VAI Covers All the Bases With Modernization
December 6, 2017 Alex Woodie
There are a lot of ways to “modernize” your IBM i application. You could create Web and mobile user interfaces. You could adopt free form RPG and migrate the database to modern SQL. You could host it all on the cloud. You could integrate analytic capabilities into it. Or, if you’re the IBM i ERP software vendor VAI, you could do all those things.
VAI has, in fact, done all those things leading up to this year’s release of S2K Enterprise 6.0, and according to CEO and founder Bob Vormittag, the company is reaping big rewards as a result.
“We’re having a terrific year in 2017,” Vormittag told IT Jungle in a recent interview. “We’re expanding at double-digit pace, and we see more of it to come. We see next year being an absolute blockbuster.”
Think SAP and Oracle have the edge as bigger, badder boys on the ERP block? There’s no accounting for taste or perception in some people. But according to Vormittag, S2K Enterprise can stand its own ground against those eight-digit darlings of the business suites.
“We’re not losing business based on feature function. We’ve actually reached a point where we have multi-currency and multi-language,” he said. “From an international perspective, I think SAP and Oracle may have a leg up. But if you look at the mid-market, and you look at the capabilities we have today, we’re able to compete on a level playing field.”
The knock on the IBM i server has long been that it’s fine for small and midsize businesses, but the platform and its applications aren’t fit for Fortune 500-sized firms. That’s another balloon that Vormittag relishes popping.
“The other advantage we have is unlimited user licenses, which is good if you have customers in growth or acquisition mode,” he said. “We’ve done very well because we have a great total cost of ownership advantage, which is why we’re able to work with much larger companies in the $3 billion to $5 billion range.”
In fact, the company has one client with $11 billion in annual revenue, Vormittag said. That particular client, a Jamaican corporation, actually uses S2K Enterprise to manage about 100 separate entities spanning a variety of industries, including food, pharmaceutical, hard goods, and electronic distribution. “We’re able to reach out to larger companies, and that’s a testament to the feature and function, our competitiveness, and our flexibility,” Vormittag said.
This particular client required modifications to be made to the RPG-based business logic that makes up S2K Enterprise. That would be an issue with a vendor like Oracle or SAP that doesn’t readily part with the source code for its ERP products. But it’s no problem at all for VAI, which still abides by that old computing tradition.
“Source code is not in fashion,” Vormittag said. “Most ERP software products do not come with source code. But we still offer it because many of our customers have their own IT staff and they will certainly be making alterations.”
While the core of S2K Enterprise is still built with rock-solid RPG code, VAI has surrounded that trusty business logic with an array of new technologies and interfaces that keep the ERP suite as a whole on the cutting edge. It’s all about giving user’s what they expect.
A big part of meeting user expectations is the user interface. In terms of technology, no change at VAI has been bigger than its shift from Rocket Software‘s Windows-based JWalk product to that firm’s LegaSuite Web software, which transforms the 5250 protocol into a modern HTML5 interface.
“What’s cool about what Bob has done is they’re using our LegaSuite Web product, and by doing that, they’re using a clientless product,” said Dan Magid, an executive with Rocket Software. “So then you don’t have to deploy a client piece to every one of the users who is using the system. As long as they have a browser, they can access the system.”
Since the 5250 protocol is still being used, VAI’s customers can utilize the green-screen interface, if they choose. They can also modify any of the underlying code or change the workflow of the applications, and those changes don’t need to be duplicated in the HTML5 interface, providing a degree of flexibility that’s not possible using the RPG Open Access handler, Magid said.
Some non-VAI products that live in the S2K Enterprise family include IBM’s Cognos and WebSphere Portal, which is used for single sign-on. Both of those products are integrated directly into S2K Enterprise users’ screens using LegaSuite Web’s HTML5 technology.
The integration of Cognos, in particular, has paid dividends in giving VAI customers more business intelligence and reporting features. The company has already migrated 200 old green-bar reports into Cognos, Vormittag said, and more are on the way. The company is also exploring IBM Watson to provide customers with machine learning and other cognitive capabilities, as we recently told you about.
Flexibility has also been improved since the company migrated from DDS and native I/O to using IBM’s SQL Query Engine (SQE) and the SQL I/O access method. That essentially gave VAI a fully SQL-compliant relational database under the covers.
Adopting the SQE benefits VAI users, who can now write SQL queries (if they’re analysts) or view the results of SQL queries (more likely for the rest of us) directly in their S2K Enterprise screens. Users can now edit fields in the database, and with the next release, VAI will be pushing more business logic to the database.
“Some has been added and they’re going to be doing a lot more in 6.1,” which is due to be introduced at the company’s user conference next November, Vormittag said. “We see that as a great advantage. That centralized database serves everything.”
With all those technological changes in place, the company is now comfortable pushing higher up into the cloud. That’s where the advantage of the IBM i platform really starts to shine, Vormittag said.
“Now IBM i has a terrific advantage,” he said. “Ransomware is not an option, because all of our data, from whatever applications, resides in Power. So we have a huge advantage from a security perspective. It’s also scalable. It has a very high level of uptime. It’s a rock-solid server and it also has a great structure for high availability. That has been a terrific cloud platform for us. So suddenly we’re competing in a very different way embracing Power Systems.”
Since the Ronkonkoma, New York-based company got involved with its first managed service provider (MSP) back in 2009, the company’s cloud story has improved dramatically. “Cloud is very hot right now and we have a long list of customers going into the cloud,” Vormittag said. “We see about 90 percent of new business is going into the cloud . . . and about 50 percent of upgrades are considering cloud.”
With all these pieces falling into place – the integrated SQL database, built-in analytics, new Web and mobile interfaces, the enterprise-grade feature functionality, the cloud business model – VAI is in a good position to see exactly what a modern and capable IBM i-based ERP system can do in today’s market.
“All of a sudden, you have this very contemporary environment, a very competitive environment with a significant cost of ownership advantage,” Vormittag said. “So all of a sudden, you kind of turn the tables. That’s what happened to us.”