VACAVA’s Low-Code Approach To Modernization
July 9, 2018 Alex Woodie
IBM i shops have lots of options when it comes to application modernization. At one end of the spectrum are screen-scraper tools, which can provide a quick fix for shops tired with the 5250 interface. IBM i shops with more time, money, and inspiration may choose to completely rewrite their application on a new platform. Somewhere in between lies RapidBIZ, a low-code modernization affair from VACAVA.
The folks at VACAVA knows a thing or two about the IBM i platform. For starters, the company is based in Rochester, Minnesota, home of the world-famous IBM lab where the AS/400 was created and where its successor server is maintained today. The man who founded VACAVA two decades ago, Terry Bird, was IBM’s AS/400 marketing manager for Asia when the AS/400 was first introduced on that lovely June day back in 1988.
Since founding VACAVA in 1996, Bird has helped clients with their business software needs, predominantly as a technical services firm, but also with some shrink-wrapped software products of its own, including applications for organizations in the education and healthcare markets.
During COMMON‘s recent POWERUp18 conference in San Antonio, Texas, Bird showcased VACAVA’s newest creation, RapidBIZ, which the company dubs an “integrated development and management environment that simplifies Web browser-based application development.”
According to Bird, who is the CEO of VACAVA, RapidBIZ is intended to be used by IBM i customers who are frustrated by the lack of capabilities in their existing legacy applications, but who can’t afford the risk and expense of moving off the platform to adopt new applications.
“What RapidBIZ is really about is allowing you to modernize business processes while maintaining the investment you have in existing applications,” Bird told IT Jungle during a press briefing at the May computer conference. “RapidBIZ lets them take the best parts of their applications, bring them together in a new application that represents modern business processes, and deliver it all through a standard Web browser.”
For IBM i customers, a typical RapidBIZ engagement would result in existing RPG (or Cobol or any other language) business logic being repurposed to drive a new Java-based Web application. The work starts with the “wrappering” of the legacy code into a REST- or SOAP-based API. The RapidBIZ product doesn’t actually do this wrappering; customers would need to have somebody on staff who knows how to create a Web service wrapper around RPG (or Cobol) code. (Alternatively, VACAVA could help an IBM i customer find a consultant to do that work.)
Once the RPG (or Cobol) code has been “wrappered,” then RapidBIZ can view that logic as a source for data in the new application that will be created. The Java code that RapidBIZ creates today runs on a Linux server, but the company has committed to supporting IBM i as an application runtime with an updated delivered later this year.
“Essentially what you’re doing is building a new application,” Bird said. “The logic that’s contained in the RPG application continues to do what it does, but now it can send its inputs and outputs back to a new application, which is in the cloud or on premise, but more importantly, has standard Web browser delivery.”
The RapidBIZ framework provides point-and-click ease-of-use, and eliminates a lot of the “mundane stuff” that a programmer would otherwise spend a lot of time coding by hand, Bird said. The framework boasts more than 200 APIs and has pre-built functions for a variety of activities, such as creating database connections, generating PDFs, or building reports. It also includes functionality for things like formatting currency and translating languages, among others.
Developers design front-end UIs for their new RapidBIZ applications using the SmartScreens Builder. Users can chose between regular screens or “responsive” screens for mobile applications. Creating a UI is entirely a point-and-click experience, according to Bird.
Creating the back-end components of a new RapidBIZ application is also mostly an exercise in configuration, Bird said. “Building a complex business workflow – that’s point and click and parameter-driven,” he said. “You don’t have to write any code to make those work.”
Reusability is a big part of VACAVA’s approach with RapidBIZ, which the company first debuted around 2010. That’s true not only with the legacy RPG (or Cobol) code that the company seeks to bring forward on behalf of its customers, but also with its approach to managing the various components and templates that make up the RapidBIZ framework.
RapidBIZ has been adopted by a handful of customers, including several Fortune 500 firms in the healthcare, food, and services industries. “Based on our experience with RapidBIZ, the prebuilt and component features, along [with] legacy code integration ins minimizing the need to write new code and accelerating our development efforts,” says Jonathan Craig Parkes, a senior EVP with Silverlake Symmetri, a bank in Singapore.
It’s all about giving IBM i shops a reasonable path forward to modernized applications, Bird said. “What it gives you is the capability to do something with that existing application that you have today that you wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do otherwise,” he said. “You could use a screenscraper and screen-scrape it and maybe be able to display it in a browser, but you haven’t enhanced your process at all. We give you the ability to incorporate other applications, enhancing what you currently have, without losing that investment that you’ve made.”
VACAVA, which was making its first-ever appearance at a COMMON conference, hosts RapidBIZ clients in IBM’s SoftLayer cloud. For more information see its website at www.RapidBIZ.com.