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iSight

10/08/2013

RPG and DB2 for i Headline IBM i 7.1 TR7 Announcement

For those who know me, you will know that my background includes many years working in IBM SWG specifically focused on languages and tools. Included in that is a background working on DB2 for i, from a perspective of working with the languages and tools. So, the main items in this announcement are in the areas that are part of my background and remain close to my heart – database and application development. There are significant enhancements to DB2 for i and RPG, the addition of support for the latest Java technology and support for another open source environment. All very exciting.

I wanted to talk about the key updates that are included in the announcement.

From a database perspective, there is (as Scott Forstie, Business Architect for DB2 for i) says “something for everyone.” As all companies are storing more data on their systems, both structured and unstructured, providing additional capabilities to support these large amounts of data is critical. This announcement adds support for VLDB (Very Large DataBases) to DB2 for i. The size of SQL indexes is being raised to 1.7 TB, which should provide some excitement for DBAs. Programmers will enjoy the new advanced SQL scripting functions being added with the Dynamic Compound statement and more comprehensive support for the movement of DDS into SQL DDL. And finally, the business case for SQL is again extended to include support for embedded SQL in the new RPG syntax. This leads to my next topic, RPG.

IBM i 7.1 TR7 includes some major updates to the RPG language. There is a new syntax that allows programmers to do away with the fixed, columnar format, making the code easier to read and certainly easier to learn. For many years, IBM has heard from our advisory councils, clients and partners that RPG programmers are hard to find. There are three key ingredients to solving this problem. The new syntax addresses the first – making the syntax easier. The second point is to provide education about the new language. This new syntax means that any developer who knows other languages can pick this up very easily. It is just another language. And lastly, Arcad’s Transform RPG product will move existing traditional-style RPG code into the new free form syntax. Now existing code can move to free format and new developers can be taught to look after it. All the pieces are in place.

The IBM Rochester Lab Services team is adding their PowerSC Toolkit for IBM i to the announcement activities. This is a collection of tools, written by the Lab Services team to do a variety of activities, including reporting and auditing of policies and security procedures currently in place. These tools are available individually or as a package and they are offered with or without services.

PowerRuby is a business partner that is now offering support for the Ruby on Rails environment. The IBM i team has been encouraging open source vendors to move their code to IBM i and this is another offering in this space.

Let me talk about a few more of the many additional enhancements. Application Runtime Expert has added some scheduling options to allow companies to run the environment analysis on their schedule, when it’s most convenient. The adding of the Java 7.1 Class libraries to the JVM and optimized capabilities of the Java environment provide improved support and performance. For more detail on these and other items, I strongly suggest that you go and read some of the other blogs and look at the technical details on the IBM i developerWorks pages.

For more detail, please go to the following locations:

Blogs:

Steve Will

Dawn May

Mike Cain

Tim Rowe

Barbara Morris

Landing page for Refresh Updates:

http://www.ibm.com/developerworks/ibmi/techupdates

 

 

07/29/2013

IBM i: A Competitive Advantage

It’s always interesting to me that there are so many customers who run IBM i. Checking in at a hotel, checking out at a cash register; I see IBM i everywhere. As a previous blog entry from Steve Will pointed out, IBM i runs businesses all over the world but much of the time the use of IBM i is well hidden from view.

Many banks, retailers and insurance companies run their entire operation on IBM i. I wish more of them would agree to let us tell their stories through references and case studies. The irony is that they would love to share their success, but they consider running IBM i to be a competitive advantage. In the highly competitive world of today, they are unwilling to disclose their advantage.

As I meet with more clients all over the world, I now realize that all companies running IBM i have an advantage over their competition. Whether they are in a highly competitive business or not, the high degree of integration inherent in IBM i, provides every client with superior economics, ease of use and lower operational costs. All of these are contributing factors to a competitive advantage. These are even more important as clients are being driven to do more with less. This is a consistent theme I hear from every client—they are being asked to do more with less; more sales with fewer people, more client services with fewer staff.

Luckily for IBM i clients, they can do more with less—specifically, provide more function and more business benefit with less staff. This has been the case for IBM i clients since the introduction of the AS/400 in 1988. IBM Sellers have talked about how the Lower Total Cost of Ownership over 3 years is measurable and recorded by many clients. In October last year, we published an ITG Study that reported on the lower TCO and lists all the reasons why this is true. But where are the examples? Where can we read about the customers who realized this benefit and will share their stories?

Here are a few examples of clients who attribute IBM i for their ability to “do more with less”.

The Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising (FIDM) is very open about how they are using IBM i. They use a wide variety of IBM hardware and software in their enterprise, including products from both IBM Power and IBM Software Group. They implement the most amazing and ingenious solutions, always evolving their technology to match the needs of the business. In a recent case study done by IBM Software Group, Roxanne Reynolds-Lair, CIO of FIDM, points out that their staff now selects other products based on the computing paradigm set by IBM i. “Ease of custom application development is critical, as is ease of information posting and portal management. These are especially important in an economy where the IT staff is often asked to ‘do more with less.’ ”

The FIDM case study documenting FIDM's latest integration of IBM SWG products including WebSphere Portal, Lotus Notes and Connections, WebSphere App Server and more will be published shortly.

Read about other organizations doing more with less and doing it on Power with IBM i. Here are some great examples:

Arizona Beverages cuts costs by 50%, grows sales by 14%

Bishop Company retools for smart commerce and drives up growth, savings, and profitability

Landstar drives higher quality and improves business economics

Read these and I know that you will agree with me. Every IBM i client has a competitive advantage, whether they acknowledge it or not.

 

 

 

05/24/2013

The Many Faces of i

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The UI is a personal thing. What is intuitive and pleasing to one person might be less than helpful and ugly to another. In the beginning of computing, the UI was a box of green-bar paper with perforations and sprocket holes on the sides. Businesses made critical decisions from the data they saw on that paper. Programmers had an even more limited interface--punch cards.

Once the screen came to computing--look out world! There was no stopping us. Real user interfaces.

The AS/400 system had 5250 screens, wide screens and color. UIs evolved through Non-Programmable Terminal User Interface (NPTUI), client-server and the Internet. Then came GUIs, TUIs and every other kind of UIs. Oo-wee!! We have never looked back.

The driver behind all of this change has been the need for developers to understand how the user interacts with their applications--the user experience (UX). This is more than just the screen of information that is displayed. It includes the interaction that is required–by buttons, keys or fingers, with audio or video controls, etc. The UX also encompasses the feelings that users experience when interacting–positive so they will want that interaction again? The screens being shown are just pieces of the overall experience, but they are important.

I have been talking with many clients who truly provide a targeted user experience to their application users. One such UX story is from The Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM). They had been providing email notifications to their students regarding agenda changes, course information, etc. Although initially a very popular way for the students to receive their information, interest in email checking was waning. Through a discovery process, FIDM learned that their student population had adopted a preferred form of communication–texting. FIDM stepped up to the challenge and today communicates with students via text messages. They are providing an appropriate user experience for their students.

In today’s world, having a GUI for applications is more common that ever before. Whether the GUI is Web based or client-server, it’s the way the modern world views computing. New entrants into the work force don’t understand green-screen terminology. What is a PF3 key? How do I find F24? We need to provide the right user experience for the new work force. It must be easy to use, intuitive and provide a positive experience.

Just when we thought we had heard all the demands possible regarding the UX, the world turned mobile. Applications are being adapted to support new form factors, the new “finger experience,” rotation, sizing, etc. Reports by Gartner and Forrester estimate that there are more than 200 new smart devices and 250 new smart phones announced world-wide every year. Application users want to use them to run their corporate applications. This means we have more choice and more user experiences to consider.

Programmers, too, have benefited from the evolution of the UX. Gone are the punch cards and green-bar compile listings. To start, languages are getting more sophisticated in their ability to communicate with each other. This allows developers to take advantage of the strengths of multiple languages when creating applications. An application might be written using RPG for the back end (data access and business logic), while PHP or Java provides the graphical front end. To support this new application paradigm, developers needed a new UX, too. New developer’s tools are based in graphical form, dragging and dropping as they design these business services and build robust graphical UXs. Many developer’s tools, such as Zend Studio, also provide a mobile environment for developers. These are a far cry from the green screens of old.

Today, IBM i shops have UIs and UXs of all types. There are spooled files, pdfs and query reports that can be viewed from a green screen, a Web browser or a mobile device. IBM i business applications, traditionally viewed using green screens, are now experienced with browsers, mobile devices and a plethora of other options. The choice you make for your applications should be based on evaluating and understanding your users. Once you have done that, you can provide the right UX, including an appropriate UI.

Meanwhile, the IBM i 25th anniversary celebration continues on facebook. See what others have to say and join the conversation.

05/06/2013

Adding the Right New Technology

The past few weeks have been packed with customer and Partner events. We’ve had an IBM Technical Symposium in Europe, an iBelieve event in Framingham, a few User Group conferences, a couple of customer briefings and the ISV Advisory Council Meeting in Rochester.  

It was interesting to talk with customers and also with ISVs and Partners about their customers. One of my “AHA” moments came when talking with an ISV about the new advanced function built into their latest release of their application. This ISV has a very robust solution, to which they have added Web-based interfaces, mobile device support, integration with business analytics software and integration to other technologies used in their industry.

