Smart Modernization Is The Answer To IBM i Talent Shortage
September 28, 2022 Jose Caso Jacobs
When we are at the COMMON POWERUp 2022 conference a few months ago, we were amazed by the number of IT managers that approached us because of a shortage of IBM i programming talent. The dearth of programmers that are experienced with the business as well as legacy and modern programming techniques has pushed a lot of businesses up against the wall, with lost agility and in some cases delayed projects.
As bad as that is, the situation could be worse. We have all heard the horror stories, where the executive suite or upper IT management push to switch away from the IBM i platform, often for political rather than sound technical or economic reasons. They go out and buy a bunch of X86 servers running Windows Server or Linux, they get Microsoft SQL Server or Oracle databases and they spend a lot of money on these platforms. And that is the easy part. The hard part is creating new applications from scratch in Java or PHP, or customizing third-party applications.
In the latter case, with third-party applications, consultants and system integrators are hired, they do the initial work and get their fees, and they leave. The experience for end users is terrible: The customization of the application code to fit the actual business is low, and what customization that is done is delayed. Customers and end users are upset, there is often a loss in revenue. It becomes this massive money pit, and it has catastrophic consequences, with CIOs resigning.
After all of that, customers decide to stay on the IBM i platform, which is good. But IT budget that could have been allocated to modernize the existing IBM i platform has been spent on a migration attempt off the platform that failed. It would have been less costly – and less risky – just to stay on the IBM i platform.
Migration off the IBM i platform, if you look at it honestly, has very low appeal. The cost of migrating is so much larger than the cost of modernizing the applications on the IBM i, and the risks of implementing new code – which has not been through decades of debugging and quality control and which, by definition, will have errors because people are recoding it – are very high. But equally importantly, migration is an all-in effort. You can’t do it piecemeal, in a progressive fashion. Modernization, by contrast, can be progressive. In fact, that is the best way to do it.
In a way, IBM’s own success with the architecture of the System/38, the System/36, the AS/400 and its many successors, is to blame for some of the situations customers are in. Fixed format RPG was written decades ago and still works on a modern Power Systems platform that has been updated with countless features and functions that make it a rival to Windows Server, Linux, AIX, and z/OS. But in many cases, while IBM has modernized what has become the IBM i platform, the applications that run on top of that platform have not been updated.
And now the pressure is on to do something about that at the same time that seasoned RPG programmers who can tackle big projects are becoming harder and harder to find as they retire from the market. This is why everybody is looking for seasons RPG developers. And this is just going to be an infinite loop that gets tighter and tighter, where you are chasing RPG talent at any cost, knowing that in the long run, this is not really sustainable.
But hand-coding RPG is not the only way to do modernization. There is another way, which we call smart modernization. You take action practically, you vouch for your actions, and you pick your battles while you still can. And importantly, you realize that while you might be able to outsource your IBM i infrastructure, you cannot outsource your application development and modernization because this is, in reality, your competitive advantage. The reason IBM i customers are so dependent on the IBM i platform has very little to do with the hardware and systems software and everything to do with the competitive advantage that is baked into their applications and the data associated with them.
Smart modernization means being smart about who you can hire and what you can do, and while adding new interfaces to your legacy RPG applications is a great starting point for many businesses, particularly small and midrange IBM i shops, there is more to this.
The truth is that hiring any programmers is difficult and expensive in the current market. And given this, you need to leverage your existing RPG programmers to maintain and extend your existing code while at the same time adding new developers, who may or may not know anything about the IBM i platform. In the latter case, you want a set of tooling that any developer can pick up and be useful with very quickly.
And with LANSA’s Rapid Application Modernization Process, or RAMP, tool customers can take the 5250 greenscreens from their legacy applications and put Web front ends on them while at the same time integrating these modernized applications with net-new applications that are created using the Visual LANSA low-code environment.
Jose Caso Jacobs is product marketing manager at LANSA.
This content was sponsored by LANSA.