SrinSoft CEO Ram Hari’s Long Road on IBM i
February 9, 2022 Alex Woodie
Ram Hari has had the sort of IT career that many dream of. Hired in the late 1990s as a Y2K programmer, the India native climbed the corporate IT ranks, and today runs his own 500-person consulting company called SrinSoft. The New York City-based company offers a range of IT services, but with interest in IBM i modernization and migrations spiking during COVID, Hari is finding it hard to satisfy demand.
Hari’s career started in 1995, soon after earning an undergraduate degree in computer science and electric engineering from a university in India. After getting his RPG certification, he was embarked on the first of many consulting gigs: Getting the AS/400-based core banking system of a large Australian and New Zealand bank ready for Y2K.
“While we were doing it, we took the extra step of moving everything from column-oriented RPG to RPG ILE,” Hari said. “It was a manual effort. It was a really tedious job and that gave me insights into all the programming techniques . . . from a technology perspective on IBM. That made me really interested in this platform.”
Hari moved to the United States in 1996, and soon was up to his elbows in Y2K remediation projects at AS/400 shops around the Midwest. He developed an affinity to working with a popular ERP system called System21 that was originally developed by JBA. Now owned by Infor, the RPG-based package was heavily used by companies in the automotive supply chain in the Great Lakes region.
Domestic life called around the turn of the century, and Hari decided to settle down. He joined a Columbus, Ohio restaurant supply company called Wasserstrom as a junior programmer on a temporary basis. It soon became a lot more than that.
“They tried me for two months to see if I was a good employee or if I know what I’m doing,” Hari tells IT Jungle. “I was with them for 14 years and grew up to be the CIO of the manufacturing division.”
Before becoming the CIO of that division, Hari started a side gig called SrinSoft. Initially a part-time job, Hari would hire a few local RPG programmers to do the work, leaving him free to spend most of his time at Wasserstrom.
There was a lot of work in those days, and Hari felt at home working with the AS/400 shops. “A lot of these companies were using AS/400 and System21 so we were part of the [Great Lakes] user group,” he said. “I got all these customers who are having similar pain points and also looking at cost-effective ways in terms of maintaining that system with an aging workforce. It’s an ongoing thing.”
But around 2008, there was nowhere left to climb at that company, so he devoted himself to full time to SrinSoft. One of the first customers to come calling after the move was none other than Wasserstrom. The relationship would change the course of Hari’s career.
“They said ‘Why don’t we be your customer too? We want to do offshoring. We want to reduce [onshore] people. We want to expand. So why don’t you take this opportunity? We don’t want to go to India and try to open up an office there offshore and all that stuff. With this outfit why don’t you have a team of people helping us out?’”
The idea sounded good, but before Hari built an offshore consulting business, he went back to school and got his master’s degree. Once the MBA from Ohio State was in hand around 2012, Hari ramped up operations at SrinSoft.
Today SrinSoft has a workforce of more than 500 people. About 400 of the IT professionals live and work in India, and the remaining 100 folks, who are senior level people and architects, reside in the U.S.
Data and application integration was a big deal in the early days. SrinSoft became experts in AS/400 deployments using webMethods, MuleSoft, Software AG, and Red Hat, which all became partners. Testing also become a major chore, so SrinSoft developed skills using tools from Selenium and Hewlett-Packard. While the company took other jobs, the AS/400 and its progeny were always central to the firm. The company worked with the range of ERP systems from Infor, including System21, ERP XA (MAPICS), ERP LX (BPCS), and A+.
As IBM gave the midrange server a series of name changes, the underlying source code continued to get older. Soon SrinSoft was helping its customers develop modern interfaces for the applications. It formed partnership with LANSA, ASNA, and Profound Logic, and developed a business modernizing with Microsoft’s .NET framework.
Independence remained paramount to SrinSoft’s success. “Though we are partners with all these modernization or tool based companies, we are not resellers for any of them,” Hari says. “That’s what our customers like. So we give them an unbiased opinion. We’re not going to tell you LANSA is better or Profound is better or ASNA is better and all this stuff. We give you pros and cons on what would actually fit . . . and what is their budget.”
In addition to modernizing IBM i applications, SrinSoft has also developed a business migrating them to other platforms. While Hari is a big believer in the IBM i platform, he recognizes that it might not be a good fit for every company.
“Those are areas when a new CIO comes in and says, ‘OK, I have this big black box. I’m spending so much money on it, and it’s running an ancient software. Everything has to be in this black box – it can’t be ported into cloud?’ It’s a nightmare.”
Migrating off the IBM i is not a difficult decision for these types of CIOs, and then the work of executing the migration falls to Hari and his team.
“It is a no brainer for them, because they need to create a mark,” Hari says. “They are hired to bring change to that organization as a new CIO. Then the first thing that they do is calling companies like us, you need to get us the heck out of the system.”
Hari is struggling to find the resources to keep up with demand for both migration and modernization services. “Both migration and modernization 100 percent accelerated because of the pandemic,” he says. “We are scrambling for resources.”
Young people come out of colleges with zero knowledge of IBM i and RPG, so SrinSoft has taken it upon themselves to provide that education. “We are training a huge workforce right now as bench strength,” he says. “Nobody has heard about AS/400 coming out of college. So we have a huge training thing going on, and we’re constantly training our own people.”
The idea is to take younger IT pros who know languages like Python, .NET, Node.js, and Java and train them to work with the IBM i and its Db2 database. That is working well, Hari says, particularly for modernization engagements.
While the technical component of the training is usually a success, it can be a delicate bit of managing to let these ambitions young people know why they’re receiving the training on the midrange server in the first place. The beginning of the process usually involves somebody from human resources, Hari says.
“We’ve got to show them what they’re getting into,” Hari says. “That’s why the whole HR thing gets attached to it. The new generation of people who are coming out of colleges, they are more geared toward touch screen and visualization, intuitive UI, Web cloud and all that stuff.”
Hari sounds frustrated. While he doesn’t mind doing the training, he wonders why it has fallen to SrinSoft. Shouldn’t the owner of the platform be doing more to ensure there is a reasonably solid stream of people ready to take care of this venerable and still-capable platform?
“I’m teaching them what is a packed decimal is and all the IBM terminologies. It is tough,” he says. “If there was some awareness at the college level that there is this platform that is widely used and a lot of companies, including Costco and Nike and all these big names companies are still using it – if there was a general awareness that is being created for the new workforce, that would be very helpful for us because we are doing that job today. And that’s not even our job.”
In the meantime, Hari continues to work on supporting his customers and training the next generation of IBM i pros who will support the platform, whether they reside in the U.S. or in India. After declining a bit for a few years, the IBM i platform now accounts for 60 percent of SrinSoft’s revenues. Business is booming, and for now, that is good.