Howdy, Partner. Welcome To The IBM i Modernization Ranch
September 12, 2016 Dan Burger
The IBM i community is best known for its RPG programmers and its steadfast loyalty to a computing platform with blue-collar traits such as handling heavy workloads without a flock of nannies tending to its special needs. Behind the uncomplaining “workforce in a box” is a mix of application development environments and programs that are a combination of packaged products from the IBM midrange vendor community and home grown application handiwork.
Software vendors have long relied on establishing business partners–resellers, integrators, and sources of referrals–to expand their sales channels. At the same time, organizations on the buying side of IT resources have searched for the elusive trusted advisors among those on the selling side. There are thousands of IBM business partners/resellers engaging with IBM i shops that are looking for expertise, knowledge, and advice.
Several weeks ago, IT Jungle wrote about the plans under way at the IBM midrange application tool vendor Fresche (formerly known as Fresche Legacy) to expand its business partner ecosystem through alliances with other software companies, value-added resellers, system integrators and consultants. The official announcement from Fresche came September 7.
For those unfamiliar with Fresche, in a relatively short time the company has acquired a collection of IBM i vendors that specialize in application modernization. Two of them, BCD Software and looksoftware, have tools for rapidly converting green-screen applications to Web-based, graphical apps (a process known as screen scraping), as well as tools for enhancing existing RPG applications and creating new Web and mobile apps that reuse the original RPG business logic but also extend those apps with greater functionality at the code level, which is freed from the 5250 limitations. Complimenting these tools is an RPG code analysis tool that automates much of the extensive hand-to-hand combat that goes with deciphering old code and making it useful to new applications.
These pieces, along with a maturing partnership with the change management software companies, Remain Software and Midrange Dynamics, puts Fresche in a position to recruit more business partners because of its expanded scope on the application modernization process.
It’s not an entirely unique package, but Fresche is intent on its mission to build out an ambitious partner network. Application modernization in IBM i shops is a growth market. Fresche’s timing seems good.
Dave Pickburn is a managing director for a Fresche business partner in the UK. His company, Proximity, had an established business partner relationship with BCD prior to Fresche’s acquisition of the company. Pickburn says Proximity has approximately two dozen customers using BCD software. He says the new partnership with Fresche will open the door to new opportunities because it provides access to the X-Analysis tool and the looksoftware suite of products. Looksoftware provides an option for companies that do not want Web apps running on the i. And the code analysis capabilities with X-Analysis is a useful tool for companies with plans to repurpose RPG apps with new business logic, plus Web and mobile capabilities.
Pickburn says Proximity provides development services in about 70 percent of its projects and that part of the business is growing. The trend has a lot to do with IT staffs running lean and unable to take on the added load of a modernization project.
“We have done most of the work in our BCD installations. Special or unique circumstances might involve BCD support on pre-sales and/or post-sales. We get support from BCD as needed,” he says.
Jennifer Fisher, vice president of business partner relations for Fresche, says varying skill sets will occur among partners. Engagements might require skills from Fresche and other times a partner or partners may have the skills necessary to implement the software and get the job done. “Partners unite to deliver the expertise, but it’s the customer location and skills capabilities that dictate the business partner involvement,” she says.
iTech Solutions is another business partner that came on board through a Fresche acquisition. In this case, it was looksoftware. iTech is an infrastructure specialist with much of its IBM i business in the Northeastern United States. It won’t be taking on any modernization projects, but its infrastructure expertise may be called on during modernization projects. Companies have sat on the sidelines during the normal upgrade cycles while they thought about their next moves. If they run Power5 and V5R4 or older environments, upgrades are pretty much assured. iTech customers that have application modernization on their minds will be referred to Fresche.
“It makes sense for us to work with Fresche because we can handle the machine requirements–the horsepower and OS releases that are optimized for a modernization project,” says Pete Massiello, CEO of iTech. “My guys are talking with customers every day about their pain points and issues. They find people who need help with modernization. Sometimes that includes more modern hardware and OS upgrading. We want our happy customers to remain happy. We want to help them with other solutions outside of infrastructure.”
The partnership with Remain Software began just a year ago. Modernization projects often bring to light application development deficiencies that result in costly errors related to poor management techniques. The change management software business, Remain’s specialty, has come to life because of app modernization. Remain customers have become interested in modernization and their requests for assistance led Remain Managing Director Marco Kok to look for ways to provide help. He’s expanding the skills of the change management services team to include the Fresche products. Remain’s software already supports the Fresche code analysis software and the BCD web development products.
“We understand how people build applications,” Kok says. “We’re building up more skills in that area. It’s competence and skills and tools and best practices that can be used in multiple environments that help customers make good decisions. Everyone in the partner program is learning from each other. Overall, we’re gaining the skills and resources to help companies be successful.”
It’s because of all these modernization pieces coming together that Fresche believes it will have success partnering with companies that want to resell its solutions and build a services business that help IBM i shops modernize. The goal is to build this business on a global basis.