IBM i App Dev Progress: It Doesn’t Just Happen By Itself
November 10, 2014 Dan Burger
Some cynics would say IBM i application development progress happens at the approximate speed of a glacier. The reliance on the green-screen interface has that effect on people that have never stepped into that environment. But progress is taking place despite the cynicism. The widespread use of mobile devices accessing business applications deserves a lot of credit for accelerating application development across the board and that does not exclude IBM midrange environments. You didn’t need to be told that, but decision makers at your workplace might need to be told.
The shift in interest and new trends in application development is watched very closely by Roger Pence. He’s the designated product evangelist at ASNA, an application development tool vendor in the IBM midrange community since 1982. The company recently hosted its user conference in its home town of San Antonio, Texas, so I checked in with Pence to see what is on the minds of ASNA’s customers.
In a word, it’s mobile. “Everyone is thinking about it,” Pence reports.
What’s new about that? Deeper knowledge, improved understanding, reasonable expectations are ways that Pence describes the differences between the user conference (ASNApalooza) this year and those of previous years.
Developers are beyond the fixation of user interface limitations and realize the old back office apps are not the kind of app that mobile users want. Access to “focused, laser-like tasks” is the goal of more developers. Some of these things never had a back office component, so they need to be written from scratch. These are mostly internal apps (as opposed to customer-facing apps) that are built to run on a wide range of devices–smartphones, tablets, and a variety of operating systems.
“Developers understand the purpose of writing apps as services, so pieces of apps can be reused in a variety of applications. They are seeing how pieces fit together into a bigger picture rather than taking the single app approach over and over,” he says.
That’s not to deny the appropriateness of putting an existing app on a mobile device. That’s certainly part of the mix, especially when the goal is to have a wireless workstation. Tablet are a better device in these instances because the form factor is more user friendly than smartphones.
“We see 75 percent of the activity in the focused-task on the mobile device category,” Pence says. “This is a change that reflects more sophisticated use of mobile devices.”
Although the scope of mobile applications continues to grow, the top concerns are familiar.
“There are two things you can take to the bank,” Pence says. “They are the first two things anyone will ask you about: security and performance. It doesn’t matter what the development model or device is.”
Security always requires a lot of thought. Convenience and security are trade-offs–the more convenience, which is highly desirable, the bigger the security risk, which is highly undesirable. Some people learn this the hard way.
But all the conveniences, the security, the accessibility to information matters, Pence says, if the performance is unsatisfactory. Poor performance has plagued many application development jobs over the years. IT sometimes requires extensive resources to spin up jobs running on IBM i. This taxes mobile devices unless it is taken into account during development.
It is another lesson developers have learned and are now aware of, Pence says.
Much of what is coming to light through mobile development also applies to standard browser-based applications running on desktops, where applications are also becoming more sophisticated. It’s not unusual for application development on IBM i to include highly responsive, highly scalable apps that have thousands of users. Developers are building apps that look as great on the phone as they do on the desktop.
If your reaction is that you already knew that, then it would be a good idea to share that information with people who have no idea that these things are happening in IBM i environments.