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Volume 12, Number 7 -- March 27, 2012

College Makes IBM i Apps Appear Less Old, More Cool

Published: March 27, 2012

by Alex Woodie

Baker College's IBM i applications now look a little younger and a lot cooler as a result of an application modernization project that was recently completed with Profound Logic's tools. The revamp of the UI might just have saved the IBM i from being scrapped for another platform.

Baker College of Michigan is a longtime (and mostly happy) user of the IBM i platform. The college, which serves 43,000 students across 17 physical campuses and the Web, uses the computer platform to run a variety of critical applications. Over the several decades of use, the college has more than a million lines of RPG in production.

While the platform has, by all appearances, served its purpose well at Baker, some of the college's 2,000 users balked at using the green-screen interface. "The feedback we received from end-users at the college is that the applications they accessed on 5250 looked old," Mike Andritsis, the college's IT leader, says in a recently published case study. "We would get asked frequently why we were using programs that looked like DOS from several decades ago."

It's hard to argue with that perception. After all, it does look like Microsoft DOS, even if IBM i is much more modern and powerful than that ancient OS. But more worrisome to Andritsis was the fact that some people were using the ugly 5250 interface to justify a migration off the IBM i platform. If the screens look outdated, the thinking goes, then the underlying computer must be old too.

Andritsis took this as a call to action to save the platform at Baker, retain the considerable investment in business logic, and prevent the college from making a costly mistake. "I believe IBM i is an incredibly reliable, stable platform, and that it makes sense to use modernization tools that are available for the i instead of essentially throwing the baby out with the bathwater," he says.

The college eventually chose Profound UI, a modernization tool based on IBM's Rational Open Access: RPG Edition technology. The software allows users to create new Web and mobile interfaces that don't rely on the 5250 data stream.

Baker College began working with Profound UI in 2010, and has completed the first phases of its modernization project. The reception by the college's end users has been positive. "Even though our end-users expressed frustration at working with 5250 screens, I expected some push-back on working with the modernized applications," Andritsis says. "But I was blown away at the positive reception the users gave them."

The college's IT team continues to develop back office logic in RPG, while Profound UI is used for user interface development. There was a learning curve associated with the new system, but a cross reference tool helped users of the new GUI locate items they were accustomed to accessing in the old green screens.

Going forward, Andritsis and his team are working on further simplifying the new screens, including reducing the number of clicks required to accomplish tasks, and working with batch processing.


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