Volume 23, Number 33 -- September 30, 2013

Just Watching Or Making An IBM i Modernization Plan?

Published: September 30, 2013

by Dan Burger

Move deliberately. Move carefully. But for the love of Frank, just move. Get started with an application modernization project. Evolve or dissolve might be putting it a little too harshly, but there are plenty of business reasons for modernization. Three that come to mind are data integration, data accessibility, and a user interface that promotes the first two. The IBM midrange community--known by the greater IT community as "those legacy dinosaurs," has a boatload of successful app modernization achievements. The majority of the boats are still at the dock, unfortunately.

"A lot of our IBM i companies are bleeding edge. They are doing the latest and greatest things whenever they can do them," says Tim Rowe, the IBM i business architect for application development and systems management. His team has the responsibility for the ammunition--compatible languages, ecosystems, and tooling--that's reloaded into the IBM i operating system that helps companies build modern applications and be successful. "There are companies that have made great strides in modernization," he says. "They are continuing to evolve and move in the directions that make sense. And there are companies that have been running their business the same way for the past 25 years who are very happy. And within that there are those who have yet to learn what is available."

Application modernization in IBM i shops is not new, but neither is trepidation. Although it seems to be gaining momentum, no one admits to keeping score from one year to the next. Actually, I think everyone with an iron in this fire--IBM and the ISVs--are keeping score but keeping it under wraps as proprietary information and fearing competitors will one-up them with higher totals, maybe actual and maybe padded. The big analyst and research firms have statistics, but they aren't platform specific.

Learning about application modernization is still on the "to-do lists" of most IBM i shops. That begins with the executive team who needs to come to grips with defining the business case for modernization and developing a direction. At a high level, management needs to take into account factors such as business communications across multiple platforms and environments. There are multiple methodologies and there are pros and cons to each one. Modernization is as unique as one company is from the other. Therefore, methodologies for getting from Point A to Point B will differ as well.

Much of this is being sorted out in an in-progress IBM Redbook aptly titled Application Modernization. My suggested subtitle is: "Don't Panic!" (I offer this suggestion for free and ask only that I get credit on the Acknowledgements page.)

As one of 12 contributing authors, Rowe summarized the common goal they all shared in working on the Redbook is to "provide some principles and theories geared to IBM i and not the rest of the world." In the end, it is designed to help decision makers make good decisions. "This Redbook is not a silver bullet," he warns. Keep that in mind after the book gets turned over to the marketing people.

Rowe says his goal is to have the book completed and available by the end of the year, but admits that may be slightly optimistic for this "incredibly large project." The book plan calls for 17 chapters. Key topic areas that Rowe mentioned include technical subjects such as: architecture; tools, including Rational and popular alternatives from the IBM i ISVs; security, languages such as RPG, PHP, Java, HTML and JavaScript; and data-centric development and big picture project management topics like business value, paths to mobilization, and globalization considerations.

Within the IBM i application and database development universe, the selection of contributors is impressive.

It's unusual for a Redbook to have so many contributors. Rowe said it was important to have a variety of backgrounds because "there's not a single right way to do modernization" and the content required balance. Viewpoints come from IBM development and lab services, IBM i customers, ISV solution providers, and business partners (modernization service providers).

Paul Tuohy--a well-known author, educator, and subject matter expert, and member of the Redbook team--described the project by saying, "The caliber of my teammates is just awe-inspiring, and we'll need every one of those incredible brains to deliver on the full scope of this project."

I'm borrowing from Tuohy's blog to get a roster of the Redbook team: Jon Paris and Susan Gantner, Canada, System i Developer; Antonio Florez, IBM, Columbia; Isaac Ramirez, BAC Credomatic, Costa Rica; Pascal Polverini, Italy, looksoftware; Jim Ritchhart, Uline, U.S.; Brian May, Profound Logic, U.S.; Michel Mouchon, ARCAD Software, France; Mike Pavlak, Zend Technologies, U.S.; Trevor Perry, Angus Thinks!, U.S.; and Tim Rowe, IBM, U.S. Rich Diedrich, IBM, U.S.; and Daniel Cruikshank, IBM, U.S.; plus other IBMers will also be working on the Redbook.

Brian May, one of the young talents in the IBM i community, commented in his blog on the scope of the book. "This Redbook is actually going to at least touch on every aspect of modernization that I can think of. I've never seen this much information about application modernization centralized and organized like this."

Regardless of the impressiveness of the list and the scope of the viewpoints presented, this is a huge topic and there are differences of opinion regarding technologies and methodologies. Some views will be missing (I'm thinking of ISVs.), and some with value to add to this project will not be heard. I think it's safe to assume, however, that IBM's favored practices will be amply represented.

"Everyone had the opportunity to participate," Rowe said in regard to the presence or absence of software vendors. The Redbook will include solution guides that explain different ways to implement a modernization strategy. Vendors agree on some things and also disagree on some.

"ISVs were asked to be part of the solution guides and their specific views and content would be included in chapters where applicable," Rowe said. "If the topic is UI modernization, and a vendor has a particular way of doing that, it would be included. The topic leads to discussions on best practices, followed up with tools from ISVs that fit that category. Whether an ISV participated in the solution guide is up to them. Some said they would participate and weren't heard from again. Some got too busy. Quite a few have participated."

Nevertheless, what you can count on being in this Redbook is a well-thought discussion on a topic that is at the top of the IT priority list at many companies and should be at the top of many more. How apps are being accessed has a major impact on users. That's an important consideration that affects the value of the app, and it most certainly affects business. But don't put all your eggs (or business strategy) in the modern UI basket. It might be the beginning of a modernization project, but it isn't the end. A quick fix might be your biggest concern, but it's short-sighted to ignore the future of the applications. A UI strategy can interfere with long range plans if not planned correctly.

"Companies are being driven from two sides," Rowe says. "Some are being driven by the data. They need to access data from a performance perspective or get better access to it to leverage data appropriately in a modern world. Others are being driven by the UI. The combination of data and UI is getting companies thinking about what they want to do. The cool thing is that it can all be done on IBM i. The Redbook is about the holistic aspect of needing to have modern UI, modern applications, and modern database. They all interact and work together."


Application Modernization: Destination Success

What's Happening In IBM i App Dev?

DB2 For i Modernization Gets Assist From RPG OA

Business Strategy Bumps Into Database Deficiency

Application Modernization Priorities Meet Simple Solutions

The Long and Short of Modernization

Calculating the Risks on All Sides of the App Modernization Issue

How To Match Modernization Projects and Business Strategy

Old Code Meets New Ideas in Latest App Modernization Projects

It's Big Picture Time for Application Development Projects

Focus on Data Management with App Modernization Projects

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Editor: Timothy Prickett Morgan
Contributing Editors: Dan Burger, Joe Hertvik, Victor Rozek,
Jenny Thomas, Hesh Wiener, Alex Woodie
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