Thoroughly Modern: What’s New In IBM i IT Planning
October 9, 2023 Chris Koppe
When you picture a successful IT strategy, what comes to mind? Most would say that they picture the plan that defines how you approach your technical environment or a project. But after working on IBM i strategy and roadmaps for hundreds of organizations, I see it differently. Creating a successful strategy is all about asking the right questions. By taking the time to analyze your current situation, determine your desired outcome, and understand the reasoning behind it, you’ll be able to find a quicker and more cost-effective solution to achieve your goals. Strategy development is a conversation that leads to success.
Evolving IBM i Modernization Priorities
I’ve seen a noticeable shift in the types of problems that organizations come to us to solve. Yes, modernization still drives most conversations, but the desired outcomes vary. This includes technology adoption, automation, cloud, business process improvement, modernizing legacy systems, enabling transformation, responding more effectively to the business, and more. That said, some areas are getting more attention recently, compared to what we’ve seen in the past:
- IBM i Sustainability: Most organizations that work with us on modernization roadmaps and strategy are concerned about sustaining their existing application ecosystem as the workforce ages and skills become harder to find. Some clients have hired contractors or brought on new developers yielding mixed results which is prompting them to look for a better way forward. Other clients ask how they can move away from RPG and COBOL, and some feel that they can maintain their RPG and COBOL applications but they want to address agility, develop quicker, or focus on digital innovation. Whatever the situation, sustainability is always top of mind.
- Security: Operational stability has become a hot topic with the rise of ransomware and the growing number of security breaches. Most organizations have realized that IBM i is not impervious to external or internal security threats and they’re not as protected as they thought they were. We see a lot of organizations running on IBM i that are carrying significant risk and exposure and they need a plan to act on it – fast.
- Cloud: We’ve been talking to IBM i shops about cloud for years, but more organizations are ready to move forward with a concrete roadmap for cloud adoption. Most clients approach us with similar objectives including: Where do you start? What do you use? What type of cloud environment is best for our workloads – on-premise, full cloud or a hybrid approach? Should we move all of our workloads including development, test and production to the cloud? What’s the right way to accomplish that? And what kind of skills are needed to migrate to the cloud and post move?
- Data and Reporting: Larger companies often have a data warehouse or data lake strategy that they’re working on. You’d be surprised to see how many mid-size shops are still running RPG/COBOL-based reports or using antiquated tools like Query/400. When we work on modernization roadmaps and strategy with clients, we often dive into how they can advance their reporting and analytics capabilities.
New IT Strategy And Advisory Services To Meet Modern Business Needs
In response to these changing market needs, Fresche is formally broadening our strategy offerings in areas where an increasing number of our clients need assistance. Here’s a peek at what we’re launching over the coming weeks and months.
Strategic IT Health Check: Get a clear picture of the health of your application code base, database, development and operation processes, sustainability, skills, culture, etc. This health check can serve as a due diligence assessment in an M&A scenario (during or post) and provides an unbiased analysis that often uncovers significant value being brought to the business by both IBM i and the applications that run on it.
- Strategic Path to IT Maturity: An IT Maturity assessment with a prioritized improvement roadmap.
- Transformation Readiness Assessment: Provides visibility into the risk areas that need attention for a successful transformation implementation. We assess skills, culture, processes, etc.
- Transformation Enablement Planning: Includes business strategy alignment, rationale for investment, prioritization, cost/benefit analysis, capacity, timeline, culture, change management.
- IBM i Security Assessment and Planning: We assess your current state (including compliance) and risk exposure and provide a prioritized vulnerability remediation strategy and plan.
- Strategic Path to Cloud Adoption: This service provides an evaluation of your IT infrastructure, identifies any risk in your current state, proposed cloud models (on-prem, hybrid), investment strategy and rationale, business case creation, cost/benefit analysis, capacity requirements, timeline and a tailored roadmap for your cloud adoption.
- Data Insights Strategy: Provides a plan to turn organizational data into insights that streamline operations and/or monetize data insights.
- BI Analytics Implementation Planning: Includes a needs assessment, future-state design, implementation roadmap (resources, timeline, etc.), investment plan and business case rationale.
- Business Process Innovation: Identifying areas for improved operational efficiencies, cost savings, digital innovation/transformation and improved systems of engagement.
