ARCAD Moves Open Systems Initiative Forward with Application Lifecycle Management Software
May 12, 2009 Dan Burger
ARCAD Software CEO and Chairman Philippe Magne has been talking for more than a year about the importance of open systems and open software. Although indisputably IBM i oriented, Magne’s business compass is pointing the change management and application lifecycle management software company toward open systems. While the company’s current products require the IBM i to be in the mix, that requirement won’t always be true. The latest round of product enhancements indicates more moves in the open systems direction.
ARCAD’s application lifecycle management software has always been built around a single, central repository that resides on the IBM i. The repository analyzes libraries and uses source code to develop a database that contains all the inter-relationships between components (programs, files, etc.), fields (databases, work fields), and lines of source code.
All of the ARCAD product suites rely on the repository to manage software components, automate recompilation of dependent components, and check the integrity of modifications made to the components. It also serves as a knowledgebase for all ARCAD modules and functions.
It was, a few years ago, open only to native AS/400 (iSeries, System i) development environments. About four years ago, the door was opened to also manage PC components through the repository. The PC components could run on the iSeries, or they could run on remote Windows, Unix, and Linux systems. Regardless of where they were located, the iSeries had visibility to those components and could manage changes, although not 100 percent of the development changes in the non-iSeries application development environments.
“Version 8.08 of ARCAD’s integrated Application Lifecycle Management suite affirms that we work well with companies’ existing tools and can complete their software management picture with complementary functionality. Or, if they choose, they can implement a single vendor solution solely with ARCAD tools,” Magne says. “In addition, we can manage their critical parameter and configuration data with the same processes that we use to secure software changes. This makes the ARCAD suites an ideal solution for companies that employ third-party software in their information system–banking and insurance companies, for example–or who are ISVs themselves.”
ARCAD-Open Repository Connectors are key components in V 8.08. The connectors are responsible for exchanging information with external applications and performing tasks that, for instance, could be critical in the operations of a help desk or workflow tracking systems. According to Magne, ARCAD Connectors offer flexibility and interoperability with other applications and business management software on the market.
The connectors are Java-based communication clients that use Web services or XML to communicate. They provide ARCAD with the integration point between its change management system and existing help desk or task management systems, thereby allowing end users to continue using the issue-tracking system of their choice along with the ARCAD change management process.
For example, help desk software that allows issues to be tracked could include a Web interface with end users, or end users may call into the help desk staff where application issues are entered into a help desk database. Where a particular issue goes from there depends on whether that issue requires a change to a .NET component, a Java component, a LANSA component, or whatever. ARCAD’s software is designed to manage the status updates of changes so the end user is aware.
Imagine the report of a software bug, for instance. There’s a process in place so the end user is notified when the fix has been made. The ARCAD software passes that information back through the help desk regardless of the application source and it can deploy changes to the QA environment, where the end user can sign off on it if the glitch has been tested and the fix approved.
“The thing we are looking toward in open systems is not having customers change how their processes work. We are looking to help them provide structure to their processes, not force users to change how they do things,” says Jeff Tickner, a member of ARCAD’s technical team. “We want to bring efficiency and auditability to how they do things.”
Almost all iSeries shops are multi-platform shops. And as ARCAD continues to add open systems functionality, it soon expects to have integration with other change management and version control products that companies already have in place.
“We have a feature set for other platforms like .NET or Java development,” Tickner says. “Our goal is to allow the end users to use their investment in technology and infrastructure and integrate with ARCAD.”
Because of the multi-platform environment in many iSeries shops, the application development process is a lot less organized than a single-environment shop used to be. Integrating the various development environments is challenging a lot of companies.
“We are acutely aware that the workflow issue is hot now,” says Ray Bernardi, ARCAD solution architect. “We are working in that direction and looking at issues related to wherever the data exists. We want to provide visibility to the field and file structure, and how those are being used by the components we are managing.”
Bernardi also noted that because of the high cost of in-house application development, a lot of companies are choosing to offload that cost by purchasing third-party, off-the-shelf software that allows companies to stay on the cutting edge of technology without directly funding the development costs.
That doesn’t rule out the need for change management software because many companies are still making modifications to purchased software and customizing it for their own purposes. It points out that environments are becoming more varied and diverse. When that happens, change management still plays a big role.
Another innovation highlighted in version 8.08 of ARCAD’s Application Lifecycle Management software is critical data management (CDM). This feature coordinates and automates the transfer of data into testing and production databases. Not only does this provide traceability, it also eliminates manual updates to production systems that are time consuming, error prone, and in some cases require lengthy system downtime.
Many of the third-party application packages that Bernardi mentioned as becoming popular for reasons related to reducing application development costs are parameter driven. That means someone sits at a keyboard and enters data, and the software functions on the information that was input before it provides an end result.
“We are finding that people are making these data changes in a production environment because there is no way to do this in the development area and transfer those changes from development to production without re-keying it and introducing another chance for human error,” Bernardi says.
So ARCAD has introduced CDM for companies using parameter-driven software. It allows them to track every change that gets made and test those changes in a development area, then automatically transfers the changes into a QA area, without re-keying. In the QA area, the changes can be seen, tested again, validated, and then transferred into a production area.
“In the past, people would either make the change in production and hope for the best and deal with the errors as they occurred, or they would make the change in the development environment, validate it, then manually make the change again in production,” Bernardi explains.
The potential for parameter data being incorrectly entered is pretty high, Tickner claims. CDM provides a way to check the existing data against the incoming changed files and then merge the changes.
An example of how this would be used is a business that depends on catalog sales. When it switches from summer to fall merchandise, there could be hundreds or thousands of records that have to be updated in the database to reflect the new line. These changes need to be done very quickly and very accurately.
In the past, the catalog company might have transferred entire files into its production system all at once. It would typically have required system downtime or a gigantic marathon keying effort to get all that information transferred.
ARCAD allows this to be done in a development environment, It can then be fully tested, and moved into production at the appropriate time, automatically, with rollback capability.
In another step toward open systems integration, this new version includes an interface with the LANSA development environment, which is based on CDM functionality, just like ARCAD’s integrated change management for JD Edwards (Oracle) and CA 2E components. Controlling modifications and ensuring traceability are the key benefits.