IBM i Before And After The Pandemic
April 27, 2020 Timothy Prickett Morgan
There is a lot of uncertainty in the world right now, both medically and economically, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic that has spread around the globe. The IBM i community is not immune to the effects of the stay at home provisions in many states and countries that has slowed business down to a crawl, but at the same time, many of the classic SMB companies who use the IBM i platform are available for economic stimulus. In my four decades of watching recessions, this is the first time I could ever say that sentence.
We like to keep our fingers on the pulse of what is happening in the IBM i community through as many lenses as possible to inform that community better about what is happening. Profound Logic, a supplier of application development and modernization tools specifically aimed at the IBM i platform, has been doing a survey of the IBM i base for the past couple of years, and started its annual survey at the beginning of the year before the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, China turned into a global pandemic. But now, because Profound Logic opened up its survey before the pandemic hit hard in Europe and North America and because it reopened it with a set of new questions relating to the COVID-19 outbreak, the company’s survey is in the position of giving us a view of what IBM i shops were thinking immediately before and during the pandemic.
Amanda Blackburn, director of marketing at Profound Logic, gave us some insight into the data that was gathered for the 2020 State of IBM i Modernization Survey before the pandemic hit, and is working with us to do trend analysis for the past several years and to see what has changed in the wake of the outbreak. The survey has been reopened – you can take it at this link – and we urge you to do so in order for the market to gain a better understanding about what is going on out there.
“The goal of our survey has always been to help the community and understand its trends – namely, the ways that companies are leveraging their IBM i platform and the benefits are they getting from the platform,” explains Blackburn. “But we also want to understand the challenges they are facing. Over the last several years, it’s been interesting to compare the challenges that companies on IBM i have regardless of their industry. For instance, retiring developers is a top concern no matter who the company is. Often, management and business users have a negative view of the IBM i platform because all they see are green screens and out-of-date application functionality. A lot of businesses want to take on new technologies and elevate their business applications to the cloud or integrate with the Internet of Things technologies. Siloed development efforts, lack of competitiveness and end-user efficiency, and all of the above were issues we expected to see again this year. And then COVID-19 happened.”
With the survey reopened and running for a few weeks, Blackburn has shifted the survey to try to get a feel for the impact that COVID-19 is having on IBM i shops, so the questions on the survey not only ask, for instance, if they are increasing or decreasing the size or budgets of the development team, but also if COVID-19 is the reason for whatever changes they are making – if any. Ditto for the projects that are being planned for 2020 – what are they, and how has the pandemic affected these projects?
“In the last several years, modernization really started gaining steam,” continues Blackburn. “The concept of IBM i modernization being much more than just putting modern interface on top of green screens, but to also include modern development practices, cleaning up and modernizing source code, making applications portable, and adapting open source technologies, had become embraced by the community. What I am concerned about is: Will that momentum stay the same in spite of COVID-19? Will businesses realize that they still have to invest in this platform in order to be competitive as a business? Developers tend to be the largest group of people to take the survey, and I don’t know how privy they are to decision making right now. And the uncertainty itself is a metric. I’m interested to know how much uncertainty there is currently around modernization projects, and if businesses are putting those projects on hold because of COVID.”
What we know from many decades of watching surveys is that companies are sometimes more optimistic than turns out to be warranted and too pessimistic in other ways than sometimes is warranted. For instance, there are always a few percent of customers of any platform who say they are going to get off the platform and move to another one in three, or four, or five years, but a far smaller percentage of them actually do that because it is incredibly difficult. And depending on how the industry any given IBM i shop is in is doing right now – some are relatively unaffected, such as financial services companies, and others such as distribution and healthcare and retail are all affected in extreme ways both good and bad. Manufacturers are going to be hit particularly hard because workers are being compelled to stay at home to stop the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, and we can’t get them back to work until we figure out how to do that safely.
The coronavirus pandemic also gives new meaning to the terms disaster recovery and high availability in systems.
“Businesses – including those that use IBM i – are in the process of learning that disaster recovery and high availability mean something new in light of Covid. They used to mean ‘Your business was hit by a disaster – be it physical or technical – and you had to recover your data and your system and get your applications running again.’ Now, we are seeing high availability in a whole new light. What does HA look like when workers are forced to work from home? And how do we keep business running as usual? If your industry relies on people and distance working isn’t possible, is there a way technology can solve this problem? I have a feeling that once we get through COVID, whenever that is, businesses will examine the shortcomings they faced during COVID, and uncover the solutions that could have assisted them during these hard times. Maybe mobile applications would have helped keep their business connected. Maybe they needed to have more integrated systems and solutions. Could modernization have helped? And by modernization, I don’t just mean the user interface, but rather a broader notion of being modern in the way applications are created and deployed, even going to the cloud.”
It will indeed be interesting to see what people in the IBM i community are thinking. But we will never know if you don’t take the survey. So please do that here, and thank you.
This content is sponsored by Profound Logic.