Modernization and Mobile Lead BCD Development Efforts
May 15, 2012 Dan Burger
Whether working from ground zero or building on existing investments, BCD‘s application development products have long been used by IBM midrange shops. One of the reasons is BCD’s continual investment in developing its product lineup, which handles everything from quick green-screen Web-enablement to multi-platform Web development. And for companies unfamiliar with BCD, here’s a surprise–the company has a newly enhanced business intelligence tool as well.
Most IBM i shops are talking about application modernization projects. And each year there are more of these projects deployed. The majority are quick and simple transformations of green-screen apps to Web apps. And it’s clear that mobile apps are becoming a priority.
Quick Green-Screen Conversions
BCD created a product called Presto more than three years ago that has demonstrated green-screen-to-Web capabilities satisfying shops that realized the difference a GUI makes. Last week, at the COMMON Annual Conference and Expo, BCD showed off the latest round of Presto enhancements.
The biggest benefit Presto has delivered from the beginning is its deployment speed. Shops that are under heavy pressure to modernize quickly need results fast. BCD says that Presto does this by avoiding code changes or access to source code.
With the introduction of Presto 4, the importance of mobile devices was clear. Because of the variety of devices, screen sizes, operating systems, and browser choices, Web applications need to cover a lot of bases. BCD’s approach to this is to build in the capability to detect the device receiving the application and adjust the layout accordingly.
For mobile device users who depend on function keys to get their work done, Presto now includes a custom virtual keyboard. Many users would be lost without this, which goes to show that keeping the end users in mind should always be a priority. Even those who wouldn’t be “lost” would probably be less productive, which is not an intended consequence of a modernization project.
Also added to the new feature list is the capability to view and save DB2 data as CSV spreadsheets or HTML pages. Thanks to an Export Data element, spreadsheets can be opened in Microsoft Excel without copying and pasting data and without requiring macros. HTML-rendered spreadsheets, drop-down lists, and charts are populated with the results of an SQL query defined in Presto. The functionality can be displayed in the form of a button, link or image. Transforming menus into links is one of the fastest ways to improve navigation, which relates to improved user experiences.
During the BCD press conference at the COMMON conference last week, Eric Figura, BCD’s director of marketing and sales, made a point of emphasizing the importance of integration and mobility with the long-term success of the IBM i platform. Figura says Presto has been used to deliver modernized versions of green-screen applications on tablets to replace paper by rekeying inventory and ordering processes and used by teachers to take attendance in classrooms. He calls presto “a cost-effective modernization solution that quickly bridges the gap between 5250 applications and mobile devices.”
PHP and Multi-Platform Roadmaps
Even though green-screen conversions are a great place to start an application modernization project, there are many ways to extend existing applications and build composite applications while introducing advantages like multi-platform compatibility and multiple database access. BCD’s WebSmart PHP was designed for this duty, and additional features were just released last week with version 4.4.
Version 4.4 enhancements include an interactive debugger, a new licensing option for organizations that don’t have an IBM i server, improved validation of any PHP file, and an enhancement to SmartCharts for non-Flash devices like iPads.
The debugger has been slipped into the WebSmart development environment, which means less time is spent testing code to find problems compared to using a debugger outside the IDE. The debugger was designed for easily adding breakpoints, step-through programs, and investigating and changing variables on the fly.
The validation process for PHP files, including those from open source solutions, has been improved with the addition of syntax-checking features.
A set of standalone PC license keys have been added with this latest release. This allows PHP development without an IBM i. In the past, an IBM i server wasn’t necessary to run WebSmart PHP programs–they are open source and can run on multiple platforms. However, the IBM i server was needed to authenticate the license key for developing PHP applications with the WebSmart IDE. A standalone PC license key is particularly relevant to ISVs that use WebSmart PHP.
Because the hugely popular Apple iPads are not compatible with Flash animation, BCD updated its SmartCharts feature that was introduced in 2011 to support non-Flash devices. WebSmart PHP 4.4 allows iPad users to design and integrate real-time animated two- and three-dimensional bar charts, pie charts, and executive dashboards to the same degree that Flash-compatible devices offer.
Other enhancements include the capability to retrieve query string parameters in one function instead of needing a separate line for each individual parameter, cross-site scripting protection, and improvements to the user interface file-browsing features. WebSmart PHP has also added functions that make it easier to retrieve information from BCD’s Web portal product, Nexus. The portal provides a single point of access to enterprise information including WebSmart and other Web applications, Web pages, documents, dashboards, and productivity tools.
Portal and BI Technology, Too
LDAP is a cross-platform client server protocol used to store and authenticate user IDs and passwords, as well to query and modify information. The addition of LDAP authentication can be added to IBM i and Nexus user profiles to bolster security. Site administrators who use LDAP no longer need to manage separate LDAP and Nexus profiles.
By the way, BCD does not charge a license fee for the Nexus portal. It does require a maintenance contract, however.
Development on the business intelligence side of BCD has resulted in enhancements to the company’s Clover Query software. Now at version 3.6, Clover has expanded its access to SQL Server and MySQL via Web-based reporting using a template format.
There’s also a PDF template to produce reports in that popular format and the SmartCharts capability that allows the creation of graphs for non-Flash devices as was mentioned in the WebSmart PHP section is also available in Clover.