The Risk Of Doing Nothing With Modern RPG And DB2
November 18, 2013 Dan Burger
The cost of application maintenance can really shrivel the effectiveness of IT. Too many people with too many hours devoted to maintenance should be raising red flags. One thing you can do to diminish the application maintenance money pit is re-evaluating mature (overly kind description) applications. Converting old RPG apps to modern free form RPG apps should be a consideration. But how many IBM midrange shops will take a look with an eye toward long-term savings?
Technology Refresh 7, available now as a PTF for companies running IBM i 7.1, can provide a substantial advantage, but even the log jam of IBM i shops sitting on i5/OS can gain better footing in the application maintenance swamp by considering what RPG ILE and particularly free form RPG can do. What’s to gain? Application developer effectiveness is the obvious answer, but don’t limit yourself by thinking only of your RPG developers. Free form RPG is light-years ahead when it comes to comprehension by non-RPG developers. If, for example, time devoted to application maintenance could be cut by 25 percent, would that afford you the opportunity to make a dent in your project backlog? The added benefit of code that fits into interoperable environments is where the long-term value starts to compute. Increased interoperability with Java and SQL is an immediate benefit for shops with those skills and as time goes by we expect to see more shops with those skills.
There are tools available to convert old RPG code to free form RPG code. Two that I can think of are available from IBM i software vendors Linoma Software and ARCAD. Linoma calls its product the RPG Toolbox and ARCAD’s product is named Converter.
But before conversions take place, there needs to be skills in place. Who possesses the skills is a debatable topic. The majority of IBM i shops don’t have programmers with modern RPG skills. Those that do have a clear advantage. Those that don’t have a decision to make about whether programmers with old RPG skills should be converted to programmers with modern RPG skills or whether conversion of old RPG code to modern RPG code makes those applications understandable to programmers who are familiar with other modern languages, Java and PHP are two that quickly come to mind.
Paul Tuohy, an RPG subject matter expert, owner of his own consulting company called ComCon, and a member of the System i Developer group that stages the RPG & DB2 Summit conferences discussed this topic with me during the OCEAN user group technical conference.
“If the RPGer doesn’t know modern RPG and hasn’t put the effort into learning modern RPG, what chance do you have of teaching him?” Tuohy asks rhetorically. “Openness to learning is the real key. What makes the difference is a willingness to learn. On the other hand, it could be the company that prevents the programmer from learning and implementing modern RPG because they want to stick with the known instead of something new. That programmer may have the desire to learn and given the chance to learn modern RPG may do very well.”
There is a certain amount of intimidation that comes with learning new subjects and a certain amount of complacency in sticking with what you already know. IT is not very accepting of complacency. Neither is business.
“There is very little in IT that is new,” Tuohy contends. “When you look closely at something like a new language, you discover it is something familiar, but with a new twist. It’s really just an extension of something we had that’s just being called something different. But unless you put the effort into discovering what it is, you won’t know, and you will assume it is a new technology that you don’t know anything about.”
Tuohy has helped many RPG veterans advance their skills to include free form RPG and is frustrated that more RPG professionals and more IBM i shops don’t insist that application development stay current. It’s a better IT investment than continuing to write both new and maintenance programs in a style that avoids interoperability and misses out on a boatload of efficiencies.
Many of the efficiencies that modern RPG brings not only benefit the development process but also reduce the maintenance burden also dovetail with modern database skills. Companies that develop long-term IT plans are recognizing the inter-related skills and efficiencies of application development in conjunction with database development. Tuohy, who may someday write the unabridged and completely updated Joy of Programming for IBM i Advocates, believes it should be the sworn duty of all RPGers to learn SQL and protect the database.
“The database belongs with the server people,” Tuohy says with a wary eye cast upon the interface developers. “And at the moment, the server people are the RPG guys.”
The developers working on the interface, he notes, are usually without database and application development skills. When handed the reins to the DB2 for i database, he believes more harm than good will come of it. Tuohy warns that short term answers can and will create long term problems. The end result is damage to the database integrity and ultimately to the system that is most critical to the success of the business.
So as IBM i shops consider what’s needed to meet business requirements in the years ahead, modern RPG is just part of the equation. The database part needs attention as well. Those in the best position to help are, once again, the RPGers with skillsets that include modern DB2 for i. Shops that are successful at training existing staff in these areas will have an advantage over trying to locate this talent on the open market. It doesn’t appear, however, that a lot of companies are willing to make that investment or even to look for the gaps in their current IT infrastructure and workforce skills.
That could be considered a high risk. But coasting along with a bare bones IT staff seems to be a bigger risk to me.