LANSA Guides Mobile, Portal, Integration Project To Success
July 13, 2015 Dan Burger
The proving ground for significant IT projects is far less about speed than it is about endurance. And when you can hear about a project that was completed, it’s so much more interesting than listening to a sales pitch for technology that can take you someplace that no one has yet to travel and may be a place no sane person wants to go. Tried and tested beats new and full of promise for a lot of people despite the drumbeating that is designed to defeat anything that adheres to a slow-growth philosophy.
This story is about a six-year-old project. It began, as many dreams do, with a plan to improve workflow and integration, which almost by definition requires a certain amount of modernization. The accomplishments include the integration of the RPG-based core business application with a Windows-based document management system, the creation of two Web portals, development of a mobile app, and a substantial number of green-screen to GUI conversions. The company involved is in the insurance business and its core application runs on IBM i. It was capably managed and accomplished at a pace that allowed for adequate testing and checks to determine whether the return on investment promise was deliverable.
The Beacon Insurance Company is not a slow-growth company. It’s nearly doubled in size during the past five years. And it’s accomplished that with only a slight increase in employee headcount. As it grew, the weaknesses in its business processes became more apparent. Workflow features to measure timelines didn’t exist. The capability to effectively manage tasks that spanned multiple divisions was short of the key ingredient: effectiveness.
Management realized it had a problem. The first solution it came up with was to ditch the core business application called Insure/90 and the system it rode in on, which was IBM i. Good answer, but on closer inspection “the risk was too big, the cost too high, and the timelines too long,” according to Beacon’s CIO Christopher Woodhams, who was quoted in a case study article published by LANSA, an IBM independent software vendor (ISV) ultimately chosen by Beacon to help get the company where it needed to go.
Rahim Lalani is a professional services manager at LANSA. He manages a team of consultants, helps customers determine the scope of their projects, manages the projects, and manages the relationships between LANSA and its customers. Lalani managed the Beacon projects.
Lalani explained the workflow aspect was accomplished using the Visual LANSA framework, which allowed the document management system to talk with files on the IBM i by calling RPG APIs. The framework is Windows based, but supports Web development for IBM i as well as Windows platforms. The integration of the backend logic of the Windows-based document management system with the new front end was built using SOAP-based Web services APIs.
The green-screen modernization aspect was accomplished using LANSA’s Rapid Application Modernization Process (RAMP) to put graphical interfaces on the 5250 apps. For screens that needed more information than the original green screen provided, composite apps were built using Visual LANSA, an IDE that supports IBM i and Windows development. In some cases, that included extending the database to store more information. And in those instances, APIs were built to support the project.
IT development staff members from Beacon were counted on for much of the API work involved with extending the database and the document management integration work. LANSA services handled most of the development work.
The original scope (the plan for what, when, and how things would get done) was done in 2009 and the project–workflow, green-screen conversion to GUI, and integration–started in 2010. It was completed in 2011.
At that point, Beacon made an assessment of what was accomplished. It tried out the new application, became accustomed to it, and felt confident in moving forward.
That’s when a subsequent project was put in place to build two Web portals–one for internal use and one for partner (B2B) use. The portals were developed with Visual LANSA WAMs (Web Application Modules).
About a year later, in 2012, the Web portals were completed. The internal portal provided a dashboard that allowed Beacon staff to manage and monitor the workflow capabilities. The B2B portal provided new functionality that was limited to certain clients and partners.
Once again Beacon took time to become accustomed to the portals and gauge the return on investment.
As more ways to improve internal processing capabilities came to light, an additional project got under way to build a customer-facing Web portal and corresponding mobile application. All of this development work was done by the LANSA team.
By mid-2014, all the projects were completed. All the projects from the 2012 to 2014 time frame leveraged what was built during the first project, which took place between 2009 and 2011.
Of course, it’s not unusual to discover new ways to extend functionality after a project is completed. That will surely be the case for Beacon as well. But the company seems to have a steady hand and a roadmap for where it’s going. Before new functionality gets added, there’s a matter of identifying return on investment.
“Where we go from here depends on business needs,” Lalani said. “Extending the current app and the customer web portal seems logical, as does reaching out to a wider user base. I’m sure it is something Beacon is considering.”