Modernizing The IBM i Estate For Digital Transformation
February 12, 2018 Alex Woodie
For those that use it, the IBM i platform is a workhorse of a machine, faithfully executing critical business processes day in and day out, with a minimum of fuss and upkeep. However, the long-term dependability of the IBM i platform comes with a potentially nasty side effect: technological stagnation caused by inattention and a disinclination for change.
Like the old commercials for Maytag showed, reliability has a price. For the home appliance maker, the cost of above-average reliability was a lower revenue stream on the maintenance side of the business. While the manufacturers building shoddy washing machines may have charged less upfront, they had a chance to make up lost revenues through a greater number of service calls, replacement parts, and exchanges.
The IBM i server bears a passing resemblance to Maytag. (In fact, our older IT Jungle readers may remember seeing the “Maytag Repairman” in a cover story in an issue of last century’s AS/400 Technology Showcase magazine that was dedicated to Maytag, a long-time AS/400 shop.) While nobody is recommending that IBM should lower its standards with the IBM i platform in order to garner more attention from technology decision-makers, there are plenty of folks who want the IBM i community to deal with that nasty side-effect of long-term success defined by complacency, inaction, and technological stagnation.
The latest to pick up the modernization baton is cloud hosting provider Ensono, the cloud computing company that was spun out of data broker Acxiom two years ago. Ensono landed on our radar a year ago, and is now looking to shake up the legacy mindset and prepare IBM i users for the new business technology demands that are roughly defined with the words “digital transformation.”
Steve Lord, the senior product manager in charge of Ensono’s IBM i cloud business, recently helped pen a white paper, titled How to Harness Your IBM i OS for Digital Transformation, that explores some of these issues. Lord’s basic message is that IBM i shops should place a higher priority on modernizing the platform and the applications that run on it if they want to continue to be IBM i shops.
“Just by keeping systems longer, they might have gotten their money’s worth out the hardware, but they’re not getting their money’s worth out of the data that’s on those systems,” Lord tells IT Jungle. “End users have expectation of access to data and the applications they use and if IT professionals cannot meet these expectations, than they’re ripe for re-platforming, because the CIO has to deliver what’s needed to the business.”
Ripe For Disruption
Ensono operates two data centers, one in Illinois and one in Arkansas, where it runs a variety of gear on behalf of customers. That includes a collection of IBM mainframe and Power Systems servers, as well as VMware machines running virtualized Windows and Linux operating systems. It’s a partner of Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure, and bills itself as a one-stop shop for public, private, and hybrid-cloud computing solutions.
The company knows the IBM i server’s reputation is well-deserved because it sees it running the core business applications of-real world companies every day. “We know from reality that the IBM i OS has features CIOs need to run their business applications,” Lord says. “Our clients that are running IBM i, they’re running manufacturing plants, they’re running insurance transaction processing, they’re running transportation systems.”
But reliably running the highly customized and complex transactional systems of multi-billion blue chips isn’t good enough anymore. It’s a new twist on the old saying, “What have you done for me lately?” In the case of many IBM i shops, the answer is “Not much.”
“That’s the concern we have,” Lord says. “If you think about IBM i systems, you’re either keeping it up to date or you drove that thing into the ground. It may have lasted a long time because the systems just keep running, even if they’re older. But it has to be able to integrate with the rest of the systems to maintain relevancy.”
Ensono defines digital transformation in three primary ways. First, it’s about meeting rising customer expectations. That is, customers want to deal with you and access your resources via the Web, via mobile app, and via the telephone. They might even expect you to provide text-based chat services.
Secondly, digital transformation involves the capability to derive better data insights and to be able to perform predictive analysis on our customers. Whereas oil and steel were the raw materials that defined the first industrial revolution, data is the raw material that’s driving today’s digital revolution.
Lastly, digital transformation means you’re capitalizing on upsell and cross-sell opportunities, Ensono says. “Today’s CIOs are really mandated to delivering information to the business better, faster, cheaper, in a meaningful way that helps sales sell,” Lord says.
Ensono works with several modernization vendors, including Fresche Solutions, which develops a slew of IBM i modernization capabilities thanks to its acquisitions of BCD and looksoftware. It also works with Rocket Software, but primarily on the mainframe side, Lord says.
Companies that don’t adapt to emerging technologies – who don’t transform their systems and processes in ways that customers and employees increasingly expect – risk being roadkill on the path to the digital promised land.
For IBM i shops, the technological and cultural barriers may be bigger than for companies that have standardized on Windows or Linux platforms, or for those that have made the leap to the cloud. That’s not to say that digital transformation can’t be achieved on IBM i, just that the path may be more difficult.
“If you leave your IBM i system outdated, if it’s sitting in a corner, that CIO – who may or may not know the system very well because they’re swapping in and out of companies – will view this as an important system that runs the business, but it won’t be part of the strategic future,” Lord says. “You’re looking at a CIO who says, maybe I should re-platform this to something else, because I see IBM i as a 10-year-old box that’s sitting over there.”
The IBM i platform is worth keeping. It can be modernized. It’s fully capable of playing a part in digital transformation, thanks to its powerful database, embrace of Web services, and user interface options. But IBM i shops need to step up to the plate and take a swing.
“It can be so much more than that if people just keep the system up to date,” Lord says. “But if you’re not staying relevant, then guess what? I’m going to invest my money in what is important and what is strategic to what I’m going forward with as a company.”