While the launch of the IBM i in 1988 seems like a lifetime ago, it is still responsible for powering mission-critical business applications for many organizations today. In fact, according to Forrester Consulting, 72% of executives say their customer-facing applications are entirely reliant on IBM i processing. It is a testament to its robust architecture, +99.9% uptime, integrated database, among its numerous benefits, that many organizations consider the IBM i platform the best fit for their business operations, especially those running data-heavy applications.
However, as the demand for continuous innovation and progressive digital transformation initiatives grow, IBM I modernization is a must. But there are often parties within organizations that would move to replace existing IBM i systems without truly understanding its capabilities and potential for maximizing ROI and innovation. What usually follows for businesses that take this route is a downward spiral of regret, like buyers’ remorse. No wonder Gartner warns against replacing existing platforms without a thorough assessment of the alternatives.
Moreover, the effect of the pandemic has changed the way businesses approach digital transformation initiatives. IT budgets are now re-evaluated as enterprises can no longer afford large-scale re-engineering projects. Hence, the focus is now on minimizing risks and leveraging existing resources through IBM i modernization.
This isn’t to say that modernizing IBM i systems isn’t without hassles. In fact, there are three main challenges plaguing the IBM i world.
Building increasingly complex and multi-functional modern-day enterprise web applications traditionally require several developers with expertise in a handful of programming languages.
However, the number of willing IBM i developers continues to decline with each passing year. According to IDC, the worldwide shortage of full-time developers will increase from 1.4 million in 2021 to 4.0 million in 2025. In other words, we’re looking at nearly 20% shortage in 4 years. Therefore, even though hiring more developers was feasible, finding quality developer talent would be difficult.
As you may know, technical debt is the term used to describe challenges that stem from development teams taking actions to speed up the delivery of needed functionality. As technology continues to advance and customer expectations with it, IT teams are under increasing pressure to deliver applications faster. More often than not, teams running on legacy systems take the shortest approach to keep up with the required development pace.
Think of it as borrowing money; till you pay your debt, you’ll keep accumulating interests. It's ok to take shortcuts to deliver projects faster until new needs arise, and you’d have to repay that loan by refactoring that project. The problem comes when you need to innovate and integrate your legacy applications. It is time-consuming, expensive, and practically tedious. In a world where speed is the name of the game, we can’t afford all that.
The third challenge is not having an innovation or modernization strategy in place. Going back to the IDC research, they also found that 41% of their respondents (companies) have no innovation programs in place. An IBM i modernization strategy serves as the foundation for building a flexible infrastructure capable of adapting to constantly changing market conditions. The right strategy helps you empower your developers with the right tools to maximize their productivity and ultimately boost your ROI.
So, being an organization aiming to be digitally innovative, you must have an innovation strategy in place.
Today, the role of IT significantly impacts an organization’s bottom line. However, the four challenges discussed above lead to frustrated IT departments. And a frustrated team cannot positively impact your bottom line. But empowered developers can be a match made in heaven, especially in these challenging times.
A modernization strategy can be as simple as identifying problem areas in your existing infrastructure and business processes and using the right resources to deliver long-term solutions.
In this article, we’ll show you six resources to better empower your developers for success. But before we dive right in, let’s look at how empowered developers in innovative software companies impact the business end. By “innovative software companies,” we mean companies that have transformed in today’s digital world to provide everything in place for developers to go on doing what they love - building solutions that deliver business outcomes.
One of the trends we’ve seen with innovative software companies, or high innovators, is the presence of a well-developed software sourcing strategy. This involves taking a holistic view of your infrastructure and developing a long-term growth strategy. However, It doesn’t involve siloed solutions: i.e., using a vendor’s solution to solve one problem. While they may prove useful in the short term, innovative companies are looking to incorporate modern technologies like AI and ML into new applications that can be integrated with existing IBM i applications to deliver more value to their customers.
A software sourcing strategy must be created from a holistic viewpoint and must be able to leverage existing IBM i resources. It is on this pedestal that high innovators are able to deliver integrations and business solutions quickly and securely. Thereby maximizing ROI and dominating markets.
At this point, there’s only one question left for you to answer. Which side do you want to be on - the innovative or the uninventive?
To join the innovators, you must develop an IBM i modernization strategy that involves a consistent software sourcing approach by enabling your developers with the right tools to continuously improve and ultimately drive business outcomes.
