Guru: Got A Great Idea? Tell IBM!
January 30, 2017 Susan Gantner
People often talk to me at conferences or via email about ways they wish RDi worked differently, or about a built-in function that RPG should have, or about other changes to IBM products that they think would make life better for IBM i developers. Sometimes I agree that they are great ideas and I wish IBM would implement it, too.
Sometimes, even if I do think it’s a good idea, I think there are other more important things to be done before that. Occasionally, I struggle to understand why anyone would want that feature. I suspect many of you have also had discussions or debates with fellow developers about such wish lists for features of IBM i-related products.
But my thoughts on the merits of a suggestion are no more valid than any other individual’s thoughts. The thing is that developers don’t all have the same requirements, and so don’t all agree on the most important things for IBM to work on. If only there were some way that each of us could let IBM know about what we think are the most important improvements to our platform and a way for each of us to debate the relative merits of everyone else’s ideas. Then IBM could not only gather a wide variety of ideas but could also determine which ideas seem to be the most popular among the users of their products.
As it turns out, there is a way! IBM has an online process for sharing ideas on the IBM developerWorks site called Requests for Enhancement, or RFEs. The RFE process allows anyone with a great idea to submit it to IBM as a suggestion. Even more importantly, RFEs allow anyone to voice their support for ideas submitted by others. Gathering opinions helps to provide a relative importance among the plethora of suggestions out there, which is a critical part of the decision-making process on what to implement.
So much for the “why” of RFEs. What about the “how”? Let’s talk about the basics of either submitting an RFE or viewing and voting for your favorites.
First, you’ll need an IBM ID to use the developerWorks site. You may already have one because there are many other useful features on the site, such as the RPG Cafe and the RDi Hub, where there are discussion groups, articles, and news items related to a specific area of interest. If you don’t have an IBM ID yet, just go to ibm.com/developerworks and look for the option to sign in or register, which is currently in the top right of the page under the “user” icon. There is also a link to reset your password if you created an ID but have forgotten it. Technically, you don’t need an ID to look at the RFEs submitted. However, you will need one to vote for your favorites that you see there, so I encourage you to go ahead and get your ID so you will be ready to cast your votes.
Once you are signed into developerWorks (a.k.a. dW), there are a number of ways to get to the RFE community page on dW. You could type “rfe” into the search box or use the “Request a product enhancement” link or simply go to https://www.ibm.com/developerworks/rfe/.
Next comes the trickier part of the process: finding the existing RFEs that may be of interest to you. This is an important step even if you are just there to submit your own killer idea. Someone else may have had the same (or similar) killer idea and has already submitted it. In that case, it’s far more valuable for you to add your vote to that person’s RFE than to add yet another version of the same suggestion. RFEs with the most votes get the most attention.
There are many ways to search through existing RFEs to find ones of interest to you, and that’s a good thing because the same RFE process is used for nearly all IBM products on all platforms. So as an IBM i developer, you almost certainly want to start by filtering the RFE list to include only things related to IBM i. From the main RFE Community page you can filter by brand and product. As shown in Figure 1 below, you should choose “Servers and Systems Software” as the brand filter in the first box and choose “IBM i” as the product filter in the next box. Then click the filter arrow immediately to the right of the of the product filter. Voilà! You are now looking at a list containing only IBM i related RFEs. So far, so good.
You should probably note that by default the list of filtered RFEs comes up with the “Hot” request category, These are the 25 RFEs that received the most votes in the last three months. If you visit the RFE site regularly, this option, perhaps combined with the “New” category, may be a good way to keep up with the latest news. Since I only visit occasionally, I usually prefer to select the “Top” requests (note the categories just under the brand filter box). This gives me a list of the Top 25 RFEs by number of votes each has received in total, not only those with many votes in the last three months.
If you have been following along on the site, by now you have hopefully noticed that when you are signed in you can click on the “Vote” link next to an RFE headline to give that suggestion a thumbs up when you find one that you agree is an important enhancement. Likewise, you can click on the RFE headline to get more details about the request and to add your own comments to the RFE.
