Thoroughly Modern: Innovative And Realistic Approaches To IBM i Modernization
April 12, 2021 Chris Koppe
In your organization, is IT considered a partner in the business or just the service department? Are your IT staff seen as innovators who are connected to your industry and the growth vision of the company? For a lot of clients that I work with on strategy, these are not ways that they would describe their IT departments. But they should be.
At one point, IT was the enabler of innovation, helping drive automation and optimization of business processes. Now, most IT departments are maintaining more than they’re innovating, and there’s an opportunity to change that.
Over the years I’ve helped hundreds of companies develop and execute successful application management and modernization strategies across a variety of platforms, languages, databases and technologies. In this article, I’ll discuss three recent real-world IBM i modernization strategies. Each client’s business needs are unique but they’re all solving challenges with innovative solutions that are backed by a comprehensive IT strategy and roadmap.
Insurance Company: New Business Model Requires Application Refresh
I recently worked with an international insurance company that required a modernization strategy to address resource shortages while supporting the company’s growth. With many distinct applications that were written in RPG and Synon, the client was challenged in finding skilled resources to maintain and support their environment.
This struggle was compounded by the organization’s aggressive plan for growth and need for modernization. The insurance industry is always facing consumer pressures to do things better, faster and smarter. Direct-to-consumer models, ease of comparison shopping and rich engagement experiences all top the list of the innovations needed to be competitive in the rapidly evolving insurance industry.
Modernization Strategy And Roadmap
The client engaged Fresche to develop a strategy and roadmap, where we reviewed their application environment and business goals in detail. We met with different departments and gathered information from users to understand all aspects of their business. It was clear that the client’s organizational pains included the outdated user interface, unintuitive workflows, lengthy onboarding timelines, lack of integration and several manual processes.
This knowledge helped us craft the client’s future-state business needs:
- Smarter, more intuitive workflows and increased automation
- Intuitive UI that enables rapid onboarding
- Web interfaces with self-serve reporting and Excel, email and PDF integration
Like any journey, modernization needs a roadmap. We began by developing an IT strategy that addressed the client’s needs for growth, competitive differentiation, employee retention and skills development. The strategy included modernizing their core business systems, moving to a modern user interface and implementing improved reporting and analytics. We also agreed on guiding principles that would help prioritize the initiatives outlined in the strategy. These principles included:
- Agility to rapidly react to strategic growth needs of the business
- Transforming Synon and RPG to a modern, portable programming language
- Modern database that enforces data integrity and security
We considered multiple scenarios during roadmap development, which you’ll see in the samples below.
Strategically, we determined that we could mitigate risk and get some quick wins by addressing the Synon challenges first. Some systems are best suited for a rewrite and that will happen later in the timeline. Because elements are deployed along the way, the client will get value each year from this program.
Wholesale Distributor: Hundreds Of Databases Hinder Growth
A US-based wholesale distributor has several hundred locations that provide business-to-business plumbing, heating and electrical supplies. The client has a unique operating model similar to a franchise where each company has their own IBM i application and database instance.
The client has determined that the current application architecture will not support the aggressive growth goals they have planned over the next ten years. Our Discovery with the client uncovered the following challenges:
- System has become brittle and is unable to support growth
- Difficult to find skills to maintain and enhance systems
- Outdated user interface has a steep learning curve
- Slow time to market due to a lack of agility
- Poor access to real-time data
Modernization Strategy and Roadmap
Moving forward, the client wanted to implement modern DevOps and an agile approach to application development and maintenance. They required a web-based, mobile-friendly interface to improve the usability of the system for internal customers. Most importantly, they wanted to consolidate hundreds of entity databases into a set of domain-specific, multi-tenant databases.
The client’s four-year modernization roadmap includes database consolidation, application updates and RPG-to-Java transformation, and reflects these priorities by addressing high-value items up-front. The first year is spent consolidating the database to address the client’s scalability concerns, thereby enabling rapid growth.
The roadmap below shows both the initial consolidation exercise as well as multiple tracks of activities.
Retirement Pension Plan: Loss of Key Resources Threatens Operational Stability
Like many organizations that run IBM i applications, a North American-based pension plan is facing the loss of key resources, which is threatening operational stability and the ability to effectively maintain and evolve core business systems. These risks are increasing yearly along with the cost of treating the problem.
In the past few years, several key IT experts have left the company, representing the loss of decades of experience and knowledge. The remaining experts are also expected to retire in the coming years. Not only will this client struggle to maintain their system, but they will be hard-pressed to rebuild the lost knowledge. Contracting programmers is not a sustainable option and they barely have the knowledge they need to support a transformation to a more modern language. As a result, the cost to treat the problem is going up while the risk increases steadily year over year.
Modernization Strategy and Roadmap
Our Strategy and Planning service began with a forensic analysis of the client’s system. We mapped their application and modules, then looked at how their current environment is impacting the business. We learned that the current IT department is relying on manual processes instead of automation and they’re highly dependent on specific resources with specialized skills.
Moving forward, the client will benefit from a Web-based system, a single, modern database across all platforms, workflow optimization enhancements and improved reporting. The client’s roadmap begins with preparation that will enable our team to begin building the knowledge needed to augment their experts on the system. We will then work to transform the applications in stages to their corporate standard technology choice of Java, enabling the client to adopt a more sustainable, agile approach to their systems.
Starting Your IBM i Modernization Journey
I hope that these examples have helped you see that there is a modernization roadmap to suit every company’s goals, budget and timeline. The most important thing we can do as technologists is keep things moving forward. The world of IT has changed considerably and our ability to innovate for the business is crucial in these dynamic digital times. Every company’s modernization journey will be unique, but I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to have a strategy and build that roadmap.
We know how challenging it can be to get started so Fresche is offering a limited number of free whiteboard strategy sessions to help you start exploring your options. The service allows you to bring up to six people from your organization to discuss your business and technological goals related to innovation, agility, UI/UX modernization and more. Our team of experts, which includes business and technology strategists, modernization experts, application and database architects, will collaborate with you to provide new insights and options to address your goals.
You can learn more and register here: https://hubs.ly/H0KQPzM0
SVP, Strategic Transformation, Fresche
Since joining Fresche in 1988, Chris has helped hundreds of companies develop and execute successful application management and modernization strategies across a variety of platforms, languages, databases, and technologies. This insight has allowed Chris to accumulate a wealth of best practice expertise that covers everything from strategy and planning to implementation to deployment and project governance for large-scale IBM i modernization projects.
This content is sponsored by Fresche Solutions.