Change Management Plays Major Role In IBM i Modernization
June 15, 2015 Dan Burger
The word is getting around the IBM midrange community that application modernization has not reached mission accomplished status after converting the green-screen interface to a graphical user interface. There’s backend work to be done. And if you don’t have software change management tools, or the SCM you have is only minimally adequate, this is a piece of the modernization puzzle to keep in mind. Recent activity in the SCM market has drawn my attention, so I talked with the folks at Remain Software about what’s up.
There’s a one-word answer to the question about what’s up. The answer is business. A combination of improving economy and emphasis on modernization has more companies looking at full-blown modernization projects.
In conversations with folks at IBM i shops, I’m hearing that budgets are not as tight as they were several years ago,” says Joan McKittrick, a SCM sales and service veteran whose company, Solutions First, represents Remain Software in North America. McKittrick travels the IBM i tech conference circuit, which this year has already put her in touch with conference attendees in the Northeast (including Toronto, Canada), the Midwest, and the West.
“It used to be tales of no budget this year were repeated regardless of location, but now I am consistently hearing things are better,” she says. “Shops are taking the time to look at change management software again.”
There was a lot of that kind of talk going around at the COMMON Annual Meeting and Expo, the last tech conference that I attended, which was the end of April. Modernization was a much talked about topic and the change management vendors were plentiful in the expo area.
“People can sit still for a while without spending money, but then they notice “the house” is deteriorating,” says Marco Kok, managing director at Remain. “At some point, they realize it’s time for renovation. We are seeing that now.”
And companies that are looking at doing those renovation projects are better equipped to undertake modernization with more than just a one hammer and one-nail-at-a-time approach.
“They are taking a broader perspective, especially with modernization plans, where they want new interfaces and they want to go to mobile. As they do this, they discover their change management systems are not equipped for the kind of modernization projects that involve taking applications through the test and acceptance processes,” Kok says.
This is why alliances being formed between the application tool vendors and the change management software companies. In the modernization arena tool vendors and SCM vendors need one another. In April, a partnership between Remain and Fresche Legacy integrated Fresche Legacy’s looksoftware development tools and X-Analysis code analytics with Remain’s TD/OMS change management software.
“Before the economy went down, let’s say before 2007, a lot of people were thinking about off-the-shelf applications like SAP,” Kok says. “But an SAP implementation is very expensive and takes a long time. Not every company can spend the money it takes to do an in-depth modernization. When companies are asking for mobile apps and apps that integrate with social media, that’s when modernization that only addresses the front end will cease. They won’t be able to deliver the services anymore.”
“People are starting to realize that with mobile applications as a goal, it is necessary for business success to not just get to the data, but to also get to the business rules,” says Wim Jongman, the CTO and managing director at Remain Software. “The business rules are most often embedded in green-screen applications. If you want to reuse business rules, you have to remove them from the green-screen interface. This is backend modernization. And part of this process is making the existing code easier to read, easier to maintain, and easier to reuse.”
As SCM has evolved, the level of automation has increased. Among the automation benefits is the capability to isolate more of the development stages from test to production. All application development is labor intensive, which is the business problem that SCM attacks. Companies without change management tools or with outdated ones wince at the labor costs and the extended implementation time frames.
Jongman says a turning point in the development of its change management software happened in 2005 when a decision was made to move to the Eclipse development environment. This corresponded with IBM making the same choice for its Rational Developer for i (RDi) tool.
“That was a good choice for us,” Jongman says before explaining that things didn’t go according to plan. “Originally we did everything wrong that you could do wrong. We were going against the grain with our Eclipse programming and we ended up throwing away a year of development.”
To show that all’s well that ends well, Remain now specializes in Eclipse technology, which is used in all of IBM Rational’s tooling as well as IBM Notes (formerly Lotus Notes). Remain also started a side business to teach programmers how to use Eclipse.
There are unquantifiable indicators that RDi (a modern design tool that replaces SEU, if you didn’t already know that) is becoming more popular in the IBM i community. As trends go, this one could hardly be any slower. But progress is progress and Jongman says Remain has decided it will “make it our responsibility to help our customers make the transition to RDi” by offering training “because that is the biggest hurdle to get the green-screen people to use RDi on their own.”
It’s a laudable goal, but I wish I could report that IBM has decided to give away licenses to RDi as an incentive and maybe even reward Remain Software and any other vendor who participates in a program to transition traditional green-screen developers to modern tools.