Eamon Musallam: Insights on i
July 19, 2017 Dan Burger
Things that make a difference. We’re all looking for what’s essential. Too often we get distracted by the inconsequential, improbable, and inapplicable. Sometimes those distractions are built into the way we’ve always done things. The fate of organizations, the fate of our professions and the fate of IBM i are in the balance.
Last week, I had a conversation with Eamon Musallam, president of the OCEAN user group, which is based in Orange County, California. We talked about real work that is getting done by IBM i shops to solve problems and how a user group continues to be relevant in 2017 and beyond.
“I see companies planning to get off the platform and companies that plan to replace, rewrite, and modernize applications. The decisions are always specific to the business,” Musallam says. He’s currently working with a company that plans to leave the platform. The estimated timeframe is 10 to 15 years into the future. Managing the existing system during the transition and smoothing the transition is Musallam’s role. Modernizing existing applications is expected to be part of the strategy. He says the IT leadership is open-minded and it’s possible that modernizing applications may slow down or even reverse the decision about migrating from IBM i.
Another company he’s working with tried to severe its reliance on an IBM midrange system more than a decade ago. It spent millions on an SAP system and it failed. The revised thinking is an evolutionary modernization rather than a rip and replace.
A third company that Musallam is assisting has a different circumstance. It is growing rapidly and acquiring companies as it grows. The newly acquired businesses run on a variety of systems and the corporate system runs IBM i.
“We help them discover where IT systems are falling short of goals. So far, our recommendation is to modernize rather than replace systems,” says Musallam, who works for the IBM i software vendor Fresche Solutions. “Often it involves database redesign, which is the foundation of growth–making the database modern and normalized. With the correct database architecture in place, it is not that difficult to integrate Oracle or Microsoft databases with a modern DB2 for i database.”
Database integration is one of the struggles Musallam most often sees in IBM i shops as they look for “a single point of truth” on which applications can be built. And as signs of the times, he also sees more companies outsourcing RPG development and moving infrastructure to managed service providers.
“It’s still a relatively small number of companies, but the percentage is growing rapidly,” he says. “Companies are more open to outsourcing than they were five years ago.”
Musallam was elected president of OCEAN in November 2016 after serving as a member of the board for five years. This is not a thriving time for user groups. OCEAN is the only active local user group west of the Mississippi River. Its annual tech conference is scheduled for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. The lineup of sessions and speakers is impressive. In recent years, it draws between 175 and 200 attendees. The regular monthly meeting attendance is between 25 and 50 people, although that increases to more than 100 when the speaker is someone like IBM i Chief Architect Steve Will, Product Offering Manager Alison Butterill, or Business Architect for Application Development Tim Rowe.
“Membership is not growing, but we are doing pretty well,” Musallam says. “We have been presenting some of our monthly meetings using GoToMeeting to make what we’re doing more accessible. That adds about a dozen people to the 25 to 50 people who attend monthly meetings. In January, we had [subject matter experts] Mike Pavlak in person and Aaron Bartell, Trevor Perry, Charlie Guarino participating remotely. It turned out well. The remote speakers used video cameras and approximately 60 meeting attendees got an interesting and insightful panel discussion.”
Access to educational information is a frequent topic of discussion during OCEAN board meetings. The internet has made access to information much easier making it somewhat of a friend and a foe of local user groups everywhere.
Musallam says there’s a balance between staying with the traditional ways of running a local user group and incorporating the modern technologies. “It’s easier to find a formula that works and to stick with it, but you also need to pay attention to making improvements.”
That’s sound advice for other local user groups, but also for IBM i shops and IBM itself.