Every IBM i Shop Must Have An API Integration Strategy
October 6, 2021 Daniel Magid
I have had several very exciting conversations with IBM i users recently about new technology as they have reached out to Eradani for help in advancing their IBM i applications using APIs. More and more I hear how IBM i pros are learning new things and innovating to transform their IBM systems into examples of leading-edge computing. One of the cool things IBM i users are recognizing is that the value of APIs comes not just from making IBM i data available to other applications and outside users, but also from adding additional function to RPG applications by calling out to APIs.
Anyone who has listened in on any of the scores of presentations I have delivered on IBM i application development knows I like to start out with this slide:
The point of this image is to illustrate that it is a widespread myth that the IBM i is a legacy platform limited to RPG, COBOL, Db2, and green screens. The reality is that you can do just about anything on the IBM i that you can do on other platforms. You just need to take advantage of all the terrific features that the Rochester lab is building. The people who have seen my presentations also know that I like to move from that first slide to this slide:
Ironically, the great benefit IBM provides by ensuring backward compatibility forever is also the thing that keeps us from moving forward. Backward compatibility keeps the total cost of ownership of the IBM i so low because, unlike other platforms, we don’t have to keep rewriting our applications as technology changes. But it also means that we have never been forced to update our applications to match the state of the market. So, while backward compatibility provides great investment protection, it has let us get comfortable staying with old technology (we have several customers still running RPG II with internally described files!).
To their credit, IBM i professionals have focused on ensuring that their core applications provide comprehensive functionality that is finely tailored to how our companies do business rather than worrying about the latest industry trends. Because of this, IBM i applications are incredibly robust and very difficult to replace. However, we have left many of our end users and executives frustrated because they perceive IBM i applications as outdated. This, in turn, leads to the desire in too many people to examine the possibility of replacing the IBM i.
That is why some of my recent conversations have been so fantastic. IBM i customers are reaching out to Eradani because they are excited about adopting open source, new languages, and APIs so that their organizations can participate in all of the emerging business trends. They are discovering that APIs make it possible to access the latest technology without the expense, risk, and wasted effort of rewriting their highly valuable, proven RPG applications.
“You don’t start with an API strategy. You start with a business strategy and customer experience. Then you figure out what APIs need to be in place!’ – Joe McKendrick
Calling Out To APIs Using Db2 Database Triggers To Automate Online Shopping
We have a customer who is opening up an online eCommerce store using Shopify. Shopify makes it very easy to set up a store by providing all the functions customers expect from online shopping. Shopify has already built the catalog search and display functions, shopping cart and ordering functions, shipment scheduling, user reviews, and many other valuable capabilities. The difficulty is the customer must ensure that the Shopify is in sync with their inventory, catalog, and pricing information on their IBM i – information that is always in flux. To solve this problem, the company is using database triggers to call out from their IBM i to the Shopify APIs via Eradani Connect to update the online store information.
Using database triggers and the Shopify APIs means that as data is changed on the IBM i, those changes are immediately reflected on the Shopify site.
The company is also using Eradani Connect’s support for inbound API calls to provide accurate price quotes. They have a complex pricing algorithm written in RPG that takes into consideration the customer’s volume of business, the quantities they are ordering, which products they are ordering, and many other factors. So, before they can give the customer a price quote, the Shopify site has to send the customer and shopping cart information to their IBM i via an API. The IBM i then runs the RPG quoting process and sends the price quote back to the customer via the Shopify site.
This was all very easy to do using the bidirectional API capabilities in Eradani Connect.
Using Bidirectional API Calls To Eliminate Wasted Time And Reduce Costs
We have another customer that uses both the call in and call out capabilities of Eradani Connect to generate cost savings by automating existing business processes. This customer is a logistics provider that needs to manage large storage yards of shipping containers and truck trailers. Truck drivers were wasting valuable time driving around the yard looking for the right containers. To solve the problem, they are attaching RFID tags to the containers and trailers as they enter the yard. Those tags are constantly scanned and the location data is transmitted via an API to Amazon’s Simple Notification Service, which then sends the messages on to their hosted yard management system. The IBM i then uses Eradani Connect’s calling out capability to get the current location of each trailer and container via Amazon’s Simple Queue Service. When a truck enters the yard, it can be directed right to the appropriate place, saving hundreds of thousands of dollars in what was wasted labor.
