The Word Of The Day Is
December 9, 2013 Dan Burger
Modern–Spread The Word
Have you noticed IBM i executives are everywhere you look these days? I haven’t seen any of them on magazine covers at the grocery store checkout area, but it won’t surprise me when it happens. Steve Will, Alison Butterill, Tim Rowe, Barbara Morris and others seem to be more actively evangelizing. Conferences and local user group meetings are benefiting, many of them are blogging, but where it has picked up even more is their participation in vendor webinars.
Last week, I listened in to webinar that co-starred Rowe and Morris and was hosted by looksoftware. The IBMers were there to deliver the message that IBM is investing in IBM i. The community likes to hear that and they like to hear it from IBM, especially those who are involved in product development. I’ve seen local user group meetings get a huge boost from this and there’s a similar magnet and steel effect that attracts people to webinars. At a user group meeting the attendance might top out around 150, which could be two to three times higher than when non-IBMers are the featured speakers. The webinar (actually it was two webinars, one for the U.S. market and one for Europe) featuring Rowe and Morris pumped up registrations to approximately 850, which was significantly better than the average vendor-hosted, one-hour show and tell.
Eamon Musallam, product manager at looksoftware, was pleased with the high interest level. I didn’t talk with anyone at IBM, but I assume they were pleased as well. It was an opportunity for both companies to talk on the topic of RPG application development and modernization. Of the 850 people who registered, approximately half of them dialed in at the appointed time, which is predictable based on other webinar results I’m familiar with, and I’ll assume the great majority of those believe their time was well spent. They signed up to learn something. Those who didn’t attend the live event, and those of you who are curious to hear more on the topics of IBM and looksoftware investments in the IBM i platform and how those investments can be useful to shops considering the future of application development, can find the archived version of this presentation on this looksoftware Web page.
What I heard during this webinar was a message I have heard before but needs to be delivered over and over again. I’m a believer in the Rule of Seven, which, according to my definition, means someone has to tell me roughly seven times before I’m going to begin to comprehend the idea that someone is trying to tell me. My wife thinks it should be called the Rule of 11 or 17. I forget which one it is. I guess she hasn’t told me enough times yet.
The message delivered by IBM and looksoftware is that the future of RPG is modern RPG. We are invested in it. You are invested in it. It has a rich history. It’s widely used. It’s reliable, robust, productive, and effective. It’s not dead or dying . . . unless you refuse to feed and water it. The strengths of RPG continue to be overlooked by those outside the IBM i community because of the green screen. This has been talked about for a long time.
There is a huge need to recognize that RPG is a modern business language. It’s not being left in the dust from a development perspective. It is clearly outdated and a long way from being collaborative with other languages and developers if it is being used as it was created 10 or more years ago. Developers in other languages face the same issues when they are stuck in the past. So don’t imagine this as an RPG-only problem. But RPG programmers and the organizations they work for have to see the risk involved with refusing to modernize.
“Developers are dealing with a variety of new paradigms in order to be successful,” Rowe pointed out. “Developers need to continue to make apps fresh and new and meet the needs of users. The focus on user interface is changing the way code is written. Agile development methodologies are becoming more common. And there is more development work being done in collaborative environments with non-RPG developers. The frameworks for developing code have changed. It’s more component-based and modular. Productivity tooling is a key part of development.”
Productivity tooling is where Rowe lives. He’s IBM’s business architect for application development. There’s bound to be some “drink the Kool-Aid” in what he says, but his overview of the IBM i application development landscape is not inaccurate. Application modernization has been on the back burner at too many shops for too long. And by application modernization I mean even the simplest and quickest green-screen to graphical interface conversions can qualify.
Near the half-way point in the webinar the 250 or so participants were asked to participate in a survey question that asked “What is restricting your use of RPG for a graphical user interface?”
The possible answers were multiple choice and the respondents could choose all of them, none of them, or however many applied. The choices were:
Each one of these choices was picked by between 42 percent and 56 percent of the survey takers. That sounds to me like all these factors are considered to be restrictive to the extent that companies are uncertain about how to overcome those obstacles. Although this question doesn’t reveal whether business pressures are becoming strong enough to push companies to overcome the obstacles, it seems as though the business needs are escalating. The interest in mobile computing alone appears to have driven decisions in many companies. But a quick conclusion can be made that many companies find this to be a risky move and are afraid of making wrong choices.
You may recall that looksoftware was hosting this session. It was not a coincidence that the choice of restrictions noted above are obstacles that looksoftware believes its products can resolve.
If you work for a company that is on the fence regarding an application development/modernization strategy for the future, this webinar provides valid insights into the associated topics from Rowe and Morris, who also discuss the IBM roadmap that led to this point. From the looksoftware perspective, it emphasizes a commitment to IBM i and particularly to RPG, as look’s products are demonstrated to support multiple client types, with a single development tool, and keeping the process within the confines of RPG.
My advice is to put a few things down on paper before you watch this webinar. Begin by determining as best you can the specific business challenges your organization is facing, what the organization wants to achieve, and what the IT staff can bring to the project in terms of available time and skills. After the webinar, you will be better prepared to decide whether the technology that is being applied by IBM and looksoftware is aligned with your objectives.