Stop Calling It Technology, Start Calling It Innovation
Sometimes clients approach us with a technology-first mentality, where they want to use a specific tool or modernization approach (“I need to web enable my application”) or technology (“I need to use Python”). We can definitely help with these efforts, but they’re more successful when you take the time to ask why and define expectations.
For example, the client who wants a web enablement tool is requesting that solution because they want to build a customer portal. A web enablement tool might not be the right way to approach that project. Maybe they want more flexibility, or the ability to react to end users’ needs. In that case, they would probably need a web development solution to build that customer portal in a native implementation. With all of the technological advances in the IBM i programming world – API architecture, for example – the client might not be aware of the different ways these problems can be solved, leading them to chase the wrong solution.
Sometimes people look at technology for the sake of technology. One of the challenges that we see a lot in IBM i world is that IT wants to experiment with a particular technology, but they may not have the funding support that they need to do it properly. So, they are led to find cheaper ways of doing it, such as bootstrapping it with a smaller budget or canceling one thing to get a few dollars to move to something else.
If you can figure out what you can create to help the business grow, operate more efficiently and/or increase customer satisfaction, you’re more likely to build a stronger business case for investment in innovation. Define out what you’re innovating for the business – not for IT – and what is the ROI for the business. What does the organization get out of it that they don’t have today? Who could be your sponsor and how do you make them excited?
I’ve worked with clients who have expertise in a little bit of everything from the past 10-20 years because they built something with whatever was new at the time. Over the years they amassed diverse technical debt where the people who worked on those projects aren’t there anymore, and nobody really knows how they work. In many cases, permanent value was not created for the company. In fact, it was arguably negative value because now someone needs to rewrite it into something else because it was short term. There was no strategy behind the technology selection. There’s no vision behind doing it.
All too often we see a lot of existing IBM i shops that have programmers who are still coding the way they coded 30 years ago. To me, 30 years of experience means that you’re keeping up with what’s going on in the industry. You’re upgrading your skills and your application. We’ve worked with IBM i shops that are running 100 percent free-format code, they have layered architecture, they’re using data access layer in their layered architecture. They’re using native SQL and set based processing. Not only have they kept their skills up to date, but they also kept the application up to date. By contrast, others that have tons of System/36 codes still inside their code base and a whole hodgepodge of different layers of code. The great thing about IBM i is that code will still run. The bad thing about IBM i is that code will still run, which means that it doesn’t force anybody to change it.
It’s encouraging to see IBM i professionals thinking beyond modernization for the sake of modernization and take a critical look at where they’re going. I’m seeing more clients ask how their efforts are going get the organization to a better place, and they’re asking if the solution is sustainable. What prompts these conversations? Most often clients come to us after a new CEO or a change in IT leadership triggers requests for new initiatives, or they’re wondering why things are the way they are. Our new IT health check is ideal when a new CIO joins an organization, and they need an independent audit of the state of IT. How well maintained is it? What state is it really in? We can use tools to provide an empirical measurement of the quality of their system or the challenges that they have in their system and even the maturity of their IT processes.
Would you have an answer if an executive came to you and asked, “What’s our cloud strategy?” Or “What’s our AI strategy? Can we do things with AI in our company?” Or perhaps they’re asking for better reporting. We can help you get ahead of those questions and define your strategy for any area in IT.
Fresche started doing IT strategy work and roadmap development over 20 years ago and have a mature set of skills that enables us to address a vast array of challenges, from implementation strategies to developing business cases and selling innovation internally. We have 30-year IBM i experts who have worked as consultants or at IBM i organizations across many different industries. We also have strategy professionals who have either built and run businesses over time, worked in strategic consulting at large service organizations or come from senior leadership roles at other organizations. And we’re all uniquely focused on IBM i, which doesn’t exist elsewhere in the IBM i world.
We’re hosting a webinar on this topic in early November. If you have a need for strategic guidance or if you just want to learn more about what we’re seeing in the marketplace, please join us. You can email firstname.lastname@example.org to get a copy of the invite when it’s available.
As always, feel free to reach out to me directly with any questions or feedback about what I’ve covered here.
Chris Koppe is senior vice president 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.
This content is sponsored by Fresche Solutions.