Thoroughly Modern: Why Modernizing IBM i Applications Is Important And Where to Start
April 17, 2023 Pete Czornohus
I always like starting with a quote: “Everybody seems to talk about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.” The funny thing is that it’s starting to feel like it relates to IBM i application modernization.
Companies have talked about modernizing their RPG, COBOL, and CA 2E (SYNON) applications for decades, but a recent Fortra study said that 64 percent of IBM i shops are still considering IBM i modernization as one of their top five concerns. It’s worrisome that so many companies are considering it but not actively engaged in it.
In this article, we are going to cover two areas of IBM i application modernization: What is it and how to get started. We hope this gives you some ideas that you can apply to your environment.
Benefits Of IBM i Application Modernization
From a business perspective, modernized applications give you the ability to align your functional requirements with the business, provide greater value for the IT money spent, and improve agility. You can better serve your customers, capture new clients, and enter or even create new markets.
From an IT perspective, using modern languages and frameworks allows you to reduce complexity, risk and the cost of maintaining your applications. It also increases the pool of available resources and provides access to data that helps executives make informed decisions.
Why have so few companies done it? One of the biggest issues is complexity. The number of modernization approaches is staggering. The cost can be high and hard to quantify.
My recommendation is to look at the drivers and decide which approach fits your goals:
- Can you reuse your code?
- Is the code maintainable?
- Do you have resources to manage and maintain that application base?
- Do the applications meet your business needs?
- How quickly do you need to meet your ROI metrics?
These factors all influence which approach you should choose. Once you start answering those questions, you can simplify it.
Previously, conversations around IBM i and modernization talked about abandoning the platform and that’s not always the answer. It’s often about getting more from the investments that you’ve made by implementing modern languages and approaches. If your code meets your needs, you can enhance, extend, or integrate that existing code. This can give you the ability to consider refacing and/or encapsulating via new applications.
Using a tool enables you to create a modern interface via refacing without modifying the underlying code. This provides a graphical user interface that makes it easier to train new employees and improves workflows by integrating systems without modifying the underlying RPG/COBOL/CA 2E (SYNON) code. You can also modify the GUI to add new functionality.
Then there’s encapsulation. If you need something more robust, the ability to create new applications, develop APIs around your existing code and use modern languages (e.g., PHP) is another option.
If your applications aren’t meeting your needs, look at extracting the business logic from existing code, then rebuild it using modern technologies. Make sure that the replacement has the same functionality plus more that you would need from the new environment. Being able to deconstruct the business logic from your existing applications and use that as the groundwork is important.
Keep in mind that this isn’t an all-or-nothing approach. Application groups can fall into completely different categories. I’ll give you an example. Right now, we’re working with a company that’s modernizing their entire application portfolio – over 1,000 RPG applications over 25 to 30 years. We started by developing a modernization strategy. We identified which applications would be enhanced, extended, and which ones would be retired, rewritten and/or replaced.
Start with your strategy. It can be as simple or as comprehensive as you need. Get everyone on the same page and the strategy should outline what your business needs are, not just IT. Don’t modernize for the sake of modernizing. It must meet business requirements.
Map out what success looks like. Define quantifiable goals that you can measure so you can track your progress and understand when you’ve met the endpoint. There is no wrong answer, but our focus is helping you get started.
Tools and Services – What’s the Best Option?
Do you have the right tools and resources? Should you partner with someone to help with the effort? Here’s a quick intro to some of our tools and services.
Presto is Fresche’s UI modernization tool. It automatically transforms your green screens to provide access via any browser. This allows you to take advantage of the styling and interactive features that are possible in a browser while retaining all of the proven logic, authorities and permissions in your applications. And the great thing is that your end users don’t need anything but a web browser to access what was formerly a green screen.
WebSmart is another web development tool. The biggest difference between WebSmart and Presto is that WebSmart provides net-new web application development. WebSmart is a template-based tool that allows you to step through a wizard process and have code generated to create any type of application. From there, you can customize that code to create anything from dashboards, to portals, to e-commerce sites.
In addition to tooling, Fresche provides strategy, Web development, and staff augmentation services. We have been doing it for over 20 years. We often start by looking at your current state then provide options. The resulting strategy will depend on your business needs. For example, it might be focused on quick wins. Perhaps we start with a quick Presto project to deploy a browser-based user interface. That might buy you some time to plan and budget for a larger scale development project, if needed. The solutions are flexible.
We recently hosted an educational webinar that provides more detail about IBM i application modernization options and solutions. You can view the recording here.
Pete Czornohus is general manager of digital solutions at Fresche Solutions.
This content is sponsored by Fresche Solutions.
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