Something New For Enterprise Mobile
September 30, 2013 Dan Burger
One of the reasons companies shy away from projects such as mobile computing and application modernization is because they don’t have the skills and/or the time to devote to the project. It’s a fairly common occurrence given that most IT departments are short-staffed and modern skills training doesn’t fit into the schedule or the budget. And if you think that only happens in small and midsize organizations, you haven’t talked with ClearBlade‘s Eric Simone.
Simone works with large enterprises–mostly in the banking, insurance, and healthcare fields–that depend on big iron: Power Systems and mainframes. Many of these, he explains, are not current with their programming, are not familiar with new technologies, and are not prepared for big challenges like mobile computing, which is highly desirable but beyond their reach.
“Companies don’t have IT departments that can build the apps people want,” Simone says. “They don’t have the modern skills and are too busy with the day-to-day operation and maintenance.”
Simone is the founder and CEO at ClearBlade, an enterprise mobile software and services company. It was started up at the request of IBM, Simone says, because Big Blue was starting an enterprise modernization initiative and it needed more companies to focus on integrated systems, modern technology, particularly mobile and IBM tools.
There’s a big hole in the market, Simone says. No one was building components to connect with enterprise back-end applications. “The development side is not the interesting piece to the puzzle,” he says. “It’s the adapter side–the components that connect to the back end.”
Not enough people understand how to integrate the front-end apps with the back-end apps.
At the enterprise level, companies are trying to “build fancy front ends with no knowledge of how to reach DB2,” Simone says. “Their solution is to export data to a SQL database where they can access it.”
Simone believes that’s a bad idea that only leads to more bad ideas. His preferred process is working with companies’ existing systems, whether companies have the existing staff to see the project through or not is inconsequential. It’s still a better option than lifting and replacing a million lines of RPG code with Java, which more than one company has tried. “Let’s use what we have and build new functionality along with mobility,” he says.
Extending assets and making better use of existing skills and investments has been a popular idea in the IBM midrange. The ISVs there have focused on this for years. Most of the attention has been placed on the user interface, to a large degree because companies have been obsessed with it. Concerns about back end applications increased functionality and improved integration have often been kicked down the road.
Simone’s intention is to provide a platform and the “LEGO building blocks,” as he likes to call them, to make the back end integration easier.
“ClearBlade will provide services that allow the RPG programs that communicate with DB2 to also communicate with a module that breaks it down to an understandable, consumable format for mobile,” he says. “So the mobile developer doesn’t need to know the nuances of RPG. This allows the people who are good at managing the platform to do that, while someone else builds the mobile apps (the front end UI).”
The connection between the mobile device and the enterprise application is where ClearBlade makes its case. Simone gives IBM credit for doing great things to expose Web services to RPG technology, but has not made Web services consumable by mobile devices.
“There will be a lot of work in this area, a lot of consolidation in the next few years,” he predicts.
He acknowledges back-end services will require a high degree of customization, but believes tools that automate 60 percent to 70 percent of the conversion of back end apps, companies will save a lot of money compared to the alternative of building from scratch.
“We have some of the tools to get this done,” he says. “And no one will ever have all the tools. Every company is going to have some specific problems.”
In other words, don’t expect any push-button, 100 percent solutions.
One of the companies from the IBM i ISV community that is working with ClearBlade is Databorough, which has a tool called X-Analysis that dissects RPG and COBOL programs and documents how they work.
ClearBlade built its app on top of IBM technology as a starting point. After IBM acquired Worklight, ClearBlade worked with IBM to build a mobile app that sits on top of Rational Team Concert. RTC is an application lifecycle management tool that helps development teams work more efficiently. It includes source code tracking for RPG, COBOL, Java, and other languages; build management and deployment functionality; workflow tracking and project management, as well as other functions.
The ClearBlade app that interfaces with RTC is named Clear Concert. It is available at the Apple and Google app stores.
Simone says ClearBlade introduced its free app as the company started working on its enterprise mobile as a platform idea.
“It showed we knew what we were doing,” he says. “And we started getting calls from companies saying they wanted to implement our mobile app because IBM was not supplying mobile interfaces with its software products. We got our foot in the door because of the mobile apps, but the platform is the bigger plum. We use the platform, for instance, to interface with Team Concert and track how the user uses the mobile app–who logs in; how many times the user logs in; and where does the user spend time in the app? App users store that information through the ClearBlade platform using their own databases and their own user modules.”
ClearBlade has been doing enterprise modernization since 2007. Its work on the mobile platform has occurred within the last year.