Here are six resources that’ll make you better at IBM i modernization.
aXes is a modernization solution that allows users to transform IBM i’s 5250 green screen applications into browser-based applications. Today, digital channels are penetrating every aspect of human lives, and end-users expect a high level of digital experience whenever they interact with any digital interface. This puts IBM i applications under increasing pressure.
aXes provides an avenue for users to keep up with this high customer expectation with easy-to-use features that allow you to quickly web-enable your IBM i applications. You can even take your modernization to the next level by leveraging aXes’ in-built functionalities to further customize your, now, web UI.
But it doesn’t stop there! aXes offers other solutions that’ll inform your IBM i modernization strategy, beyond web-enabling and UI enhancement; this includes:
Visual LANSA is another powerful resource that’ll make you better at IBM i modernization. Here’s how.
As implied earlier, digital transformation initiatives and constantly changing market conditions mean that businesses must develop and deploy both employee and customer-facing applications faster to remain competitive in any market. Visual LANSA empowers not just your IT department but employees (citizen developers) to develop bespoke business solutions. Therefore, freeing up IT to focus on more demanding business operations.
Visual LANSA is a low code integrated development environment that allows users to develop mobile, cloud-native, web, desktop, or on-premise applications ten times faster than traditional app development. This tool runs a unique single language system that allows you to leverage existing IBM i skills and resources to develop client-side code, server-side code, and everything in between. Additionally, this tool reduces support effort and ensures security using its integrated meta-data repository and business rules engine.
RAMP (Rapid Application Modernization Process) is an IBM i modernization resource that combines the best of both worlds. This tool allows users to create new applications and also modernize existing applications.
By consolidating existing functionality with new capabilities inside RAMP’s application framework, you get an avenue to tactical enhancements and a smooth path to long-term IBM i modernization.
Here, modernization is performed in stages, you can introduce new functionality incrementally without serious impact to business operations, and the user interface becomes consistent across all applications.
This solution is an application framework deployable as a Windows desktop or web browser application. The framework allows you to assemble applications from components built with RPG, Visual LANSA, Visual C#, .NET, HTML pages, and many more into a single application. You can even add in your aXes applications. This flexibility makes RAMP the perfect tool for combining applications created for short-term needs with applications created or being created for long-term goals.
RAMP allows users to sign into a single application and access all the apps they need to work remotely successfully. But this is not just a solution for our current situation. Combining commonly used applications into one framework is a great way to increase employee efficiency and productivity.
Both tools are built to satisfy the integration needs in IBM i systems. You can leverage both to access IBM i data and ultimately facilitate integrations with modern technologies.
Integrator is a strategic middleware that simplifies data exchange between applications and businesses. It comprises services for data transformation, communications, email, messaging, and web services, complemented by interface tools and utilities. It supports multiple data formats, including XML, EDI, text, video, SMS, email, Microsoft Excel workbooks, PDF files, and relational databases. Developers can use these services in their integration applications to transform data from one format to another. It supports multiple data transport methods, including HTTP, FTP, SFTP, web services, and message queue software. Any application can call Integrator’s services using simple APIs.
In the same vein, Composer is a design and execution platform for integrating business activities involving transport, data transformation, and custom business processing. It offers a practical and affordable Business Process Integration solution to help organizations streamline procedures, reduce human effort and minimize errors. LANSA Composer's visual environment allows system designers and business analysts, rather than developers, to automate and integrate business processes rapidly. It offers a cost-effective and straightforward way to get a wide variety of business transactions in and out of your ERP system with less human effort.
The last resource on our list is the Open for .NET. To access IBM i data from the graphical user interface of .NET applications, you need an IBM i middleware. Open for .NET is powerful middleware built as a Visual Studio plugin that allows Windows developers to access IBM i (AS/400, iSeries) resources (including data and programs) directly from their .NET applications. Therefore, enabling easy integration between IBM i and .NET.
This tool enables IT departments to open up their IBM i data and applications to internal and external .NET applications without risking security or data integrity. This is because Open for .NET uses Business Rules Engines to enforce validation logic and ensure that unacceptable data never hits the database.
A big part of IBM i modernization is long-term planning and investment in people. By empowering your developers with these tools, not only do you set them up for success, you also improve your bottom line. Remember, developers are in short supply, so leveraging your existing skills can become a great competitive edge in the long run.
What’s great about these tools is that they can fit together. For example, you can create new applications using Visual LANSA but modernize your existing applications using aXes and combine them into one framework, using RAMP. Integrator, Composer, and Open for .NET covers all possible integration or access to IBM i data needs.