Lamps Plus Sheds Light On Modernization Integration
June 25, 2018 Dan Burger
Discussions about modernization continue to tie top management in knots. Questions about the time, the effort, and the risks to the business are difficult to answer with precision, so organizations habitually focus on obstacles rather than opportunities.
“If you stay in that mindset, you will never move,” says Derrick Lindsey, a modernization project lead at Lamps Plus, the nation’s largest specialty lighting retailer and a leading manufacturer of lighting and home furnishings. “There’s a lot less risk in modernizing existing applications on the IBM i than migrating off of the IBM i platform to other platforms such as Unix, Linux, or Windows servers, and this approach has proved beneficial for us.”
There’s been a modernization initiative at Lamps Plus for the past six years. It’s involved the use of service programs, exportable functions/procedures, SQL views and SQL global variables leading to modular programming with reusable business logic that’s decoupled from executable programs. It has no conclusion. No modernization initiative does. But it’s had and continues to have phases with goals for completion.
“We’ve done this all with the MVC developmental framework in mind and it is now in wide use with even our experienced developers,” Lindsey says. “It’s made IBM i development easier to learn for our developers new to the IBM i that we’ve hired over the past couple of years, particularly in the area of PHP development. We now have a number of PHP programs in production where we use BCD’s WebSmart as our development tool for our Web-based projects.”
Legacy developers are as rare as unicorns as it turns out. Almost 80 percent of the development is SQL-based and based on standards determined by a modernization committee made up of eight of the 16 IBM i programmers on staff. Lindsey and others contributed to training the development staff.
The internal training of Lamps Plus staff is supplemented with training at the annual OCEAN Tech Conference. For many years, Lamps Plus has sent more IT staff to this conference than any other organization in the Greater Los Angeles area.
“Knowledge we have acquired at OCEAN conferences has gone directly into our modernization initiative,” Lindsey said during an interview with IT Jungle. He laments that other companies where he worked prior to Lamps Plus have allowed their training budgets to dry up, a phenomenon that has contributed to the IBM i platform getting the legacy stamp of disapproval. Lamps Plus continues to emphasize training and education. Lindsey credits good relationships between IT and the company’s business units as a reason that training and innovation are valued.
The OCEAN TechCon18 (new branding) is scheduled for July 19 through 21. It includes in-depth workshops, hands-on labs, educational sessions and a vendor expo. All the details of that event can be found here.
“The IBM i and RPG have evolved eons in the past 10 years. You can do application development many people think can only be done on Windows, Unix or Linux. Training and education can put the skills in place to do modernization,” Lindsey says. “When we show traditional programmers what can be done and how easy it can be done, they are amazed and excited. Even some of the stubborn resisters came along with the idea.”
Lindsey is convinced modernization is easier than migration with less risk and fewer pitfalls.
“Take the training, then take the step. The risk is not what is imagined,” he says.
The cost is not as much as typically imagined either, at least not at a company where the development budget is already healthy.
When Lamps Plus made the choice to move from the green screen environment, it chose multi-platform RPGLE- and PHP-based tools from the Fresche Solutions family of products. Database-centric programming was also part of the long-term planning and organizational goal. Supplemental budget was required, but not the same as if the project was beginning from square one. Additional tooling consisted of a code analysis tool (X-Analysis from Fresche) and change management software (TD-OMS from Remain Software). Changing database files from DDS to DDL was part of the initiative along with resizing the database —expanding from five characters to seven in the SKU field.
Resizing the database meant that all the database files would have to be changed. So, changing the programming from DDS to DDL was an easy decision, because DDL is the preferred file format for SQL and data-centric programming. Going to a data-centric approach is a significant aspect of the IBM i roadmap and could be the most critical element to the future of the platform. It’s designed so the database does more work keeping track of and securing the data and fits in nicely with the plan to reduce program maintenance in the long run.
When Lindsey joined the team, about six years ago, he arrived with a skill set that included writing modularized service programs and using SQL. These skills were a priority for the Lamps Plus roadmap. Moving development to SQL script coding was one phase of the modernization initiative that made use of his experience.
Lindsey was also put in charge of finding software that would benefit the modernization process. One that he chose because of its documentation and business rules analyses features was Fresche Solutions’ X-Analysis.
“I liked the interface on X-Analysis because it was more modern and easy to use. It also had a wider set of tools than other software we reviewed.”
“Documenting our specs is big here and was big at places I worked before. There is great value in understanding the details of what a program does and how it accesses the database. I liked the easy-to-use interface on X-Analysis and its wide set of tools,” Lindsey noted. “I also liked the business rules analyzer feature that detects duplicate business logic. We put them into service program functions to decrease maintenance on multiple programs containing the same business logic. Without the X-Analysis tool, the task would have been potentially ten times longer and much harder to complete. In addition to the benefits already mentioned, there’s the fact that the hardware and operating system are moving that way. It’s more SQL development-oriented. Systems that stay on legacy code will perform worse. Modernization allows you to use existing business logic. You don’t have to change any business logic, but you can change programs that are too complex so they will run a lot faster.”
Measuring return on investment is part of the modernization initiative. Lindsey says it includes performance reviews that have shown significant database performance increases. The reduction in maintenance and development time shows ROI benefits and feedback from the ops staff has been positive.
“The benefits of modernization far outweigh the alternative of moving to a new platform, Lindsey reiterates.
“There are a lot of anti-legacy stereotypes talked about. I’ve been through legacy upgrades before. I understand the old code is ridiculous to look at. I can see why people want to get rid of it, but modernization is easier than migration with less risk and fewer pitfalls.”