SunSoft Chief Spotlights Growing Integrator Role

Q &amp A with Janpieter Scheerder

Janpieter Scheerder knows first-hand what it means to hit the ground running. Since joining Sun Microsystems Inc. in 1991, he guided the acquisition of the Interactive UNIX system and integrated this product into the SunSoft organization.

More recently, Scheerder drove Sun's successful server and storage products into new markets. As president of SunSoft, he is responsible for development, engineering, marketing and sales of all software products.

The lanky, soft-spoken Dutch native has more than 20 years experience in the high-technology industry. Prior to joining Sun, he spent 15 years with Data General in various sales, marketing and engineering positions.

Scheerder's long-term view of the road ahead -- that users don't want to do computing anymore -- carries with it some pearls of wisdom for systems integrators.

Washington Technology contributing writer John Makulowich caught up with Scheerder at a recent software, Web design and development show in Washington. At the event, Scheerder pushed products such as JavaWorkShop, the company's new Java programming development environment. This effort extends Java, Sun's popular programming language, and supports it with new tools.

WT: What new relationship will there be with systems integrators vis-a-vis the new network computer [thin client] and the changing landscape created by the Internet and World Wide Web browsers?

SCHEERDER: The key partnerships that we work with, in addition to the sales channels, are the information system vendors and the systems integrators. If anything, systems integrators are becoming a lot more important to us than ever before.

We are a products company. We rely on other people to put the whole application together. We do not pretend to be an expert on the shoe industry or the metal industry or the military. What we do is provide tools that allow people to work.

The push on the systems integrators is: Make sure you use our tools to manage your projects and let us know what tools you need to make your life a lot easier. The value-added that the systems integrators provide to the customers is tying our tools and technologies and products into some kind of cohesive version that makes sense to the customer.

Because, as I hinted in my presentation today, people don't want to do computing any more. As far as they are concerned, they just want to do their job and that is the end of it. And that is what the systems integrator has to develop. You can see the extremes of this where people say, 'Take all of this out and you go do it. I don't want an MIS department anymore. I just want to do my job.'

I think we are all being pushed up the food chain. Our responsibility here is to provide the environment that allows [systems integrators] to manage, to deploy, and in the WorkShop case [JavaWorkShop], that's why we call it WorkShop, to use the tool kit, the big tool box, which is specifically designed for people like systems integrators.

WT: Are we going back to the days where tasks are completed by knowledge workers and systems integrators and the results are sent to people like you?

SCHEERDER: I don't think we are going back to that. First of all, users won't allow us -- to go back to that. People have gone through the experience of learning how a computer works, how a floppy drive works, how to back up the system. I think they would rather avoid that.

In that way, we are regressing. Yes, we will regress, but I think there are good reasons. Certainly, I don't want people to have to load programs and back up systems. On the other hand, that's when the systems integrators come in. They have to make sure there is something behind there that works. Compare MCI and the telephone industry. MCI created a whole new infrastructure.

I think that's the opportunity for systems integrators -- to provide this [infrastructure] on a company level, on a regional level, on an industry level, whatever cut you want to take. But users are done with computing; I am convinced of that.

WT: Given the new paradigms that the Internet and the Web are nurturing, such as intercreativity and collaborative computing, how does Sun define the business it is in now?

SCHEERDER: We see our role in the world as providing platforms, management tools and development tools. And that's it. We follow a different model from Microsoft, obviously. They do MSNBC [the 24-hour TV news venture of Microsoft and NBC] They are trying to get out of this business and go into the content business before it's too late. If I were them, I would have reason to worry. We don't have that mindset. We are a product company. We innovate technology.

WT: How best can the systems integrator prepare for the next five years given the pace of change in the IT environment and continuing consolidation in the computer industry ?

SCHEERDER: I can't really tell systems integrators how they should run their business or how to plan. I can tell you how we do it because we have the same problem. We follow a process called scenario planning. This comes from the old days of the oil industry where you ask 'what if' questions. We take an end point and work our way back. We combine that with another aspect that says, 'Let's just do what the user wants.' We totally focus on the user and we totally focus on the end point of the scenario and then work our way back.

If I were a systems integrator or in management and the head of a systems integrator company, I would focus on the end point and then work very closely with people like us. And don't be bashful about giving us direction -- as opposed to the other way around where you ask, 'What do you have?' The best discussions we have with people is when they say, 'We want to do this.' So I say, 'Go to it.' Then they say, 'How do you suggest we do that?' Now you have a very positive discussion.

In the same way, if we take WorkShop as an example, we need to work better with the systems integrators. We need to ask them, 'What is it in these tool sets that we are missing that you need?' Mostly, they need instrumentation, which they never have enough of. In many ways, we limit ourselves by our own knowledge, getting too close to our own products and activities. That's the reason to focus on the end users.

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