Spending Energy, Buying Results
December 5, 2016 Dan Burger
If all you ever do is all you’ve ever done, then all you’ll ever get is all you ever got. Some people do more with what they’ve got. Some businesses do more with what they’ve got. Ake Olsson is a “do more” guy and the energy he puts into IBM i modernization projects has resulted in multiple successes. He loves to learn and travels great distances to do that . . . and to change.
Olsson is a guy who invests in staying current with technology and helping others do the same. He believes in creating new opportunities and encouraging innovation. He’s open to learning new things and then passing on what he knows to others who can benefit.
Knowing what you now know about Olsson, it should come as no surprise that he’s become somewhat of an expert in IBM i modernization. That’s actually quite an understatement; however, I sense he’s an understated guy. His list of credits is not understated though. It’s impressive. He’s written a book titled “Not Your Grandfather’s AS/400,” but unfortunately for most of us it’s written in his native language, which is Swedish. He’s also written magazine articles on the topic of modernization and has been invited to speak at IBM i conferences. Better yet, he is the owner of a consulting company that has helped IBM i-based companies modernize their IT environments.
Modernization begins with awareness and investment and both benefit from education. Olsson gives a great deal of credit to the lessons he’s learned and the people he’s met while attending six RPG & DB2 Summits. He’s planning on attending again in March when the next Summit is held in Orlando, Florida.
Olsson’s introduction to modernization products came at the Summit. He met and talked with several of the vendors, arranging for trial downloads of their tools.
“I did sort of a skunkworks thing with demo licenses and testing,” Olsson told me during a Skype call last week. “I also wrote a couple of articles on the testing I did with the modernization products. This process gave me a lot of confidence and that led to a proposal for a big client. The proposal led to a proof of concept that modernized one part of the client’s application. Based on the proof of concept, we estimated the time it would take to complete the entire modernization project.”
The modernization began with a DDS to DDL database conversion. The conversion process was automated, but Olsson warns others who do this conversion to test the code to verify it still works as originally intended. The RPG code, described by Olsson as “written in every conceivable RPG style since 1985,” was converted to free format.
“That was a challenge,” he says, “because some of the code was ugly stuff. We used the ARCAD converter tool (Transformer) to do the DDS to DDL and RPG conversions.”
One of the specifics from the customer was to make the new RPG code understandable to a Java programmer who knew nothing about RPG. Olsson says that was successfully accomplished.
After the database modernization was completed, the green-screen to Web-based user interface conversion was done using Profound Logic‘s Profound UI development tools.
Keep in mind, the only experience Olsson had in this type of work was in the “skunkworks testing” he set up to learn the modernization products.
“At the Summit, I learned about embedding SQL into RPG programs,” Olsson says. “That led to a change in the development standards that we keep for this client. We have a 150-page handbook on the standards that we use.”
News travels fast and the accomplishments of Olsson’s client has led to similar modernization decisions by other companies.
One of those projects involved the development of a mobile app using Profound UI to create a mobile application that ran on tablets used by truck drivers.
In Sweden, Olsson explains, most companies have minimal development staffing and training on new technologies is not widespread. In the United States, it’s a similar story. Companies might incorporate their own staff if they have staff, but often the existing staff is too busy handling day-to-day maintenance chores.
Consulting groups lead most of the modernization projects in Sweden, according to Olsson. In the U.S., it’s the application tool vendors that perform many of the modernization projects for their clients.
“Companies may look at modernizing versus replacement,” Olsson notes, but they tend to look at costs of hardware and software only. The biggest consideration should be the knowledge embedded in the organization. The cost of replacing the knowledge is immense. That cost may be twice the cost of everything else in the project. You must look at the cost-revenue situation and factor in all the costs, including the problems incurred when changing to another platform. Reliability and security are two factors that are often overlooked.
“Although change may be costly and difficult, companies can’t be complacent. For the applications to survive, they need to be brought to a level where young programmers are able and willing to continue developing and do the maintenance.”
Returning to the topic of integrating technology, business, and people, Olsson emphasizes the importance of people and the development of a social network.
“You hear some magnificent lectures at the Summit, but the value of what you’ve heard is increased because the next day you are having lunch with them and you get to know them. The experience of a group of high level developers in one place, which is a friendly and supportive environment can’t have a price tag put on it. That’s a tremendous value,” he says. “I can call or email people that I’ve met, ask questions, and get replies. It’s not only the sessions, it’s the complete environment that is created.”
Susan Gantner, one of the partners in the System i Developer group that’s behind the RPG & DB2 Summit, has gotten to know Olsson because of his repeated attendance at the conference and his successes on his home turf.
“He thinks about what he’s learning, asks questions for clarification, and then actually works those new techniques into his projects,” she says. “He shares his excitement about his successes and helps teach others. And then he comes back to the Summit to tackle a new set of skills, and he starts the process all over again. It’s people like Ake that make running the RPG & DB2 Summit so rewarding.
“A lot of RPGers think they’re powerless to change the status quo in their shops. Ake and others like him have shown time and again that learning new techniques can energize you to successfully challenge the status quo. The secret to doing exciting development work is to learn the new skills you need for the projects you want to do. That’s why the Summit exists! Ake represents a lot of IBM i developers who are doing it right.”