BCD’s Nexus Portal Shows Mobile and API Capabilities
December 6, 2017 Dan Burger
Development in IBM i focused organizations — transitions from green-screen to browser-based applications and from monolithic to modular code — cannot ignore the portal piece of the puzzle. It’s the portal that provides secure, organized access to enterprise information for employees, vendors and customers using all types of devices connected to the Web.
Because so many BCD Software customers are interested in mobile access to data and real-time interactions, the development team got to work on making its Nexus portal more useful and convenient for the tablet and smartphone contingents that crave enhancements to their remote gateways.
“Our development efforts in past two years have made mobile compatibility a priority,” says Marcel Sarrasin, VP of corporate marketing and business development at Fresche Solutions, owner of the BCD brand. The result of those efforts, Nexus 5, became available last week.
“We knew we had to get better at handling the mobile experience,” Sarrasin says. “Nexus 4 worked on mobile devices, but was not optimized — there was a lot of pinching and zooming to view pages. Mobile has become more important. Our webinar polls indicate it and our Nexus services projects almost always have a mobile component. People want that. They need that. It’s not really a discussion point about whether a company could use mobile.”
Nexus 5 was revised using the Bootstrap responsive design framework that support all devices from the same code base and allows the creation of applications that automatically resize to fit various screen sizes. Without responsive design, it requires separate development efforts to get applications that render well on large and small screens, or you live with applications that don’t render well on all screen sizes. BCD introduced its responsive design efforts with WebSmart 11, which was released in May.
In addition to the development effort put into a better mobile experience, the code structure — the separation of the front end and backend code–was upgraded from a series of RPG/CGI applications dating back to 2004 to application programming interfaces (APIs) and Web services. APIs are like application building blocks that can be copied and pasted for easy reusability. More precisely, they are a set of protocols and tools that simplify communications between software components.
For BCD customers who prefer custom development, they can rewrite front end applications in whatever technology they want. APIs make that much easier. Sarrasin says less than 10 percent of BCD customers write custom code, but that could increase in the future depending on whether technology to access data changes.
That wouldn’t come as a surprise.
The business need for separating the front end from the backend (use of APIs) is that it allows customers to choose the front end technology without limitations. APIs allow better integration with non-BCD software. For instance, document management software other than Quadrant Software‘s Formtastic, currently the only commercial software that integrates with Nexus, would be a likely integration project. If the demand is there, the integration could be built into Nexus, Sarrasin says while noting that integration with looksoftware is very close to being completed. Looksoftware is another development environment offered by Fresche Solutions, the parent company of BCD Software and Quadrant Software.
Nexus 5 enhancements also include Angular technology on the new front end applications.
The BCD development team includes RPG developers who also code on the Angular front end, but it also includes RPG developers who are not UI designers. As Sarasin points out, the UI design work involves a different skill set compared to backend development. About half the BCD development team can do both.