Fresche Brings the Heat(map) to Legacy Modernization
June 1, 2016 Alex Woodie
Before embarking upon a legacy modernization project, it’s important to do your homework. Not all IBM i screens are equal, but figuring out which ones are the most widely used is neither easy nor straightforward. This is the challenge that application modernization vendor Fresche Legacy hopes to resolve with the new heatmap solution that it’s building for its Newlook modernization suite.
Guessing how users interact with legacy IBM i applications can lead to erroneous conclusions about how to proceed with legacy modernization. Instead, Fresche says the new heatmap software it’s developing will allow customers to gather usage data from the field and then display that data in an intuitive visual manner.
Unveiled at the recent COMMON conference in New Orleans, Louisiana, the heatmap solution is a data visualization tool that shows programmers and administrators how their applications are actually being used by users in the real world–including which screens they’re using, which F-keys they’re pressing, which fields they’re viewing, and how users actually navigate the IBM i app.
It’s all about helping IBM i customers get more value out of their modernization efforts, the company says. Take for example one of Fresche’s customers with a JD Edwards application sporting more than 2,500 screens. A sequential approach to modernization–that is, converting each 5250 green screen into a modern Web GUI, one by one–would take a long time, cost a lot of money, and leave the customer unsatisfied with the result. A more targeted approach can yield better results.
A better way to approach legacy modernization is to apply the 80/20 rule of design theory, says Newlook product manager and IBM i modernization specialist Nick Hampson. “Users spend approximately 80 percent of their time in 20 percent of the application, so 80 percent of the modernization effort should concentrate on those 20 percent most used,” Hampson says.
Finding which 20 percent to target is the goal of the heatmap, which the company expects to become generally available later this year. “It usually is fairly obvious where people spend most of their time,” Hampson said during a Fresche press conference at COMMON.
Maintenance screens, for example, are typically some of the least-used screens in ERP systems and other core line-of-business applications running on IBM i servers. While the popularity of screens will vary depending on the application and industry, examples of frequently used screens would include things like order-entry screens, order-update screens, and new customer account screens.
Fresche’s heatmap app enables customers to visualize usage data in several different ways, including by color-coding the most visited screens or by using an opacity heat map. Fresche lets customers split the graphics by the number of visits or total time spent on each screen.
In addition to giving developers insight into what screens to modernize first, Fresche’s new heatmap can also help illuminate the existence of bottlenecks in applications. The thickness of the lines in the heatmap visualization correspond to connections between screens, and that data can help to surface common workflow patterns.
Customers can visualize the workflows of multiple users on the same screen, thereby highlighting application usage patterns that might otherwise be difficult to discern, such as a propensity of users to revisit screens using F keys. “Understanding how different users work together and access the same screens is very important,” Hampson said.
From a technical standpoint, the software uses the existing “.nll” batch files, which developers previously used to track how users actually used applications. But the “.nll” files provided a limited amount of information, so Fresche built additional recording and tracking functionality into Newlook to provide the needed data granularity. There’s no limit to the number of recording files that Newlook developers can store and use with the application, which is accessed through the Newlook Developers Application Insights product.
Like most IBM i application modernization vendors, Fresche embraces a hybrid approach to modernization–that is, allowing customers to upgrade some application screens to Web or mobile GUIs while leaving others as green screens accessed through terminal emulation software.
Fresche also enables customers to build composite screens that include functions from multiple screens into one screen. This is often the preferred approach when customers create mobile apps, where application workflow must be optimized for smaller screens.
Hampson says the heatmap will come in particularly useful for IBM i developers who are building mobile devices, building Web services, or splitting applications into tabs. “It’s a completely new concept for developers, which will help people to modernize the right screens, with the right fields on them,” he said. “It’s a game changer.”
It’s crucial that IBM i shops that are embracing application modernization look beyond simple refacing and screen-scraping solutions, and instead find something that delivers real business value, said Brendan Kay, who was formerly the CEO of Looksoftware and is now executive vice president with Fresche.
“IBM i shops are not in a place where they have a clear path forward” with modernization, Kay said. “Guessing is not a strategy.”
Fresche’s new heatmap solution is currently in beta testing, and is expected to become available in the third or fourth quarter. For more information see www.freschelegacy.com.