So far, so good. But working with these filtered lists only seems to give us the ability to look at the “Top 25” in the Hot or Top categories for our brand and product combination. What if you want to see more than just the top RFEs? Maybe one of the lower vote-getters is very important to you. Likewise, if you’re about to submit an RFE, I suggest that you really should do your best to search to ensure the same request hasn’t already been submitted.
To do a more in-depth search, you could use the keyword “Search” box at the top of the RFE list on this filtered page, but I find that it’s best to use the more detailed and flexible “Advanced Search”, which you can get to by using the Search tab nearer the top of the page. (Note the callout for that tab in Figure 1.)
Once on the Advanced Search page, not only can you create a fairly detailed search, you can also save that search so that you can use it on subsequent visits and avoid building them over again. For example, if you are particularly interested in RFEs related to RPG, you should first specify that you want to specify only the product (because it’s faster than specifying the brand, family and product). Then put “ibm i” into the Product box to bring up a selection list from which you can select “IBM i”. Next for the Component, select from the list “Languages – RPG”. While you’re there, you may want to peruse the list of components to see what other things you can search for. See Figure 2 below for a picture of my example search. Note that there are other search criteria if you want to further restrict the list of RFEs, such as using keywords or date of submission. Then you can use the Search button to bring up the list. When you create a search that you would like to use again in the future, you can save it using the Save button. Saved searches are accessed by using the “Run My Searches” tab.
I wish there were a way to sequence my search by number of votes so that I could more quickly see the most popular RFEs in my search list. Perhaps I should look for an RFE category for the RFE process itself! At this point in time, the list of RFEs for most of the components, including RPG, is small, so searching the entire list doesn’t take long. But I’m hoping that as more people find out they have IBM’s ear, more requests will come in and I may need to be more restrictive in my searches.
One last thing you may or may not have noticed in following along with this procedure. In all my suggested filters and searches, we have not seen a way to view RFEs for RDi (Rational Developer for i). You may be led to believe that RDi doesn’t participate in the RFE process, but RDi was the first of the products related to IBM i to use the RFE process. Proof of the value of both submitting and voting for RFEs can be found by looking at the number of RFEs for RDi that have “Delivered” as the status–meaning, the request was accepted and that feature has already made its way into the RDi product.
Of course, to see that for yourself, you need to know how to find RFEs for RDi. For some reason they do not appear under the IBM i product filter. They have their own product name, with a twist. If you go back to the RFE Overview tab where we originally filtered on IBM i products (see Figure 1) in the product filter box look for “Developer for Power Systems” you can see the “Hot” or “Top” RFEs for RDi. Likewise, from the Advanced Search page (see Figure 2), put in “Developer for Power Systems” in the Product box. Searching on that, you will see that over 500 RFEs exist for the RDi product alone. And if you add a status of “Delivered” to the search, you will see that over 100 of those RFEs have made their way into the product.
You may be wondering “Why ‘Developer for Power Systems’ when the product name is actually ‘Rational Developer for i’?” Good question. It seems that IBM’s own applications have as much trouble keeping up with product name changes as some of its product users! A warning for you along that line: you may be tempted to choose “Rational Application Developer” from the list of suggested products after keying in “Developer” in the product box because its name seems a bit closer to RDi. Don’t do it! RAD is a completely different product and you will likely be very confused by any RFEs that result from that search!
So there you have it. A way to give IBM a piece of your mind, in a good way, by letting them know your ideas for improvements to their products. Don’t forget that even if you don’t think you have a great novel idea, you can be just as helpful to the process by voting for those RFEs that you feel are important to making life as an IBM i developer even better than it is today.
Susan Gantner is half of Partner400, a consulting company focused on education on modern programming and database techniques and tools on the IBM i platform. She is also a founding partner in System i Developer, a consortium of System i educators and hosts of the RPG & DB2 Summit conferences. Susan was a programmer for corporations in Atlanta, Georgia, before joining IBM. During her IBM career, she worked in both the Rochester and Toronto labs, providing technical support and education for application developers. Susan left IBM in 1999 to devote more time to teaching and consulting. Together with Jon Paris, she now runs Partner400, and appears regularly at many technical conferences, including System i Developer’s RPG & DB2 Summit. Send your questions or comments for Susan to Ted Holt via the IT Jungle Contact page.