do it. And that is part of our job, to know what you’re going to need in the future and give it to you so that when you get a chance to adopt a new technology, you know that it’s there.”

One trendsetting example: “We are figuring out how to do cool things with Watson” artificial-intelligence platform, Will touted. “We are now telling people how to extend their applications on IBM i to use Watson in several different ways.”  (Interested in learning more about IBM Watson, RSVP for our Nov 9th online meeting)

“We’re out there using our technology to do the newest things that IBM is talking about,” Will said. And “if you listen to what IBM is talking about these days,” he noted, “all of it is on Power,” including opening the environment to increasing numbers of companies contributing to its future.

This is all great — phenomenal, in fact — but how can fans help the young IT generation see the sexy?

“First of all, we’ve got to get stuff on the platform that allows them to develop the way they developed when they were in school,” Will said. People have choices about where to work, and if you bring young people into a shop where they will have to use a green-screen tool for programming, and they can choose to work elsewhere with open-source tools they used in college, “what are they going to choose?” he asked.

Let them use the tools they want, he said. Your code might not yet be written for that, he granted, “and you want to be able to let them do RPG,” for instance. IBM gets it. “So we have transformed RPG from something you had to have a magic wand, a hat and a decoder ring to figure out how to use to a language that can be learned by anybody coming out of school who knows any modern programming language,” he said. “If you use free-format RPG and RDi as your tool, it will look like other languages,” he said. “We’ve been investing in this.” Why not let them hit the ground running and train them in your preferences over time?

Hamway recommends demonstrating the power of the i by utilizing these technologies in a small-scale proof of concept. “Maybe work with a user who loves the i and wants to help the organization see the benefit, and code a small sample of what can be done,” she suggested. “Perhaps an app that makes a task for the user easier or more efficient or helps them make a better decision for the business.”


“The problem that we have in many of our shops is that we’ve been using this platform the same way for so long that we don’t know what i can do,” Will said. “If we think we can only do other stuff, and we don’t know we can do this, and we don’t push this direction, we are not helping people see that IBM i can do sexy things.”

Hamway concurs. “If you are in IT and not aware of all that can be done, join a local user group or COMMON and talk with other IBM i professionals and learn about what can be accomplished,” she advises.

What now?

“Find out what is sexy, what is attractive, in your organization,” Will urges. “Find out what’s important to them” and show them how this steadfast hero dedicated to its future makes a partner for life.

“With almost no exception, anything that (a) company wants to do, i can do it,” he concluded; and “so can you, using i.” Be confident, creative and eager to learn how. “That is a sexy way to think.”

Follow Steve Will’s blog at

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Get to know the Mid-Atlantic Group of IBM i Collaborators (MAGiC) at

Hamway Software Solutions is a Virginia-based software-development and IT company with 25 years of experience designing IBM i solutions. It aims to impart to weary IT professional that “Blue skies are back!” Learn more:

Author Nora Firestone is a professional writer/reporter, website designer and book publisher’s acquisitions editor in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Learn more: