Modernization Prioritization Based On Observation
June 6, 2016 Dan Burger
Amidst all the chatter in the IBM midrange community, nothing rises above the catch-all category of modernization. Just about anything that’s done to the system, including brushing the dust off an old AS/400, seems to qualify as modernization. But, after separating the wheat from the chaff, there is real modernization being done and with it comes the realization that the IBM i is as modern as you allow it to be.
After years of Earl Scheib paint jobs–We’ll paint your car for $99–modernization efforts have become better planned, better executed, and better suited for a future that extends beyond the time it takes rust to poke through a thin veneer of “resale red” pigment. Evidence of this is most prominent in the application modernization arena, where the bulk of modernization efforts have been put in play and where the maturation of newer projects is most noticeable. Lessons have been learned. And, of course, mistakes continue.
Speed of development, ease of deployment, and ease of maintenance are the most important criteria for modernization projects, says Steve Gapp, CEO at LANSA, one of the IBM i ISVs that have helped companies escape the confines of green screens on immobile work stations. The direction most IBM i shops are taking, Gapp says, is the hybrid development approach that allows one set of source code to be used for desktop, tablet, and smartphone devices. It’s known as responsive design and it’s the choice of nearly all development teams whether they are modernizing existing apps or building new apps from square one.
While it’s true that developers can write a single set of source code to be used for desktop, tablet, and smartphone devices, there is a misconception that goes along with that. In most cases, mobile apps are specific for mobile users. Those apps are a subset of the apps designed for desktop “power users.”
“Mobile apps are designed to be easy to use and have distinct functions,” Gapp says. “A Web app for desktop use is often designed for people who multi-task. We see these two distinctions a lot.”
Gapp describes the LANSA perspective on this begins with breaking the business app into specific business functions. Some of those functions might remain in green screen while other functions are more efficient with Web capabilities, some of which are mobile specific and some are for desktop use.
“When you talk about green-field development–designing new applications–a lot of companies are using the ‘mobile first’ strategy,” says David Brault, product marketing manager at LANSA. “They design for mobile and then make adjustments for traditional desktop and laptop users.”
There are examples of Web applications fitting the needs of both mobile and desktop users, and so responsive design is especially useful. Executive management likes having everything they need no matter when and where they need it.
“We’ve seen mobile initiatives that focus on key performance indicators, which are important to executive management,” Gapp says. “Dashboards and key metrics that support decision making are examples of apps created to run on both desktop and laptop without changes.”
At the Windows 8.1 release, Microsoft designed the operating system so that phones, tablets, laptops, and desktop computers used the same OS. The same holds true with Windows 10.
Gapp noted that Microsoft Surface Pro tablets are getting a lot of attention because of their laptop-like capabilities and their ruggedness which suits manufacturing and warehousing environments.
An observation from Brault is that tablets that were deployed in mobile projects several years ago are coming to their end of life.
“Early on, almost everyone was outfitted with iPod Touch or iPad devices,” he says. “One LANSA customer recently swapped out the iPod Touches with Android devices, which are cheaper to replace and more rugged, which is important in some situations. The company has yet to make a decision on the iPads, but as they wear out the Surface Pros are being considered as replacements.”
If that customer had used an iOS native approach to write apps for the Apple devices, Brault points out, a move to Android or Microsoft Surface Pros would have required a rewrite. With the hybrid development approach favored by LANSA, apps can be written once and deployed to three platforms–iOS, Android, and Windows. That could be a difference maker for companies keeping their mobile device options open.
It’s fair to say the IBM i community as a whole remains apprehensive about modernization projects, thinking mostly about the time, the expense, and the risk of disruption. But in no way does that indicate that modernization is at a standstill.
“As we view the IBM i market,” Gapp says. “I think business executives see a lot of business risk in the older RPG applications. Those old applications are making the platform look like it’s legacy, which it definitely is not.”