They told me that they determine which enhancements they will include in a new release based on two factors. The first is what their customers request through their requirements process – additional queries, extended business function, updated payroll based on new government legislation, etc. The second is based on what their customers would want to have - if they even knew it was possible. They told me “they (customers) often don’t even know that they want something until we show it to them”.  

These words caused me to reflect on the decisions about functionality to be included in each new release or refresh of IBM i. While there are formal requirements processes through the Advisory Councils – COMMON Americas, COMMON Europe, ISV and Large User Group –the IBM i team adds new function to the operating system based on what’s happening in the industry. Experts in various areas contribute their ideas and their evaluations and then the product management team and development team work together to determine our priorities. We look at what customers need today and what they might need in order to support their businesses into the future. This is the case with technologies such as graphical user interfaces, desktop development tools, etc. These were added to IBM i based on where the world was headed and long before our advisory councils requested the function.

Staying current with key technologies and incorporating those that are appropriate to our customers has been a mainstay in the IBM i development process. We believe this approach is the right one for all clients to use in their own environments.

What was your favorite technology to find inside IBM i?

 

 

 

04/09/2013

IBM i 25: Venus and Mars Collide

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Today’s chapter in the IBMi25 story is all about how two very different platforms – the System/36 and System/38 – came together to make the AS/400. It turns out that, inside IBM, it was as much about integrating our people as it was about integrating our technology.

Before the AS/400 launch, I was working on the Midrange Support Team in the National Support Centre for IBM Canada. In the team were two very distinct groups of experts - those who worked with System/38 customers and those who worked with System/36 customers. The S/38 team was made up of people who focused on technology. They understood the integrated database, integrated security and single level storage. The S/36 support team was more focused on business solutions for manufacturing, distribution and construction industries. The System/36 team also reached out to application vendors, building the portfolio of business applications, helping them to exploit new opportunities. Note only was the S/36 from Venus and the S/38 from Mars, the people were also avid Venusians or Martians.

In bitterly cold early January in Rochester, my entire team was sent to an education class. After twoweeks, if became apparent that the new machine, Silver Lake, was going to blend the architecture of the S/38 with the usability and applications of the S/36.

The S/38 people soon came to value the fact that solutions were vital to success. The S/36 team quickly came to admire the power of a virtualized and technology independent architecture. And, so it was that on announcement day, our team was united as AS/400 experts. Included were people who could explain hardware, operating system, performance and yes, the multitude of business applications. Venus and Mars had collided; Venusians and Martians came together too. Still today, you can ask people in IBM about their heritage and they will be able to tell you if they came from the S/36 or S/38 heritage. But they all agree on one point, they are very happy to celebrate twenty-five years of IBM i.

 

 

 

03/27/2013

Get Ready for Some iSight

Welcome to my first blog entry. I am excited to get started writing, although the hardest decision was to decide what this blog should cover. The reason I wanted to write a blog is because I want to tell you about what is happening in the world of IBM i, from my perspective as the Product Offering Manager for IBM i and to tell your stories – IBM i customer stories.

I have worked for IBM since the days of System/38. My first job at IBM was as a Field Systems Engineer. After a number of years, I moved to Customer Technical Education and taught new customers how to use their S/38 systems. In those days, there were four one-week classes that taught everything from how to power on and power down the system, to RPG programming, to Advanced Performance Tuning. Eventually, after a few more roles in National Support and Advanced Technical Support, I arrived at the Toronto Development Lab where my job was technical marketing for Development Tools and compilers for the AS/400.

While I have spent my entire IBM career in the Midrange marketplace, I have learned more in this last year about our clients and partners than ever before. Clients use IBM i for everything from taxi dispatch systems to retail systems, online and traditional, tracking produce from field to consumer in addition to the more traditional applications such as distribution, insurance and banking. What an amazing plethora of sizes, shapes, colors and industries in which we find IBM i installations—thousands of clients using i in thousands of ways. So, the first objective of my iSight blog will be focused on telling those stories—your stories.

I have worked with ISVs for most of my career, sometimes directly and sometimes indirectly, so I also want to tell you about the ISVs who are doing exciting things with their solutions. For example last year, while at COMMON, I was asked to watch a demo of a newly released product from one of our ISVs. I was completely blown away by the level of technology integration. Their application included mobile support, interfaces to other types of data collection equipment, and amazing graphics. These are the things that everyone with an interest in IBM i deserves to hear about.

Another focus for me will be telling you about new and exciting IBM announcements and technologies. We have been delivering new Technology Refreshes two times per year and each one has a lot of content. I want to tell you about the things that I think are the most exciting and why. For example, did you know that Lotus has recently announced the mobile and collaborative tools for IBM i? Lotus Traveler and IBM Connections are both available for IBM i.

Consider this first blog entry the teaser to the upcoming stories. Watch this space!