RTPA Looking For A Few Good Software Reviewers
April 8, 2019 Timothy Prickett Morgan
Throughout the six decades of commercial computing, one thing has been universally true. Every good application development or system management tool, from the simplest debuggers all the way up to complex DevOps systems that can absorb multiple continuous streams of new code being mashed up against old code without making a mess of things, got its start because some programmer or administrator was so annoyed at how something worked – or more precisely didn’t work – that he or she created a new tool that did the job a whole lot better.
This is precisely the beginning story of Real-Time Program Audit (RTPA), which was created by Paul Harkins, and is now available to you through a revitalized company that has been hard at work improving the tool for the modern IBM i era. Harkins joined IBM in 1962 after getting his BS and MBA at Drexel University in Philadelphia, and was a Senior Systems Engineer for the company for two decades, writing applications for IBM mainframes and minicomputers such as the System/36 and AS/400. After that, Harkins was a principal at Apparel Business Systems, authoring a series of Installed User Programs, and then consulted for dozens of clients after forming his own company. Frustrated with the manual and mental processes in trying to debug performance and other issues within the application stacks, Harkins created the forbear of RTPA and suddenly a wild goose chase trying to figure out an issue in a complex application stack that might have taken a day or a week now took five minutes. Over the years since then Harkins patented RTPA and used it in his own consulting work. While he dabbled in trying to sell it commercially, he largely went into retirement; however, RTPA always held a prominent place in his mind.
But now, Harkins has come out of retirement and is tweaking RTPA to be a better fit for modern IBM midrange operating systems, such as IBM i 7.3, and modern compilers, such as RPG Free Form and ILE COBOL, and has also added in multi-language support options to the IBM i product. Moreover, Harkins has also tapped his daughter, Suzanne Harkins, to lead Harkins & Associates and bring the benefits of RTPA to the IBM i as well as investigate possibilities in IBM System z mainframe markets.
Harkins, the daughter, has a deep background in strategic project development and sensed an opportunity with RTPA, so she decided to go into the family business. Leveraging the strengths of both father and daughter to get RTPA into the hands of more programmers and system administrators to actually do some good out there in IBM i Land. The effort over the past year not only involved updating RTPA and furthering its development and testing capabilities, but also examining how it can contribute to broader market trends, such as automation and machine learning.
“I have spoken to a lot of programmers who have great ideas and have developed great products, but they often say with frustration, that they are technical but are not interested in or very good at sales,” Harkins, the daughter, explains. “Every small business owner understands the financial and resource costs of properly bringing a product to market. It’s very challenging, but challenging is fun. ”
To that end, Suzanne Harkins will be at the upcoming POWERUp conference in Anaheim, California, in May, with an RTPA expo booth and also giving a presentation on the topic of auditing more generally. And we are doing our part here at IT Jungle to get the word out, too. But for right now, the important thing is to get that set of nine reviewers going and start testing the updated tool. In exchange for a license, Harkins & Associates asks for written feedback from reviewers within 30 days, ahead of POWERUp (formerly known as COMMON and we still call it that around here). The company is looking for a mix of small, medium, and large companies, using different dialects of RPG and COBOL and different IBM i releases, for these initial reviews, so don’t be shy if your code is of a certain vintage. (We don’t discriminate here at The Four Hundred, as you know.)
To be sure, there are plenty of debugging tools, monitoring tools, and auditing tools out there on the market or available as open source. But RTPA is unique in that the tool has the ability to look into the application stack as it is running and capture what data is flowing into and out of what portions of the code that is actually executing as the system runs. This creates an audit trail with timestamps that can be used to reconstruct what is really happening in the application, which is a lot more useful that trying to figure out what is happening based on other kinds of tools, such as performance monitors, and trying to infer what might have happened. The tool is also a very good way to analyze any code you are unfamiliar with, such as in the wake of a merger or acquisition or new code created by your own programming staff.
RTPA has been used in a lot of ways in the past, including using its auditing methodology as a forensic financial analysis tool for digging into applications and datasets for malfeasance as well as for program development, testing, and documentation. There are lots of uses for RTPA, and Harkins, both father and daughter, know all about them and will eventually love to talk about all of these uses. But for right now, after spending time further developing the RTPA tool, what they really want is to get some IBM i shops in the United States to take the updated code out for a spin on their own applications and provide some feedback in the form of a review.
One last thing: RTPA modernization is still in process and that includes putting a new graphical user interface on the tool as well as some adaptations related to recent stylistic changes to RPG programming. This is something that many IBM i shops can sympathize with. So if you are interested in taking RTPA out for a spin, check out www.realtimeprogramaudit.com and send a message via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.