Fresche Legacy Discusses Three IBM i Modernization Cases
May 21, 2013 Alex Woodie
The reasons why organizations undertake IBM i application modernization initiatives are as varied as organizations themselves. Sometimes, it’s people-driven, while other times, the technology itself needs a refresh. With 12 years in the modernization business, the folks at Fresche Legacy (formerly Speedware) have seen it all. Recently, the company shared details of three current IBM i modernization projects.
Fresche Legacy is a Montreal, Quebec, company that specializes in application modernization. Much of its work entails IBM i servers, IBM i technologies, and IBM i-centric languages, such as RPG, COBOL, CL, and SYNON. The company is as well-versed with IBM i modernization and (dare we say it) migration topics as any out there. And while the company has helped many customers move off the IBM i platform–its automated RPG to .NET and Java code converter comes in handy here–it doesn’t spread fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD) of the imminent demise of the platform. Rather, it advocates pragmatic approach in helping customers connect its technological past with its future.
Chris Koppe, Fresche Legacy’s vice president of corporate strategy, shared with IT Jungle some information about three current IBM i modernization projects it’s involved with. The companies were recipients of Fresche Discover Services, a multi-week engagement where the company analyzes not only application code, but observes human workflow and processes.
The companies here did not give authorization for their names to be used, which isn’t surprising considering the strategic nature of the projects. Even without the names, the information shared by Koppe may be useful to other companies finding themselves in similar situations.
1. The first company is a large automotive company with operations around the world. The company currently uses a wide mix of all platforms, including IBM i, mainframe, Windows, Linux, and Unix. The company’s executive leadership recently decided that it should consolidate the key applications onto a common system or systems. “They want to reduce the sprawl that’s accumulated over the years,” Koppe says, “They want to consolidate and get to a strategic and deliberate set of technology frameworks to move all the organization.”
The company is currently in the planning stages, but it plans to move quickly once it decides on a new platform, which will likely be either .NET or Java. The existing RPG applications, which are highly customized versions of what were once packaged applications, will likely be migrated to another language. “It has nothing to do with any particular problem maintaining the IBM i server, the applications, or RPG. . . . The pain they’re feeling is technology sprawl.”
2. The second company is a pharmacy services company based in the United States that has been running its heavily modified IBM i applications for more than 20 years. The application (once a packaged app) was not originally designed to do the things the company is asking from it now, which has led to “black box” syndrome, where information is considered locked away on the IBM i server. The green-screen interfaces also do not help.
“Some of the applications on the IBM i are good and serve the business well. But some of the other ones that weren’t architected for the type of growth they’ve experienced need overhauls,” Koppe says. Attempts to implement a new feature or capability on these apps often lead to technological workarounds that drag out the release cycle. “Everything on the i is kind of a black box to them. Every attempt to expose it externally has been unsuccessful.”
This company has tried to crack the code and get into the system, but it’s a time-consuming ordeal. “There are certain things where IT comes back and says, that can’t really be done because of how it’s architected. So it’s more than just exposing and opening them up to other interfaces, but it’s also rethinking the workflow and rethinking the interfaces.”
Observations of this company’s order entry department also exposed limitations in the 5250 interface. “The information they need doesn’t fit in the real estate of a green screen,” he says. “Watching the way the order entry person navigates, we realized how … in the new Web world, that workflow would be so much more optimized, so much less keyboard back and forth, function-key pressing and navigation, hopping between the screens.”
This project will likely result in migration off the IBM i for some applications, Koppe says.
3. The third company is a European software and services firm with a financial application that runs on IBM i. The application has run very well on the platform for more than 20 years. But moving forward, it’s starting to get pushback on the IBM i from potential customers.
“Because the application is so critical to businesses buying it, they get questioned what’s on the backend, and that’s always been something they have to defend,” Koppe says. “To date it has never caused them to lose a sale, but there is mounting concerns of new prospects. New prospects just don’t want to receive an IBM i. It’s a foreign thing for them.”
The pushback is even there as the vendor moves to sell its software as a service (SaaS). “More and more clients are becoming IT savvy and are having a look at the back end, and make sure it’s integrate-able,” Koppe says.
Of particular concern is a homegrown transaction manager, a la CICS, but written in RPG for IBM i. It’s a critical component of the vendor’s package, but it was never built to handle the volumes it’s being asked to process, and maintaining it is tough. “It’s really a nice app they sell it to their clients, but on the backend, they’ve really MacGyver-ed a lot of it together over the years. And some of it needs to be rethought because they have multiple connections into the backend code that are ultimately doing the same thing. Some re-architecting is going to be done.”
The company is likely looking at moving its code from RPG to Java. “They’re not in a critical rush to do it,” Koppe says. “But they really need to create a strong foundation for the next 20 to 30 years.”
Fresche Legacy is currently working on a total of seven IBM i-related projects, Koppe says. Not all of them involve moving workloads off the platform. In fact, one of them involves moving an RPG application to IBM i. We hope to bring you that story later this year.