RPG, Java, And The Future Of Infor’s IBM i ERP Suites
October 17, 2018 Alex Woodie
Infor is in the midst of a multi-year overhaul of its three RPG-based ERP suites for manufacturers, which include LX, XA, and System 21. When the overhaul is complete, the products will still run on the time-tested IBM i server, but the code behind the products will look significantly different.
In response to changing technology and customer expectations, Infor essentially is rewriting all three ERP suites using something called the Infor Development Framework. The IDF was originally developed to help transition the bulk of the Infor ERP XA product (MAPICS) from RPG to Java, and now it’s being used for the LX and System21 products, too.
“It’s written in Java, but it’s our framework. We wrote the whole thing from the ground up,” says Ross Freeman, the head of strategy for IBM i ERP at Infor. “The majority of it is written in Java. There are some RPG components for efficiency, but that’s about it.”
When Infor ships XA Release 9.3 in early 2019, it will be the last time that XA is available in RPG-based green screen and a Java-based GUI edition. That’s because the IDF migration away from the legacy RPG codebase will be complete when XA Release 10 is finally delivered, perhaps in 2020, Freeman says.
“What we did with XA was we actually maintained two codebases, a green screen code base and the IDF code base,” Freeman says. “I don’t ever recommend trying that trick. Literally we’ve allowed customers to interoperate between the two, which means they both work seamlessly together, which was just crazy. We should never have done that.”
While there will be some green screen interfaces maintained in XA through the System i Workspace, “the vast majority of the green screen codebase will be discontinued at release 10,” Freeman says.
Infor’s experience with XA undoubtedly will inform how it goes forward with similar codebase migrations with LX and System 21. The company just started introducing IDF components with LX 8.4, and will ramp up Java and IDF deliveries with future releases of LX and System 21 too.
“They’re all moving in that direction,” Freeman says. “But it’s not a quick process. XA has been going at it for a while. Because effectively it’s a complete rewrite, you’re kind of starting over and it’s not a simple thing to do. They’re moving that directing, but it’s not going to be a quick fix.”
The RPG codebases as they exist for those three products will effectively be discontinued. But that doesn’t mean there’s no future for RPG development or RPG developers on the three products, Freeman says.
“Once you’re in IDF, there is no source code, period,” Freeman says. “Business logic, some of it is in RPG, in the background. Most of it’s in Java. You can’t get to the source code, but you can use Enterprise Integrator to put custom logic in at exit points, or create your own custom logic. And typically those exit points are using RPG.”
Freeman objected to the characterization that RPG was being eliminated from the products. While Java is clearly the core language for programming business logic in the products going forward, that doesn’t mean there’s no role for RPG.
“People think there will never be RPG again, and that’s not correct,” Freeman says. “We use it. We just don’t use an RPG-style user interface. But there’s still RPG here and there. There’s RPG in user exits, if you want. RPG itself is not going away from our stack. That’s what I’m trying to get at.”
Infor last month held its Inforum conference, where it announced the 2019 GA date for Coleman, the AI offering that will automate some repetitive tasks for Infor customers. While IBM i-based ERP suites won’t be among the first ERP suites to support Coleman, Freeman asserts that Coleman will eventually be offered to its IBM i customers, in much the same way that they can support other X86-based technologies via Infor OS and the vendor’s other integration strategies.
Asked if there were any plans to push LX, XA, or System 21 customers to different Infor products — such as Syteline, which runs on the public cloud and is frequently mentioned by company executives — Freeman bristled.
“Lord no, nuh uh,” he said. “We’re not going to move away from these three products, in particular. I can’t speak for the rest of Infor, but these three products are absolutely going forward.”
Those three ERP packages, when combined with Infor’s extend and Infor OS offerings, still pack a palpable punch when it comes to manufacturing efficiency. Plus, those three ERP systems have a customer base that is conservative, to say the least, and who would not take kindly to strong-armed tactics on the part of Infor.
“If you look at the customers on these applications, you just don’t tell those customers to move, okay? It’s just not going to happen, ever,” Freeman says. “If some customer wants to move, okay whatever, that’s up to them. But is there any desire whatsoever to go to these customers and say, you really ought to move? The answer is no. Certainly not at the strategic level. There’s always some sales rep who thinks he’s a genius, but that’s not Infor’s policy.