Thoroughly Modern: Making Quick Wins Part Of Your Modernization Strategy
August 9, 2021 Chris Koppe
IT leaders are being asked to do way more than keep the lights on these days. For many, the recent pandemic has exposed the need for organizations to provide effective digital experiences and enable remote work. At the same time, many industries experienced revenue loss and as a result, have fewer resources.
Understanding where to focus efforts can be key in helping you drive the best value and stay aligned with company goals. Success often lies in striking a delicate balance between addressing modernization needs and working within reduced budgets.
The path to modernizing IBM i applications is paved with solutions for web, APIs and cloud as well as agile development processes and an organizational commitment to change. Making pragmatic decisions and developing the right plan for you is critical. This article talks about some key areas where you can make smaller investments to move toward greater modernization.
Where To Start
All modernization efforts are not made equal. When you look at your journey maps and roadmaps, you want to be looking at what you can deliver first and asking yourself – Why is it valuable and what is it going to bring to the business? If the business isn’t behind it and not looking for it then it likely shouldn’t make your list of quick wins.
Aligning with the business is one aspect. Most IBM i environments arguably have thousands of programs and thousands of tables. From a technology perspective you need to understand your portfolio, what you have and organize it so you can start to build a staged plan that makes sense. This becomes the launching point for your modernization roadmap.
A key point to all of this is that building and layering your plan in stages helps to clearly demonstrate the incremental value these modernization efforts can deliver to the company.
Some Business Benefits of IBM i Application Modernization
Modernization can deliver numerous organizational benefits, including the following:
- Business Continuity: Attract skilled resources and ensure business continuity with modern languages, architecture and tooling. Priority #1 for most organizations running older IBM i applications.
- Agility and Faster Time-to-Market – Deliver fixes to the business faster by tooling ecosystems (DevOps) and replace monolithic applications with smaller, more reusable components that are easier to manage.
- Industry Leadership – Being first-to-market with new capabilities, whether you are leading disruption in your industry or responding to it, can be achieved through innovation and experimentation.
- Ease of Integration – Improve integration with partners, suppliers, and customers through APIs and service enablement.
- Regulatory Compliance: Improve processes, making them more secure and audit ready.
Choosing Quick Wins: Quantifying Business Impact
While evaluating which quick-win opportunities you want to tackle first, it’s natural, as technologists, to start with what’s easy or quick to do. An obvious candidate for a ‘quick win’ would be something that’s not only technically feasible, but also offers measurable value to the business.
Driving Business Value
There are a few questions that you can ask to decide whether a quick win can offer significant business value.
As a direct result of your modernization efforts:
- Can the business interact with data differently?
- Are there direct or indirect improvements in customer interactions?
- Will the business gain new capabilities?
- Does this streamline a business process – making things more efficient, decreasing labor, reducing cost, or making it easier to onboard new people/resources?
- Does it address a longstanding pain in a process flow?
Enterprise Design Thinking
A crucial tool in your arsenal should be Enterprise Design Thinking.
This is a framework for engaging with the business – it encompasses everything from journey mapping, understanding how things work today, brainstorming about what could be different, developing concepts, creating prototypes, adjusting them and ultimately materializing and launching new capabilities.
Consider what Agile development looks like outside of IT – it should encourage you to work more collaboratively with the business. Prioritizing requirements, iterating collaboratively, prototyping, and making refinements together will ensure that the technology you deploy is not rejected by business users.
There are numerous benefits to embracing Agile frameworks – 30% happier, more motivated employees, increased productivity, faster TTM, and a reduction in defects.
Where Are The ‘Quick Wins’ Focus Areas?
While you should put together a holistic IT strategy that represents your vision for modernization, we’d recommend building these quick wins along the journey to demonstrate progress to the business and maintain stakeholder enthusiasm.
Web Enablement / Green Screen Modernization
There are many modern web-enablement tools that offer plenty of options for making quick UI improvements that go beyond screen scraping. For example:
- Replace function keys and subfile options with clickable links and buttons to provide a more intuitive and consistent way to navigate screens. Tabs also make information easier to digest.
- Incorporate drop down lists, date pickers, radio buttons and autocompletes to reduce errors and the time it takes to look up and enter data.
- Take advantage of web technologies (such as open source) to integrate with other systems while improving the agility of your organization.
This type of product-based refacing can typically take one to three months.
Tablet and Mobile Enablement
Refacing technology can also help you enable access to existing applications through tablets or smartphones. This can be used to give your customer-facing workforce direct access to order processing or inventory lookup systems. This might involve either new screen creation/modification or optimization of existing screens for the new interface.
This can be achieved faster than building native mobile applications.
API Enablement for Customer/Partner Portals
There are rapid API development products that let you build new APIs quickly. You can also expose data and business process services from within existing applications as scalable APIs.
There are API wrappers for 5250 data feeds as well – they can log in and navigate through the layers of an application, pull values from the data feed on a screen, and feed it back to the API.
There are products that can help you quickly prototype new APIs and make them available. As a best practice, look for real-time client or customer feedback on the API functionalities you need to enable.
Database Modernization & Self-Service/End-User Reporting
Database transformation almost always gets done though most don’t think of it as modernization. It often starts with a desire to take advantage of the integrated capabilities in Db2 for i and provide data access to the business.
A DDS database does not have the most optimal UI for data capture. Consider changing the database to DDL, adding long names there, creating views on top of the long names, and then exposing that to a reporting tool – this offers more data functionality to business users.
You can also enable APIs for self-service reporting, based on your goals.
This will normally take one to six months.
This is a crucial part of both improving agility and implementing proper DevOps. If you want to release faster to the business, the architecture of the application code and access to continuous integration tools in development-type ecosystems are important. It is crucial to build regressions and automate the testing process – if you enhance a service, it isn’t ideal to wait for the users to find out that something else is broken. Detecting defects early reduces costs for application development and maintenance.
Start this with your net-new developments, and then consider how to refactor existing code over time.
Quick Wins: The Way Forward
Ultimately, it’s not just the application itself – aspects such your approach to managing it and the tools you use to edit it are all factors that help you decide which quick wins make the most sense at this point of your modernization journey. The question at the top of your mind should be: what is the business getting out of this modernization journey? You need to consider new approaches to deliver on business needs faster and deliver measurable value to the business stakeholders. With a bit of careful strategy and the right solutions, it’s possible to achieve more for less.
Creating a modernization roadmap involves many moving parts, so we’d also recommend engaging a solution provider who can help you build the right strategy. In my day job at Fresche, I work with IT leaders and bring in our industry experts and technologists – our clients always tell me how much our team helps companies understand the tangible outcomes from modernization. We collaborate with client teams to develop their ideal roadmap and understand which quick wins will best fit their organizational goals.
We understand the challenges for companies to get started, so we’ve created this modernization workshop that is available to you for free (for now). Learn more about the workshop here.
This content was sponsored by Fresche Solutions.
Chris Koppe is SVP of Strategic Transformation at 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.