Ray Jones, vice president of System z software sales in IBM’s software group, is largely credited as the founding force behind creating Destination z in 2007. It all started with a straight-forward idea to create a one-stop shop for expert mainframe resources. Here, Jones talks about how Destination z was conceptualized and initially delivered, its evolution, and his vision for its future.
Q: How did you come up with the Destination z idea?
It actually came about, as most good ideas do, when myself, Steve Mills and Yvonne Perkins from the IBM Software Group were meeting one evening, and we started talking about all the expert mainframe resources we had at our disposal but that we didn’t have a central point for those resources to come together and collaborate. So, Destination z was not the result of some deep study or staff project; it was three people brainstorming a way to strengthen the mainframe community.
I ran the idea past Jim Stallings and Florence Hudson from System z Systems and Technology Group, and they were very enthusiastic about it, so we just started pulling together a webpage and let the mainframe community learn about it and come together around it. Now, here we are in 2011 with more than 100 organization members and 26 or 27 academic organizations, all active on the Destination z roll.
Q: How did you pursue Destination z and promote its growth?
We really just let the members tell us where they wanted to take it, and they basically shaped its overall development. We initially took the idea to a worldwide analyst and consultant event in New York City a few weeks after formulating the concept and presented it to some 75 analysts or so. From there, it really just grew of its own accord. We let the water find its own level in this case. I think it’s important that we treated Destination z as a community-driven concept, rather than making it a project with a particular goal or purpose, so it grew and evolved based on the enthusiasm of its participants, not by analyzing some spreadsheet or regular presentation. It’s been driven entirely by the thinking and direction of the broader System z community.
Q: What are your thoughts on the direction Destination z has taken since its inception in 2007?
Well, I think it’s delivered wonderfully on its primary goal of providing a mainframe community outside of IBM, but it’s also been an excellent mechanism for bringing in mainframe students and academic institutions. I’ve been particularly pleased to see the development of a scholarship program by members and maintained through member contributions. The diversity of ideas and feedback, I think, are a direct result of how this grew organically rather than from some centrally focused point of command issuing directions. In a way, it’s been something of a dream of a project precisely because there has never been an imperative or required direction. It exists and grows because it delivers value.
Q: Where would you like to see Destination z go in the near future?
My basic philosophy is “the more the merrier,” so I’d like to see this community continue to grow, particularly as IBM continues to grow the number of mainframe customers worldwide. We’d really like to expand membership in Eastern Europe, India, China, Japan—really just globally. We want to do anything we can to let new mainframe customers and users know Destination z exists and is a resource that’s available to them. As we see zBusiness expand dramatically across the globe, Destination z is part and parcel of letting those new users know they’re not alone. That’s good, knowing you’re not alone—it’s a much more comfortable place to be.
Q: What audience should best be served by Destination z going forward?
At the end of the day, this is a community of mainframe experts, and we don’t necessarily want to dilute that. That said, the goal is still to get more customers to come on board Destination z. About the only boundary I’d put on this is that it should remain a community of experts, but that’s a fluid boundary because you can come to Destination z without being an expert but still become an expert by being a Destination z member. That’s really a key component of the education aspect of Destination z. This is all about bringing together more mainframe experts, more mainframe skills and more mainframe students. This was a good idea that has taken a road entirely of its own. It just feels right.