Surround Tech Goes Up The Stack
June 17, 2015 Alex Woodie
Surround Technologies is a well-known provider of .NET-based tooling for modernizing IBM i applications. If you want to outfit your 5250 application with Web, Windows, or mobile clients using Microsoft technologies, its flagship Accelerator series can provide that. But with the latest version, Surround Tech is going up the stack by offering pre-built apps for things like document management, content management, and even human resources.
Modernizing legacy IBM i applications and moving from 5250 to modern Web and mobile apps is one thing, says Surround Tech CEO Lee Paul. But what IBM i shops need these days goes beyond application modernization, and reaches into the realm of business modernization.
“It’s not just about modernizing the software. It’s about modernizing the business and business processes,” Paul tells IT Jungle. “We’re trying to support the customer with functionality they need that isn’t often in the legacy system.”
To that end, the version 6 release of its Accelerator for .NET toolset, which was unveiled in April, brings a host of pre-built functions that are aimed at supporting modern businesses. In this release you will find the following components:
• Content Management System Module
Accelerator now includes a CMS that makes it easy for non-programmers to create and manage Web pages that display across all devices. While the Web server requires a Windows machine to run, it can read and write to DB2 for i, eliminating the need for batch data syncs. Support for the Twitter Bootstrap framework ensures any website adheres to the “responsive design” concept in Web design.
Accelerator has always had some CMS capabilities, Paul says. But with version 6, Surround Tech is taking it up a notch to streamline the creation of static and (some) dynamic Web content. “The power of the CMS is it puts the control into the hands of Web admins and marketing people so that they don’t have to go back to the developers to change certain things,” Paul says.
One of the first CMS users is a utility company that uses the product to serve a consumer-facing Web portal. Customers can log-in to check their balances, change their email, and perform other actions that update the DB2 for i database sitting on the backend.
• Document Management System Module
Accelerator also had document management capabilities before. With version 6, Surround Tech bolstered these capabilities so the product can serve as a “lightweight” document management system that provides a central repository for storing various kinds of documents, including PDFs, images, and videos.
The document management system also serves as a media repository for the CMS. In this manner, it provides a centralized place to manage customer documents (such as bills and invoices), or even to post videos on the website.
• Human Resources Job Management Module
Surround Tech also added an HR module designed to assist users with job-related activities. The HR module includes a pre-built job board that customers can add to their websites. The job board allows people to submit resumes, and automatically routes the resumes to the appropriate person.
• Work Queue Module
The company also added Work Queue, which provides a way to track items that individuals and teams are working on. Items can be added to the Work Queue manually or automatically via APIs, and users can sort their queue by type, priority, or date.
Work Queue is the first step toward delivering full workflow automation in Accelerator. “What we found is it’s really about 60 percent of what you need out of workflow,” Paul says. “It’s the ability to create a job or task and assign it to somebody, allow them to do some work on it, and then assign it to somebody else.”
• Job Monitor Module
The new Job Monitor module will give users and applications the capability to schedule and submit jobs to run as a background service. When a given job has ended, the Job Monitor automatically notifies the user. The Job Monitor module is pre-integrated, via APIs, with the email management service Mandrill to provide programmatic feedback on the activities users take with emails.
The new module enables jobs to be scheduled to run on IBM i, Windows, and other servers. For example, if an IBM i shop needs to kick off an RPG reporting job to run every day at 3 a.m., Job Monitor automates that. Eventually, that reporting job will be tied into the full workflow automation product that Surround Tech is building.
The core .NET-based development tools that Surround Tech is known for have also been enhanced with this release. “There’s a ton in the latest release,” Paul says. “We’ve added fixes and enhancements–we do all these things better. But now we’re adding robust functionality beyond just development.”
Surround Tech is by no means moving away from application modernization. Its development tool–which enables developers to build three-tier MVC-based apps using Microsoft ASP.NET, WPF, and Silverlight tooling and run on DB2 for i, IIS, and HTML5- and Windows-based client devices–remains its core focus. But in addition to addressing customers’ application modernization needs with a Windows-.NET flavor, Surround Tech discovered a bigger need surrounding business modernization.
“You’re not buying Accelerator just to have an HR module. You’re buying Accelerator to do modernization, and you may need an HR module,” Paul says. “If you think about workflow, it’s been around for a while, but legacy systems don’t have that.
You can expect to see more modules and business process functionality added in future releases, including the previously mentioned workflow automation functionality, he says. “It’s a big theme,” says Paul, who works out of Surround Tech’s Florida office. “Customers need business process automation, workflow, document management, and website content management.”
The new Accelerator modules leverage the IBM i server’s integrated DB2 for i database, but are mostly housed and served from a separate Windows machine. Alternatively, customers can house everything on the Windows box, including using SQL Server for the database. For more info, see the company’s website at www.surroundtech.com.