IBM i Modernization Tools - A Step-by-Step Guideby@lansa
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IBM i Modernization Tools - A Step-by-Step Guide

by LansaApril 12th, 2022
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According to IDC's 2019 cloud pulse survey, application modernization has risen in priority from 33% to 75%. IBM i applications are often monoliths, forming disparate data sources that make integration with modern technologies difficult. The number of willing IBM i developers decreases with each passing year. Young developer talents are increasingly heading towards other popular languages like Java, C++, and C#. A large percentage of respondents chose "a lack of IBM i skills" as the number one challenge to carrying out digital transformation initiatives and new projects.

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According to IDC's 2019 cloud pulse survey, "Application modernization has risen in priority from 33% to 75%, since 2014."

Today, we're seeing an urgency on CTOs to move the needle on digital transformation initiatives. But the most asked question by such enterprises remains: "How do you turn something that was built 30 years ago into what we would consider modern today?" This is a really important question as many enterprises today rely on IBM i applications (and the IBM i modernization tools that can support them), which have been around for decades, to run core mission-critical business operations. It is a testament to its reliability, robustness, transaction speed, unique database, and ability to handle data-heavy business processes that users are looking to retain this platform. Not to mention how expensive and risky it is to rip out existing IBM i systems and replace them with something new.

However, operating in a constantly changing environment while under limiting budget conditions and investing in keeping up with the new normal creates significant challenges for IBM i users. Some of these challenges include:

  1. Is There A Lack Of IBM i Development Skills?

According to a survey by Softlanding systems, a large percentage of its respondents chose "a lack of IBM i skills" as the number one challenge to carrying out digital transformation initiatives and new projects. The number of willing IBM i developers decreases with each passing year. This is because developers of this monolith system are either retired or nearing retirement.

Also, young developer talents are increasingly heading towards other more popular languages like Java, C++, and C#. This problem, in part, is because IBM i languages like RPG and COBOL are rarely taught in university courses and thereby creating an awareness barrier for young developers. Consequently, the technical skills necessary to run and maintain these systems are likewise obsolete.

  1. Is There Difficulty Integrating with Modern Technologies?

The rapid adoption of digital transformation technologies like IT automation tools, IoT, artificial intelligence, and machine learning over the past few years have set in motion a spiraling ecosystem of IT solutions and services. Consequently, enterprises must incorporate these solutions to remain competitive in any market today. This case involves connecting modern technologies with existing applications and facilitating data exchange between systems in real-time.

However, IBM i applications are often monoliths, forming disparate data sources that make integration with modern technologies difficult. Therefore, making it difficult for IBM i users to take advantage of new technologies like the cloud.

The challenges discussed above increase the need for IBM i modernization. Technology is constantly advancing - the reality is what you may see as cutting-edge technology today could be considered obsolete tomorrow. Thus, thriving in these conditions requires modernization and agility. This way, you can position yourself better to adapt to technology and market dynamics.

While many enterprises are reportedly engaged in transforming business processes to meet the demands of an ever-changing digital world, most are struggling. According to a report by Everest Group [1], 73% of companies fail at digital transformation.

IBM i modernization is a delicate endeavor with numerous variables, such as complex applications, source codes, data architecture, security, IT productivity, skills transformation, etc. You need to make sure you have an informed approach to IBM i modernization tools. That's why we've created this step-by-step guide to walk you through your modernization journey.

So, without further ado, let's dive in.

Do You Know Which Applications You Have?

One question organizations on an IBM i modernization journey ask is, "Considering the time, budget, and workforce constraints, how far long in the pyramid do we modernize?" After all, it's unlikely that your entire arsenal of monolithic applications would be repurposed into a microservice architecture built with functions and APIs. No?

To answer this question, you must be aware of your application portfolio. What applications do you have? From operating systems, hardware to software development tools, take an inventory of your existing architecture and analyze all by business value and technical risk. This point is a crucial starting point for any modernization project. Your value on each application should depend on its mission-critical nature and importance to your overall business goals (short and long term).

Gartner proposes the TIME model for portfolio assessment. Here, you classify your inventory into four groups: Tolerate, Invest, Migrate, or Eliminate. Applications that fall under "Tolerate" have significant business value but are not necessarily in the mission-critical spectrum. The "Invest" category contains applications with high business value potential but would require major reengineering measures to reach this potential. "Modernize," the most important category in the context of this article, houses applications with high business yield but high technical risk. In other words, they may rely on systems facing the challenges discussed earlier. These are the applications you would build your IBM i modernization strategy around.

Lastly, "Eliminate" refer to applications with little to no business value. This category should be retired, and it could include redundant applications that have other applications performing similar tasks. Using the TIME model for your application assessment helps streamline your modernization strategy. For example, refactoring an application that classifies for elimination wouldn't make any sense.

Do You Know the Needs of Your Business Users?

A big part of IBM i modernization is meeting the needs of your end-users and ultimately providing a great user experience. After you've identified ripe applications for modernization, you don't dive in, head first, into leveraging techniques or IBM i modernization tools. You need to understand how your users are using these applications and what impact modernizing them will have.

You need to go out there and talk to your end-users to achieve this. It could be your employees, stakeholders, customers, etc. Find out what they need, what they don't need, what's convenient, and what isn't. But it doesn't stop there. Analyze these needs to identify inefficient or ineffective processes. Are there manual processes that could easily be automated? Do you have areas where your employees have to find ways around your existing systems because it's making their jobs harder?

Tony Graham, product marketing manager at LANSA, who hosted a webinar () on IBM i modernization tools, recalled a successful modernization project he was a part of. At this stage, he discovered users who had to switch back and forth between four different screens and two different systems. "But all that information was coming from the i series. This particular instance didn't need an entirely new app, and it didn't need a rewrite. I simply needed to add functionality to existing screens," he said.

