Modernization Slides Down IBM i Priority List
January 15, 2018 Dan Burger
Many organizations that depend on mission critical applications running on IBM i have modernization on their agendas. Decisions need to be made whether they can continue as-is with applications, databases, and systems or modernization or migration will serve them best in the years ahead. Higher levels of efficiency and adaptability are within reach, but only with significant planning and budgeting.
Profound Logic, an application modernization software company with an IBM i history that predates the term modernization, has just released its second in a series of modernization white papers based on surveys of IBM i shops – most of them Profound customers, but including companies that are not.
Modernization is many things, but it’s most often thought of as a process that eliminates green-screen user interfaces by replacing them with graphical, Web-based interfaces. It’s also a re-evaluation of how to build and maintain applications. And that’s just looking at modernization from an applications perspective. Modernization also includes the database and data access. It’s one of the top concerns for IBM i shops. A few years ago, it was the top concern according to the first of the Profound Logic surveys. The most recent data, collected from late 2017, shows interest in modernization has slipped 10 percentage points.
What could be the cause of that? Certainly, modernization remains a high priority. Apparently not as high on the priority list as security, which has emerged as a top concern, even among IBM i users who have a highly securable system. Please note that a securable system is not the same as a secure system. But today’s topic is application modernization, so let’s see what can be learned from the Profound white paper titled 2017 State of IBM i Modernization Survey.
Although the percentage of organizations planning to modernize their applications in 2018 is 10 percentage points lower than the survey results from a year ago, 40 percent indicate they will undertake an application modernization project during the next 12 months. A slightly larger group remains unsure what they will do about application modernization in 2018. Uncertainty has always shadowed talk of modernization. But if we think optimistically, it’s feasible that some of those in the unsure category could decide to modernize, and that would move the needle measuring modernization projects under way past the 50 percent of companies surveyed and headed toward two-thirds.
As always, obstacles will remain. Sorting out the source code geriatric, monolithic applications can be troublesome; management’s lack of confidence in the platform tends to keep the budgeting purse strings tied in a knot; and developers with a death grip on their beloved green screens and methods learned 25 years ago all feed the uncertainty about modernization. On the plus side, we continue to hear migration horror stories with colossal cost overruns, blown up schedules, and end results with less functionality and poorer performance than what was in place.
Profound’s survey and white paper substantiates one thing we suspected: Projects that convert green screens to rich graphical user interfaces are the most popular modernization tactic. You can bet the ranch that history will repeat itself in 2018. Although many IBM i insiders will correctly insist there are bigger modernization fish to fry, don’t dismiss the green-screen-to-GUI plan as a good launching pad for broader modernization that could include mobile applications, database modernizations, and the introduction of open source development. Green screen to GUI conversions are fast and simple and it can get decision makers onboard with modernization projects that advance business processes and create long-term efficiencies.
At first glance, the single Profound white paper statistic that might be the biggest surprise is the high priority placed on converting fixed form RPG code to free form. Fifty-four percent of the companies surveyed made that a priority in 2017. That’s an awesome percentage and a true indicator of modernization with intent to take additional steps. Everything in modernization becomes easier after upgrading code to free form RPG. Application development becomes easier and faster, maintenance is easier, and developers unfamiliar with RPG find it easier to understand.
IBM i application modernization vendors, like Profound Logic, deserve credit for promoting free form RPG. The technical conferences and publications such as IT Jungle have helped spread the word as well. Companies that have modernization in mind are the most likely to convert to free form RPG. Because the Profound survey relies heavily on Profound’s customer base, the inclination toward modern RPG is strong. A survey of organizations with no modernization plans and those uncertain of their modernization plans would be unlikely to uncover much support for free form RPG.
“The businesses who are staying on and investing in the platform want to use the most up-to-date capabilities. Free format is easier to learn, but also to manage for existing developers,” says Amanda Blackburn, product marketing manager for Profound Logic. “Our specific customer base has taken on free-format and UI modernization, plus new app development. Our products automatically output RPG as free-format, which is one reason why it’s been easily adopted. I think with the right tools in place, the conversion isn’t as much of a challenge. A large number of our customers have adopted free-format and the latest release of IBM i. This is because they are actively using and investing in the platform. We continue to promote the benefits of modernization, including the adoption of free format RPG.”
The Profound survey also shows a significant interest in open source development. Twenty-two percent indicated they had open source development as part of their modernization projects in 2017.
“We have seen the need for support for open source development on IBM i, as reflected in the survey, and have put a lot of energy into our Node.js offerings to meet this need,” Blackburn says. “For businesses who plan to stop development on IBM i or developers who can’t get approval to modernize IBM i, we believe that Node.js can be an excellent path for those businesses to stay on the platform, retain their systems of record, and reduce other costly, disruptive approaches to modernization.”
To give you an idea of who participated in the survey, more than 75 percent run at least half of their business apps on i. Thirteen percent claim all their business apps run on i. And 31 percent of the responders say their applications are developed in-house, compared to 65 percent that that use a mixture of in-house and packaged apps. These numbers are similar to last year’s survey. When it comes to OS upgrades, 48 percent are on either i 7.3 or i 7.2. Those numbers are predictable based on the historic time frames of IBM midrange OS releases. Fifty-four percent are running i 7.1, which will no longer be fully supported by IBM after April 30, 2018. IBM i 7.1 was launched in April 2010. It is the longest supported OS release in IBM midrange history. Although extended support from IBM is available, we would expect the percentage of shops running 7.1 to significantly shrink in the next year. Practically one out of five IBM i shops are running on limited-support or unsupported versions of the OS.
For additional details on IBM i-based organizations and their modernization appetites, download a copy of the 2017 State of IBM i Modernization white paper at this link.