Skills Shortage Prompts Fresche’s New View of X-Analysis
November 30, 2016 Alex Woodie
Different companies have different ways of dealing with the emerging IBM i skills shortage. Some shops may look to college grads for fresh new faces, while others may seek to retrain existing IT personnel in IBM i skills. Still others will seek to exit IBM i through wholesale migration to X86 or cloud platforms. At Fresche, the skills shortage presents an opportunity to get a well-regarded code analysis tool called X-Analysis into the hands of more people.
X-Analysis, you will remember, was Fresche Legacy’s first big purchase following its 2012 name-change from Speedware. Developed by the British software firm Databorough, X-Analysis gave Fresche a powerful collection of cross-referencing, impact analysis, documentation, data modeling, re-engineering, automated EGL and J2EE code generation, and DDS-to-SQL database migration tools.
Fresche Legacy was already a big player in the IBM i modernization business when it bought Databorough back in 2013. But since it’s gone on to acquire looksoftware and BCD Software (via its acquisition of Quadrant), Fresche now is, arguably, the biggest provider of IBM i modernization tools. Having X-Analysis in their back pocket, so to speak, gives Fresche a huge advantage in modernization projects.
But Fresche (which shortened its name from Fresche Legacy earlier this year) realized that it was sitting on a relatively underutilized gem with X-Analysis. As it began to dawn on the IBM i community that a shortage of workers with technical IBM i skills was becoming a major issue, Fresche recognized it as an opportunity to reposition X-Analysis as a stepping stone to getting more people productive on the platform.
This week, the company is set to announce Fresche View, a scaled-down, entry-level version of X-Analysis that the company is targeting at IBM i shops that are facing their own skills crunch. As Fresche’s vice president of corporate marketing and business development Marcel Sarrasin explains, the software essentially provides on-demand software documentation in a graphical format.
“What this is doing, at the end of the day, is it’s saving a huge amount of time,” Sarrasin says. “It allows people to either enhance or maintain applications just that much faster. You’d normally have to go ask an existing developer or IT manager a question about how a program is called or where a file is used. People would typically go and spend two to four weeks trying to figure that information out. But now, after just updating the Freshe View repository, people are able to get this information basically at their fingertips.”
Instead of paging through ancient RPG code in obscure green screens or reading outdated documentation, Fresche View allows developers, analysts, or contractors to find their own way around an IBM i application, the company says.
Fresche has brought three elements of the X-Analysis tool forward with Fresche View, including the visual documentation component, the impact analysis component, and the data model. Customers who like what they find can upgrade to the full “Cadillac” version of X-Analysis, which brings other features like code generation and database migration capabilities.
But those features aren’t really necessary for a large swath of IBM i uses who are struggling with the basics of the system. That’s why Fresche thinks it has a potential winner on its hands with Fresche View, which it claims is unlike any other tool on the market.
Trevor Perry, an IBM i evangelist who has deep ties with looksoftware and now is working with Fresche, sees Fresche View as a good start to help keep customers from migrating off the IBM i server.
While in Scotland recently for the iBelieve tour, Perry met an IBM i user who was convinced that his company needed to migrate to a different platform. But by the end of the conversation, Perry had persuaded him to see things differently. The former migration proponent saw the value in the database and some of the business logic. “Maybe we can leverage that forever,” he told Perry “I understand I can bring people to the platform who don’t understand RPG 2 and 3 and who don’t really care because we have open source and the ability to use RPG in a modern way.”
“That’s giving them traction,” Perry adds. “That’s where they’re going to need some kind of understanding of existing code.”
IBM has done a great job modernizing how people interact with the platform through utilities like iNavigator and Access Client Solutions, and the RDi code editor. IBM i professionals no longer need to access the system through 5250 screens or ancient code editors like SEU. They don’t have to feel ashamed that they’re using “legacy” technology, and that gives the platform momentum to attract a new generation of people.
“When you bring people to the platform and you show them iNavigator for the Web, they stop complaining that it’s confusing to use the green screen,” Perry says. “That’s allowing people to administer and run the system without having to be green-screen people. So there’s less of a barrier there.”
Having more intuitive tools for IBM i can not only help college grads get up to speed with the platform, but it can help existing IT pros pivot to IBM i later in their careers. “People would say ‘I want an RPG person out of school.’ And now today they’re saying, I can make them an RPG person,” Perry says.
“But they’ve got to understand the application,” he continues. “And if they’re forced to go into a green screen and forced to go into a fixed-column format, if there’s confusion there of where I’ve got F specs and D specs . . . that’s why we’re seeing more interest in X-Analysis, because it’s really helping the next generating get involved in the old code and maintain the old code.”
These gaps in the tooling are where Fresche hopes to have an impact with the new tool. To the extent that the software can help keep the IBM i relevant, so much the better, Sarrasin says.
“It will make the development that much faster,” he says. “The faster people respond to these requests, the more requests they’re going to get for more enhancements. Then you see people buying in. The IBM i is playing a key role, people are going to respond, and it’s going to continue to be a strategic part of the organization.”
Pricing for Fresche View was not provided, although it’s expected to be less than the full X-Analysis suite. Fresche will be discussing the new tool tomorrow during a Webinar. You can find details at www.freschelegacy.com/en/webinars.