Bankers Will Soon Savor the Java of RIO
by Robert Boyd
Datapro banks on the Caribbean and Latin America for business. As an IBM software vendor and banking software developer, Datapro sold 22 new turnkey iSeries-based systems in 1999 to replace those developed by other vendors and users that didn't meet Y2K standards. Having sold between 12 and 15 new systems annually in previous years, the year 2000 was a boon for Datapro, but the last several years haven't been as kind.
Through 2002, Datapro continued to market hard, but it sensed resistance to its product, Integrated Banking Solution (IBS), which required that prospects buy a new iSeries computer if they didn't already own one. While iSeries computers are known for reliability, scalability, and security, some banks had other reasons for wanting to use non-IBM hardware. Many had already invested in other kinds of systems and were rich with object-oriented skill sets.
Nelson Porrora, head of marketing for the Miami company, says, "If a bank bought a new system a year ago that is not an iSeries, it isn't going to throw its hardware away. Also, if the people involved in the selection process know Unix, that's the way they'll want to go." Porrora says Datapro's main focus is still the iSeries. "It's been our bread and butter," he says, adding that IBM and GBM (IBM's large Central American distributor) could possibly have done a better job of marketing their hardware in Central America and elsewhere in Latin American. "Some countries prefer other systems," he says.
In 22 years, Datapro, which has 60 employees, has seen its share of shifts in demand. Despite trends, capricious or otherwise, Datapro achieved the best market penetration of any banking software vender that served Latin America, with 110 AS/400 and iSeries clients in 26 countries using IBS. By converting IBS's RPG source to Java, the company reasoned, it could run on Sun Microsystems Solaris, IBM OS/400, and Microsoft Windows, and it could give banks what they wanted.
There are many ways to reshape RPG programs to produce a different end product, including a hand rewrite. But Datapro executives felt that IBS, with several million lines of code, could not be converted manually. According to the company's vice president, Richard Montero, rewriting this application was simply not an option. "It would have been too labor-intensive, and the time to market was simply unacceptable, given our customer commitments," Montero says.
In his quest to find the most expeditious way to create the new executables, Orestes Garcia, lead developer for IBS, explored his options. A couple years earlier, the application's front-end was made browser-accessible using JavaServer Pages, so with that done, he focused on converting the RPG business logic.
Garcia first explored the possibility of using consultants to convert the RPG to Java, but since some of Datapro's customers were running customized versions of IBS, the custom code would have to be converted, too. Furthermore, he intended to continue developing new versions of IBS in RPG, so he needed control over the conversion process.
Garcia decided that a tool to generate Java output, versus one with a proprietary fourth-generation language, was best. Upon searching the Web, he found Advanced Systems Concepts and ordered a copy of its RPG-to-Java conversion software, called RIO, to test. Garcia's decision followed quickly. "We sent them a couple programs, they did a conversion, we analyzed the resulting code, and then we made our decision," he says. "RIO gave us the tool to do it ourselves."
ASC's RIO converts RPG into C++ programs or Java classes. It preserves RPG business logic and translates it into Java and C++ programs. The finished product can be deployed on iSeries and other platforms. No development tools are required to maintain RIO's Java output, which is easily identifiable. RIO also includes Java and C++ templates to mimic functions that exist in RPG, but which are not provided in either Java or C++.
DataPro installed RIO in December 2003 and began its conversion in January 2004. While RIO can be used in conjunction with IBM's WebFacing Tool to produce browser-based user interfaces, this step wasn't necessary, Garcia says. "We didn't have to change the presentation layer at all," he says.
Garcia breaks the conversion down into a couple of steps. "First, you define the type of program you want, convert the program, import it in a Java ID, correct a few things that the conversion process doesn't do, and that's it," he says. "RIO converts 94 to 95 percent of the code for us. We have a few CL programs that we have to find another solution for, but 95 percent is great."
Besides the conversion, Garcia said, he is doing several other things at the same time. Because Datapro's intention is to produce a product that will run on other hardware with an Oracle database, he is normalizing the existing database. Also, new functionality that is being added to IBS must also be completed before the conversion.
One thing for which Garcia had to develop a different solution was communication between the business logic and the existing Java user interface. "We had the sockets communication framework that we use to communicate between the Java presentation layer and the business logic," he says. "We redid that in Java in the same protocol. We just converted the logic and replaced the socket server API with the new one that we wrote in Java, and that was it."
The projected date of completion for the multiplatform release of IBS is March of 2005. "We will be able to hit that target," Garcia says. The progress made so far with RIO has given Datapro the confidence to sell the Java version now, with a promise of delivery next year.
ASC's software will also play an instrumental role in Datapro's conversion services. Garcia notes that RIO allows Datapro technicians to convert custom RPG programs to Java while working at customer sites. "This will be important in the future," he said.
Although Datapro has competition in the Latin American and Caribbean market, the company plans to maintain a dominant market position by continuing to serve their customers in Spanish or English, delivering the fastest implementation cycle of any vendor, and appealing to a broader audience with applications that run on OS/400, Windows, and Sun Solaris.
Robert Boyd has reported on computer technology and business related issues since 1986. He has lectured extensively on technology and presides over a business communications and marketing consultancy. Robert holds degrees in journalism and marketing. To contact Robert, please send an e-mail to email@example.com.