What Is The State Of Your IBM i Modernization?
December 3, 2018 Amanda Blackburn
(Sponsored Content) Each IBM i shop has its own history with the platform, and its own approach to dealing with change. Some run the server like it’s still 1988, while others have invested time and money to modernize their systems and applications. Understanding the state of modernization across the IBM i community as a whole can help us discover where each of us sits on this IBM i journey and help us prepare our organizations for new challenges and opportunities.
The IBM i server turned 30 this year, which was the cause of much celebration at industry events around the world. Few computer platforms ever get this far and still have anything left in the tank. The IBM i server has a roadmap extending out ten-plus years, so organizations that chose this system to run their businesses should give themselves a pat on the back: they definitely picked a winner.
But not everybody views three decades of successful computing as something to celebrate. Instead of looking at the platform’s considerable capability today – and meshing that with where IBM is telling us the platform is going in the future – these naysayers view today’s modern IBM i server through a legacy lens. To them, the IBM i server is no different than that AS/400 that came out of the Minnesota cornfields so many years ago.
They’re justified in having this view, to some extent, by the way some IBM i shops continue to run their applications – that is, via old monolithic, fixed-format RPG code generating 5250 greenscreens, often running on out-of-date operating systems that are no longer supported. Even though the server and the operating system have modern amenities – and support the latest development tooling like Git, Node.js, and Python — that doesn’t mean a majority of IBM i shops are taking advantage of them.
So where do we go from here? How can IBM i shops craft a modernization plan that enables them to partake of recent technological advances without severing ties with their IBM i past? It starts with figuring out where we are now and assessing the current state of modernization.
State Of IBM i Modernization
For the past two years, the company I work for, Profound Logic has conducted a survey to assess the state of modernization in the IBM i community. While there are other surveys that analyze the community as a whole, Profound’s “State of IBM i Modernization” is the only study to focus on this important and pressing issue, which does not get nearly as much attention as it deserves.
The results from the 2017 State of IBM i Modernization report noted some positive trends, including a 20 percent increase in responses compared to the 2016 survey for a total of over 500 IBM i users. Also, compared to the 2016 survey, 14 percent of users have adopted the latest version of IBM i (7.3) and the use of older versions (7.1 and lower) decreased by 17 percent.
Another health indicator for the platform is the makeup of developers using it. Difficulty finding new developers and the looming prospect of current developers retiring en masse continued to be a top concern for survey participants in 2017. However, the needle for the make up of development teams – new hires, no change, or downsizing teams – barely moved from 2016 to 2017, with 61 percent of development teams remaining static, 21 percent hiring new developers, and 15 percent downsizing or outsourcing development.
Glimpses of the IBM i’s legacy past also came through in the survey. Only 34 percent of participants said that 50 percent or more of their third-party (as opposed to home-grown) applications have a modern GUI. 26 percent of participants shared that all of their third-party applications use green screens.
The 2017 survey also shows that upper management continues to have mixed feelings about the platform. While 36 percent in the 2017 modernization survey say they have a positive outlook of the platform, 27 percent have a negative view, and 37 percent remained neutral, basically unchanged from 2016. However, the reasons why people have a positive view of the platform is encouraging, with the majority of participants listing up-time and reliability, security, and ease of support as their main reasons for remaining on IBM i.
Why are some IBM i organizations not investing in their systems? As I noted in the top of the story, every organizations has its own history with the platform, so it can be tough to find common causes that can explain the actions of various organizations.
We asked the survey takers what’s holding them back, and the answers perhaps are not surprising. “Management objection” was cited by 26 percent of respondents, followed by cost at 17 percent. A lack of resources (15 percent), a lack of time (9 percent) and the lack of a native IBM i GUI (7 percent) rounded out the objections.
In terms of the biggest challenges holding back modernization efforts, IBM i users cited an outdated UI as the most common answer, followed by a diminishing developer pool, legacy source code, and lack of management confidence in the platform. A lack of budget and the need for more support for open source development were also cited. (Interestingly, a lack of IBM marketing was listed as one of the biggest challenges associated with IBM i modernization, as is the price of tools.)
These findings hint at the existence of a disconnect between what a majority of IBM i professionals clearly say they want to do with their platform – that is, modernize the systems, improve the user interface, and update the underlying code – and what they’re actually doing with their systems.
Where Do We Go From Here?
As we open up our survey for the next version of the State of Modernization on IBM i, which is open through January 28 and can be taken at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/it-jungle, a few thoughts are worth pondering, such as:
- What easy steps can IBM i shops take to develop modern UIs and mobile applications?
- What role can third-party tools play in the modernization space?
- Would IBM i organizations move faster on modernization if they had access to affordable professional services?
- What role will open source tools, like PHP and Node.js, play in modernization projects?
- And what steps can be taken to improve the perception of IBM i among executives and decision-makers?
These are all open questions at this point, and there are undoubtedly more. IBM i professionals have the right to wonder about the future of the platform they’ve chosen to base their career upon. The statistics indicate that while confidence in the platform is slipping for some shops, others are doubling down on the platform and investing heavily to upgrade to version 7.3, use modern languages and UIs, and hire new developers for the platform.
While some view the IBM i as a “dead end,” those who truly understand its capabilities and strengths know that not to be true. With the right level of investment and a sprinkling of confidence, any IBM i shop can chart a path forward into the modern future. Join in the modernization discussion and make your voice heard by taking the 2018 State of IBM i Modernization survey at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/it-jungle today.