He also added, "another scenario I ran into is, users were keeping certain data in Excel. They were using Excel themselves for data that should have been on the i. It should have been available to everyone, but it wasn't. So this led to data from several Excel sheets by different people being mixed with data retrieved from the i. And not everyone knew where all the numbers were coming from, and everybody was coming up with different numbers. This issue led to a lot of confusion and inefficiencies when production was trying to figure out the right numbers."

Do You Need to Repurpose Your Applications?

Another common question IBM i users ask is, "We have invested a lot in our existing applications; do we need to start from scratch?"

Having gained insights from your portfolio assessment and analysis of business user needs, you need to decide on a modernization approach. This decision would depend on your overall business goals and acquired insights. However, the best approach minimizes risks and leverages your existing investment.

Your IBM i systems have been around and worked for such a long time that you can't afford to throw the baby out with the bathwater. There's still a lot of value left that you'd want to leverage, albeit as a modern system. Not to mention how expensive starting over could be.

The idea is to make your IBM i platform perform like a well-oiled machine, even under the needs of a constantly evolving and fast-paced environment. This point involves repurposing existing business functionalities into microservices accessible via APIs. It's about extending your existing applications to take advantage of modern services and front-ends you might not have had access to. So how can you achieve this in a way that's not painful?

In the past, application modernization involved very tedious processes. You had to rewrite the whole or part of your source code. However, new technologies - low code IBM i modernization tools - have eliminated the need for the painful rewrite. We're in an ecosystem where systems can communicate without necessarily knowing what's at each other's backend. For example, when accessing services through REST APIs, the modern application doesn't know if it's talking to an IBM i server or not.

One such new technology is aXes. This IBM i modernization tool offers users the luxury of leveraging existing investment to yield fast results and accelerate their modernization initiatives. aXes is perfect for applications where the backend processes are fine, but the real business value would come from extending to modern solutions or front-ends.

This tool's quick results are crucial in gaining company-wide commitment and buy-ins, which are integral parts of any successful modernization project. For example, if you're looking to extend onto a graphical user interface, you can do this within minutes with aXes. And, because the steps are visual, you can see your existing applications come to life with a new face, and you start seeing immediate results.

Do You Need to Build New Applications?

Did you receive input from your business users, similar to this; "A web application can innovate the way we do business?" Then you need to make sure your users can access what they need via the web. Sounds like a simple process, right? With the right tools, it is pretty easy. However, many businesses are stuck due to high technical debt accrued over the years, skills gap, and the tedious traditional application development process.

Traditionally, building native web and mobile applications would require your IBM i developers to learn new skills, such as Java, Objective C, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, etc. These activities will incur training costs as developers try to become familiar with new languages. Not to mention how expensive and time-consuming a traditional application development project can be. You can't afford to lag in a world where the focus is on cutting IT costs while ensuring efficiency and speed.

So, how can you create new applications for the web and mobile on your IBM i without the hassle and the required skills? Visual LANSA, a powerful low code platform that can help you build applications up to 10X faster than traditional development, is ideal for this stage in your modernization project. Whether you need to build brand new applications or update and replace existing applications, this low code IBM i modernization tool is the way to go.

Visual LANSA lets you quickly build IBM i, web, and mobile applications that integrate with any solution. These new apps run natively on IBM i and have real-time access to DB2, your APIs, data queues, and data areas.

You'll have access to all of the native device features for your new mobile applications, making your users more productive and improving their accuracy. These features include:

  • Capturing photo and video
  • Recording audio snippets
  • Scanning barcodes
  • Sending or Receiving Emails and SMS
  • Uploading or Downloading to IFS
  • Reading or Writing data locally on devices
  • Printing documents from your device using Apple Airplay or Google Cloud Print

Can You Mix the New With Your Existing 5250 Applications?

One problem most organizations face with IBM i modernization and building new applications is; "Where does everything fit in? You have old applications responsible for your mission-critical business operations. You have new applications built to satisfy business needs. How do you manage everything?

Here, the idea is to get your IBM i system working like a well-oiled machine. That means being able to gradually modernize or replace existing applications while maintaining normal business operations. Enter RAMP, another one of LANSA's IBM i modernization tools. This tool offers a blended or hybrid approach that combines the old with the new. It also addresses your immediate tactical issues for green screen to GUI modernization and your long-term redevelopment and replacement strategies for 5250 modernization.

So, even if you plan to replace everything eventually, you can add all applications, new and old, into one framework. This setup works as a single application with one sign-in for new and old applications. This way, you can gradually replace everything.

Are You Ready to Modernize Your IBM i Applications?

Business environments are constantly changing. As a result, organizations are always under pressure to respond accordingly. In many cases, organizations must rapidly transform their business operations to leverage technology changes that improve their workflow and enhance their product capabilities.

An application development platform that enables the rapid development of new applications and the modernization of existing ones at scale and with less code is crucial for organizations looking to transform operations and meet changing customer needs.

LANSA empowers organizations with an integrated set of solutions to modernize existing applications quickly. They can build and deploy new applications at scale to allow faster market time. The need to accelerate digital transformation is not going to pass. It is no longer an option but rather a prerequisite for survival. Low-code solutions like LANSA are the key to success for enterprises that want to gain an edge over the competition.

Additionally, IBM i modernization is not a one-time project. Rather, it is a project that will most likely last the lifetime of your business. Because it is such a long ride, you need trusted partners like LANSA, whom you can rely on. Explore more on how you can modernize with LANSA, contact us.