Adding Functions To Your IBM i Applications
Maybe the most exciting development is that many IBM i customers are really starting to leverage the productivity and speed to market of open source (see Modernizing Your IBM i Using Other People’s Code for more on this). By taking advantage of the ability to call out from RPG, CL, and COBOL to functions built in other languages, IBM i users can rapidly enhance their applications by assembling ready-to-use, open source components.
An insurance company we work with had an opportunity to expand their business by providing real time insurance quotes to prospective homebuyers who were browsing properties on a real estate website. The potential stumbling block was that the insurance company needed the latitude and longitude of the property to generate an accurate quote. Unfortunately, the real estate company could only send them the property address. The problem was easily solved. They use Eradani Connect’s call out function to send the address to the Google Maps API, which returns the latitude and longitude. Importantly, Eradani Connect has implemented a variety of high-performance techniques for the call out function so the system can handle hundreds of thousands of simultaneous calls while providing extremely fast responses.
Calling Out To Your Logistics Partners
Recently, we have begun to get calls practically every day from companies looking to get up-to-the-minute information from their logistics partners (this may have something to do with our currently snarled logistics pipeline). Manufacturers want to know when they are going to receive parts from their subcontractors. Distributors want to know where to send their warehouse personnel. Everyone wants to provide their customers with the current location and ETA of their orders. Fortunately, there is a growing ecosystem of APIs that can be called from your IBM i to get that information.
We have worked with several customers who need to verify destination addresses before printing shipping labels to avoid fines from their freight carries resulting form bad addresses. Fortunately, carriers like UPS provide easily accessible APIs to provide rapid address verification. To make this easy for our customers, Eradani can provide the code for accessing those APIs from your IBM i.
Once you have a verified address you can call out to APIs provided by a variety of third-party logistics providers and freight carriers to get instant price quotes. Many of them also make it easy to accept the quote and schedule a pick via publicly available APIs.
When you are ready to print the shipping labels, you can use the API calling functions to call out to a freely downloadable module that will print the barcodes, QR codes, and addresses that you need on your shipping labels. You no longer need to rely on proprietary code to perform those functions.
Once you open the door to calling APIs from your RPG, CL, and COBOL code, you will find there are literally millions of components you can use.
Synchronizing Data Across Platforms
We are working with an IBM i customer that needs to keep two systems in sync as they transition a newly acquired subsidiary into their core IBM i systems. Their new company was running on Windows Servers using the SQL/Server database. They need to build APIs that allow the Windows system to send updates directly to the IBM i on a real time basis as new accounts and new transactions are entered. It is critical that these connections are extremely fast and totally reliable. Eradani Connect’s call in function will allow them to make these updates and real time and it will notify them if there are any problems in the process.
Dashboards And Business Intelligence
Almost every customer we work with is looking for ways to improve their use of the data. Fortunately, there are many machine learning, data analytics, BI, and charting and graphing modules available for download. Using Eradani Connect’s call out function, IBM i users can rapidly send their data to these modules to significantly enhance their ability to visual and use their valuable data.
Of course, with every use case outlined above it is paramount that the API connections are secure. To help our customers keep their systems safe, Eradani Connect provides support for the latest security frameworks and methodologies. You can learn more about this by checking out our COMMON session or the recording of our Security webinar on the Eradani website.
These are just a few of the many use cases for APIs that we have heard about. We hear about new ones in just about every conversation. I am so excited about the possibilities these represent and the change they can bring to the perception and the reality of the IBM i!
Daniel Magid is founder and chief executive officer at Eradani.
This content is sponsored by Eradani.