RPG Open Access Availability Expands Modernization Efforts
Published: October 24, 2011
by Dan Burger
Earlier this month, looksoftware became the third IBM i ISV to set up a distribution program for IBM's Rational Open Access: RPG Edition that coincides with the purchase of the company's lookserver Open Access, a product that provides the integration layer for creating composite applications, generates XML clients, and supports browser-based devices.
By distributing Rational Open Access: RPG Edition, looksoftware is avoiding the complicated and frustrating ordering process that companies have experienced when attempting to order the ROA product from IBM. Other application modernization tool vendors, Profound Logic and ASNA, have previously taken the step to handle distribution for the same reasons.
It's kind of like General Motors manufacturing cars, but not considering how to get them to the people who want to drive them. It's been said in other IT Jungle articles that IBM should have incorporated RPG Open Access into the IBM i operating system, but it's worth repeating. (The "i" is supposed to stand for "integrated system," after all.) As it stands, the ISVs making use of the technology are lining up to make sure customers can easily obtain it. Rational Open Access: RPG Edition licenses are a separate item from the software licenses for the modernization products from looksoftware, Profound Logic, and ASNA.
Two months ago, IBM finally made a trial version of ROA: RPG Edition available, which allows companies to test products and experiment with Open Access without buying a license, which costs from $500 to $5,000 depending on the size of the system. The trial period is 70 days.
That was a welcomed step in the right direction. The next step would be to make the trial period for as long as anyone likes by simply making the product free. That would be the next best thing to building it into the OS. I think there's a good chance IBM will make the product free--sooner rather than later.
looksoftware CEO Brendan Kay tried to put some separation between the Open Access technology he thinks is powerful and a marketing effort that requires his company to cover for IBM's shortcomings.
"Simplicity is one of our core values at looksoftware," Kay emphasized in an email to IT Jungle. "We aim to shield our customers from the unnecessary complexity of using new technologies, and the requirement to purchase Rational Open Access separately has been causing unneeded confusion. In providing the product for free with every purchase of our Open Access products, our aim is to reduce the difficulty and cost of getting up and running with OA."
Despite IBM's clumsy attempts to distribute the Rational product, customer interest is high according to the ISVs making use of it.
"We've had record numbers of attendees at our OA webinars," says Paul Hodgkinson, marketing manager at looksoftware, "and the on-demand versions [of these webinars] attract three times as many viewers as our next most popular topic, which is mobile deployment. Thirty of our current active opportunities involve OA, but you can probably double that number if you include those who are looking at traditional modernization first with a view to upgrading to OA later."
At the COMMON fall conference in early October, Eamon Musallam, product manager at looksoftware, presented an OA session with 30 attendees, Hodgkinson said.
"My main observation on OA is that interest and demand varies slightly from one region to the next," Hodgkinson says. "In Germany, for example, 100 percent of our opportunities incorporate OA, and it has really reinvigorated our business there. It's possibly been slower for us in the U.S., but we're beginning to get better traction. My own view would be that the community is beginning to understand the technology better and are seeing where it fits in the broader landscape of their applications."
Over at Profound Logic, CEO Alex Roytman describes the interest in Open Access as "a major acceptance."
None of the vendors, including IBM's Rational division, will offer specific figures on the number of ROA or modernization licenses sold, but Roytman said Profound Logic has sold "close to triple the number of ROA-related products (which the company refers to as the Profound UI) in the recent year and a half compared to our predecessor product (which the company refers to as RPGsp). This is not because we've tripled our sales force or tripled our marketing, but simply because we've been able to really capitalize on the potential of ROA."
Profound was the first of the IBM i ISVs to release an RPG OA product, so it's had more time to reach a larger audience. But because ROA was so difficult for companies to buy through IBM, that advantage would have been negated if not for Profound having what it calls a preprocessor tool that allows IBM i shops to test Profound UI without a ROA license. It also extended this capability to users of the V5RX versions of the operating system. Rational Open Access is only compatible with IBM i 6.1 and 7.1.
"Because of our preprocessor, we were also able to get out more than 2,000 downloads of product trials, whereas if we had to require the purchase of ROA to try Profound UI, that number would have been significantly less," Roytman says.
As he monitors the modernization efforts of companies using Profound UI, Roytman says the accomplishments exceed what was being done with the tools Profound previously offered.
"It's not like they bought the tool, created something small, and it's just sitting there," he says. "They keep producing interesting stuff, and they are typically outdoing .NET/Java developers within their own organizations."
At ASNA, there's also a much improved feeling that they can help their prospects become customers since becoming a distributor of Rational Open Access: RPG Edition.
"I think all the ISVs wish ROA: RPG was built into the operating system, which would eliminate ordering that product, but there's no indication of that happening anytime soon," says ASNA vice president of technology Eduardo Ross.
Regardless of the ROA: RPG flap, ASNA president Anne Ferguson says the company's Wings product that was built using Open Access has been successful in the early going.
"The response from our customers has been that this is the best thing that they've tried," Ferguson says unabashedly. "And some have tried everything."
Most ASNA customers have taken small steps, taking on one application at a time and seeing how quickly they can move it and redeploy it before moving on to the next app.
At the other end of the spectrum, Ferguson tells of an ISV in Europe that is ready to redeploy after a modernization effort that included migrating 1,600 screens. The project began around the first of the year and the conversion from green screens, Ferguson says, "looks like a modern .NET application."
"In the past, a project like this would take years, not months," she says. "People don't have years to spend."
ASNA has approximately 50 companies that are either current users of Wings or that are prospects that ASNA expects will become Wings customers by the end of the year.
The interest in modernization is very high, in Ferguson's view. The company has done modernization seminars featuring its RPG Open Access Wings product in a half dozen or more cities, plus a series of webinars. Attendance typically has been between 25 and 40.
"People want to know what the potential for modernization is," she says. "They are not so much interested in understanding the technical side of Open Access."
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RPG Open Access Spurs Development for looksoftware
Early Adopters of Profound UI Pleased
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