What with our involvement in the upcoming IBM Modernization Redbooks publication, we've been paying even more attention than usual to the topic of application modernization. So when we saw this piece from fellow writer Alex Woodie highlighting a study on CIO's attitudes towards green screens we were intrigued.
This study was undertaken on behalf of Micro Focus who has long been a force in the COBOL world. In recent years, the company has focussed much of its attention on providing tooling for mainframe COBOL shops. In that regard they are not dissimilar from many of the modernization tool vendors in the IBM i space. Mainframes, COBOL and 3270s provide a very direct comparison with IBM i, RPG and 5250s, so we thought it would be interesting to see how the kinds of questions asked and the responses received matched our perceptions. Given that nearly 600 respondents from around the world completed the study, the survey size is certainly large enough to potentially provide some valuable insights.
Of course there are differences between the two platforms. Our externally described files, screens and reports mean that the maintenance burden is typically a little smaller than in a mainframe shop. Similarly updates in the RPG language have outstripped enhancements in the capabilities of the version of COBOL (i.e., the non-OO COBOL) that most mainframe shops use. That makes it a lot easier for us to deal with the programmer shortage by taking C, Java or PHP programmers and training them in RPG. We would not want to be running a COBOL shop and having to try to persuade young programmers to learn the language. That said though, we would expect many of the problems they face to be remarkably similar. A quick perusal of the survey results seems to bear this out.
For example in the section on "Why are green screen applications still used?" the results seem very much in keeping with our own experience. Some 55 percent are dissatisfied with their green-screen apps, but seem to consider the risks and costs of fixing the problem to be too high, particularly in light of the shortage of skills. Notice that this is not an absolute "there are no programmers" statement; rather it is a comment about a lack of programmers with the _skills_ to perform the task. Now where have we heard that before?
Indeed the follow-on chart highlights that most sites are likely to be using emulation products--even on phones (shudder) and tablets--than actually modernizing (6 percent) or replacing (5 percent) the old apps. We have a feeling that modernizing via intelligent refacing technology and/or Open Access based tools probably means that these numbers would be a little higher in the IBM i world but not perhaps by a huge margin.
There's a lot more of interest in this study but we'll highlight just a few more points.
First, 89 percent have had complaints from end users about green-screen applications. Those of our readers who adhere to the "sometimes green is best" philosophy might be surprised by that.
Second, some 66 percent stated that using green screens negatively affected staff satisfaction levels, with some 19 percent of them saying that impact was significant in hiring, training and retaining staff. The survey goes on to study the roots of these problems in more detail which provides interesting reading. 97 percent said that end user satisfaction would either probably or definitely increase if the green screen applications were updated.
Third, while most of the IT departments surveyed consider themselves innovative, only 28 percent believe that their users consider any updates to existing applications to constitute "innovation."
So updating the user interface to existing applications is good. But to be considered innovative, users expect more, such as mobile apps or "technology that has new or surprising features and functions" (whatever that means!).
It is perhaps a sad reflection of this crazy world that modernizing what you have is not seen as innovative. We're not sure if that reflects a lack of vision on the part of the responders or simply that having a new "Now you can 'friend' us easily from your phone" app is now considered business critical.
Take a look at the study. We'd be interested on hearing how well it maps to your own experiences.