Getting Out Of The Catch-22 Of Application Transformation
August 3, 2020 Timothy Prickett Morgan
If starting up a business is hard, maintaining that business can be even more difficult. Conditions and tastes change over time, and applications that drive the business can feel the strain.
Upper management and IT organizations might have the skills to keep business applications going and make modest changes here and there, or perhaps add a new product line or two. But they usually do not have the time or people to do anything too radical, such as modernizing and transforming those applications to work in completely new ways. This is where bringing in a product and services partner comes in.
In the IBM i world, few companies know this pattern as well as Profound Logic, which was founded two decades ago by Alex Roytman to create tools to help companies get away from the green screen interface and to come into the client/server and now the mobile worlds. Since that time, Profound Logic has adopted a number of key technologies to make its tools better at helping customers transform and modernize their IBM i business applications, but in the last couple of years, the company has also built up a services business – out of necessity more than desire – because IBM i shops need help. Last fall, we had a chat with Roytman, who is chief executive officer at Profound Logic, and Jordan Antonoff, chief revenue officer at the company, about how services were becoming more important in the IBM i base, and this week we are going to drill down into this a bit deeper.
To be specific, we spoke with Michael Killian, who was named vice president of strategic accounts at Profound Logic in April, an appointment that was only made public a few weeks ago. Killian held senior level sales and marketing positions at rivals Fresche Solutions and ASNA for two and a half decades. Also joining us to talk about services for modernization and transformation was Mike Pavlak, who is also well known in the IBM i community as a consultant, as the IT director of Tripp Lite, as an instructor in IBM i technologies, as a consultant for PHP creator Zend Technologies, as an IT strategist at Fresche Solutions, and now, as a solutions architect at Profound Logic.
In the last couple of years, Profound Logic, which both are intimately familiar with because they competed against the company in the IBM i market, has been creating transformation services that go way beyond updating the user interface. And the expertise that is needed for modernization and transformation projects goes way beyond having skills with development tools like those provided by Profound Logic and its competitors.
“For these kinds of transformation projects to be successful, it takes a lot more than just automation,” Killian explains. “Automation is a big piece it, to be sure, but there is a lot more to it. What we find is what people expect from these projects requires someone to not only know where you’re coming from (the IBM and RPG world) – inside and out, but they have also got to know where they’re going to. In our in our case, they have to be experts in Node.js or Java or .NET or whatever their target environment might be. And there is a possibility that there might be a platform switch of some sort along the way, too. And to make it even harder, they have to have an expertise in transformation skills. The actual process of transforming applications and databases, even though it is automated, will always have a manual component, including both modernization and testing. What we found is that there are a lot of organizations lacking in one or more of these areas, and with transformation expertise, it doesn’t make sense for organizations to invest in training their team on techniques that, at least in the lifetime of those people, probably only happened once.”
Moreover, by definition, the very skills in managing modernization and transformation are not skills that companies cultivate because, frankly, they don’t do it often enough on such a large scale. But when they need these skills, they need them really badly. Luckily companies like Profound Logic have built up teams to step in and keep modernization and transformation projects on track.
“Even if they do have the talent on hand, many businesses don’t have the bandwidth because the people that do have the skills are maintaining their applications, which is work enough. Who is going to modernize and transform the code? Who is going to test and deploy it? That’s why many times there is a staff augmentation component that is part of the transformation project, and of course you back fill with subject matter experts internally that join the transformation team.”
As for the possibility that Profound Logic might have more demand than it can meet, Pavlak says, this is not a product, it is a service, and that is an inherently different prospect.
“No one just puts this on a credit card and walks away,” Pavlak says, and he talks in big, fat paragraphs like we do here at IT Jungle, so breathe in, people. “The reality is that these deals have life cycles to them and they take a while because customers need to be educated. They need to understand the full complexity of what it is they want to do. It’s one thing for a CIO to want to move to Node.js, and it is as another thing to understand all of the complexities, all the ramifications, of that. Would you like database with that? Would you like infrastructure with that? Would you like cloud or on-premises, you want Amazon or Azure? This is not as simple as just placing an order and then pushing a button – as much as the CIO would love for that to be the case.”
Profound Logic, in planning for these engagements, has done its own homework and partnered with experts and a set of complimentary partner organizations, to address these concerns. Pavlak continues: “And that’s where we come in with our customized discovery approach. We are going to map out a lot of things. We are going to talk about where you want to go and fill in all of the details and figure out who is going to go first. In our experience, no customer can or would do a big bang transformation. They’re going to do a phased transformation, one piece at a time. And we help them figure out which piece goes first. We believe transformation needs as an iterative, agile approach, and in the first iteration transformation will be like-for-like, but in the second iteration, we focus on enhancements that add business value. Because the reality is nobody sees the value of just moving from this technology to that technology. There’s got to be a business advantage, and it has to be more than just return on investment on hardware and software so that transformation is not just tactical, it is also strategic.”
The services business at Profound Logic is growing fast and Killian says that over time, services could make up 50 to 60 percent of the business. (This is akin to the split that IBM itself has with its business these days, with platforms making up about a third of the business and applications and services making up the other two thirds.) The coronavirus pandemic caused a small “speed bump,” according to Pavlak, and some transformation deals got stretched out. But the interest level in tools and services for transformation and modernization remains high among the IBM i base because now, more than ever, they see the shortcomings of their legacy systems.
By emphasizing and promoting services alongside its development tools, Profound Logic has become more focused in its customer engagements, says Killian. “We are focused on three main areas: The first is modernization and transformation of legacy applications, specifically transforming some RPG applications to Node.js. The second is rapid application development, for new, additional functions to add to transformed applications, including rapidly developing brand new modern apps from scratch. The third is integration and API development. Pavlak says that the API development offering is in advanced beta and it allows the provisioning of IBM i APIs from within the Node.js framework – all from the same Profound Logic tool bench that its other products rely upon.