Digital Transformation Drawing Crowds In Rocket’s Road Show
March 15, 2017 Alex Woodie
IBM i shops may be relatively conservative technologically and generally resistant to bandwagons. But midrange professionals are eager to learn about digital transformation, according to Rocket Software executive Dan Magid, who’s the point man for a global roadshow dedicated to the topic.
“How do I take part in digital transformation and do it with my IBM i? It’s a very hot idea,” Magid said from the San Francisco International Airport this week as he prepared to travel across the country to meet with more customers.
Digital transformation is a relatively new concept that’s taking the business world by storm. It’s based around the central idea that companies can create a competitive advantage for themselves by adapting their business processes around emerging digital technologies. It’s a very big reservoir to fill, to be sure, but it’s one that’s resonating among technologists and business experts alike.
In IBM i land, a digital transformation is the natural outgrowth of the legacy modernization push. To that end, it includes Web and mobile enablement projects and products. But it goes beyond that, and involves the creation and integration of Web services and microservices into existing business processes defined by RPG and COBOL business logic.
Like other companies, IBM i shops are eager to get going with digital transformation, but they don’t necessarily know where to start. That’s where Rocket steps in with its roadshow, which has already seen stops in Houston, Texas; Irvine, California; and Singapore.
“The impetus for the roadshow came from a bunch of calls with customers,” Magid says. “The IBM i people say executives don’t really understand the value of what they have in the IBM i application, and they significantly underestimate the effort of what it’s going to take in order to move.”
Some IBM i shops have tried to migrate to packaged ERP applications from SAP, Oracle, Microsoft, and other vendors that offer digital transformation capabilities as more of an out-of-the-box feature. However, those projects often fail.
“That’s what they’re thinking. ‘I’ll put in SAP and that will take care of it. We’ll get all the shiny widgets,'” Magid says. “We heard several customers who went down the road, spent literally millions of dollars, only to find the couldn’t do that, and had to cancel the project.”
“We tell them, you don’t need to do that. In fact you have a significant amount of value in your existing IBM i,” Magid says. “How many times in the decades that you’re working on the IBM i did somebody say: ‘Hey can you add another field to screen or add a column to report or change the way order entry works because we have a new customer who wants to do thing differently.’
“Every time you do that, you are customizing your apps to your business. And today there’s a massive amount of domain knowledge built into the application about how you do business,” Magid says.
So the first thing that IBM i shops should know about digital transformation is you don’t have to stop being an IBM i shop to take advantage of it. “We’re going to do our digital transformation, but we’re going to do it by leveraging what we have with the IBM i instead of replacing it,” Magid says. “Why spend all that effort to replace it when you can still do what you want to do with digital transformation without having to spend the huge amount of resources and money to try to replace their IBM i applications?”
It makes a lot of sense when you think about it. But that doesn’t mean IBM i professionals aren’t flummoxed by the prospect of trying to counter a high-ranking executive who is gung-ho about eliminating the IBM i server, Magid says. “IBM i people are trying to figure out how to talk to executives when they come to you and say, let’s replace this thing,” he says.
Another important element of digital transformation in IBM i land is preparing yourself for change.
“The key concept is that digital innovation is a continuous process,” Magid says. “It’s not something you do. It’s not throwing a Web interface on your apps. It’s having the infrastructure in place to react to whatever technology changes come down the pike, because they’re going to
continue to come down the pike. There’s going to continue to be new things, and you’re going to want to keep moving forward.”
Web and mobile technology play a big role in digital transformation. But Magid encourage IBM i professionals to think about the entire user experience at the beginning of a digital transformation project, not just the user interface.
“When I talk to people about working with the user interface, I tell them, don’t think user interface. Think user experience,” he says. “What is going to be different about how people work when they now have any time anywhere access to your application? How will they work differently than they do today?”
IBM i applications can be retrofitted to work well in the emerging digital world, but it’s not always an easy process (hence the desire for quick migrations that usually end up costing more time and money than initially expected). Magid encourages users to really think through what they want to achieve in terms of new workflows.
“Applications we’ve written over the decades on IBM i were not really designed to run in this new digital world,” Magid says. “We’ve built large monolithic programs — a lot of these applications are 10,000- to 20,000-line programs. The screen interface and program logic are tightly integrated. And to work in this new digital and technology environment, I need to break down those workflows so I can expose individual functions and services.”
That’s where Rocket’s software comes into play. The company’s Seagull software offers ways to disconnect the program logic from the user interface logic. It also offers Web and mobile design tools specifically designed for working with 5250 applications, and other Seagull tools for creating and integrating Web services and microservices. The company’s Aldon unit offers version control and deployment tools for today’s multi-screen applications. And it also has IBM i analytics software for digital transformation projects that involve heavier analysis of customer data. Having all of these tools under one roof gives Aldon an advantage in digital transformation engagements, Magid says
The digital transformation roadshow has been a success so far. The first one in Singapore attracted 30 people, which is a good showing. A recent webinar on the topic attracted 350 signups, and 250 attendees. “It was our biggest webinar ever,” Magid says.
The roadshow will pick up later this month with stops in New Jersey, Philadelphia, and Ohio, while other stops on the schedule include Atlanta, Miami, Portland, and Northern California. The events are free and include complimentary breakfast or lunch. For more information, see the company’s website at www.rocketsoftware.com.