I’m continuing a series of conversations on the process of modernizing applications on IBM i, and the value modernization brings. As I did last time, I asked one of the vendors that works with other ISVs on improving existing solutions to get me in touch with one of those solution providers. Today, the ISV is Mincron (mincron.com), which used tools from LANSA (lansa.com). Mincron has a long, rich history of marketing and selling business applications for the IBM midrange platform dating back to the early 1980s on the System/38.
I got a chance to ask Greg Neal, director of product development for Mincron, some questions about their modernization experience. So let’s get to those questions and Greg’s answers.
Q: How is Mincron bringing new customers to IBM i and Power Systems?
A: As a software technology company, it is imperative that we be able to keep pace with technology, which has meant change from a character-based user interface to a more modern graphical user interface (GUI). We accomplished this using LANSA’s RAMP and aXes application modernization toolset. By partnering with LANSA, Mincron was able to transform our business applications from a green-screen user interface and single-path menu system to a GUI with a hierarchical menu tree structure and point-and-click user interface. The result has been six net new customers to the IBM i and Power System platform in the past 12 months.
Q: New customers; that always makes a good story! What do your customers find most beneficial about modernizing?
A: There are many benefits to application modernization but perhaps the most beneficial has to do with the human resource. Our customers have repeatedly told us that in order to be competitive, it is necessary that they be able to hire and retain the “best and brightest” people for their company. Because an organization’s software is the primary conduit by which they conduct business and where most employees spend the majority of their time, it is imperative that the software be as intuitive and easy to use as possible. The GUI makes this possible. Coming in at a very, very close second place is the gain in productivity you get with a modernized application, provided by features such as the ease of importing and exporting data to and from your database.
Q: Are there long-time users of the platform who have re-invested because of your solutions?
A: Yes! Mincron has a good number of long-term users who love the combination of Mincron’s business applications running on the IBM i on Power Systems. But this was at risk without modernization. By modernizing our applications we have been able to re-invigorate the customer base and create an excitement such that they continue to be loyal Mincron/IBM customers and will continue to invest in our products and services now and in the future.
Q: Investment protection lies at the core of modernization efforts. How much of your solution remains in tact, protecting that investment, after modernizing?
A: As an ISV, protecting our software development investment is Priority One. Mincron has spent a considerable amount of time and money developing our applications over the past 30+ years and it is essential that we protect that investment. The LANSA tools we used allowed us to retain 100 percent of our software development investment. We threw nothing away, we got rid of nothing, we used everything that we had. The new modern app rides on top of our existing app so there was nothing to rewrite. We know the existing business logic works so we knew the new application would be stable. As a bonus, you can choose to use our application with a green-screen character-based emulator or you can use the new GUI. This was a huge selling point in getting our existing customer base to adopt the new technology. They recognized that the risk was low. This is a BIG consideration for any application modernization project – risk at runtime. In our case, there was little-to-no risk.
Q: I asked this same question in my previous blog, but I’d like to get your answer, too, because companies that have not modernized often cite the potential length of the project as a reason they have not started: Is modernization necessarily a long process? How much can be done in a short time?
A: Mincron’s core business application, SmartDistributor, is a full ERP system designed for the wholesale distribution business. There are between 2,000 and 2,500 screens, between 3,000 and 3,500 programs, and several million lines of code. With LANSA’s help and guidance, we were able to produce a modernized version of SmartDistributor for sales demonstration purposes within 90 days of the project start date and we were able to install and go live at Beta Site within 5 months of the project start date. Of course, the product has evolved and improved over time but a first cut can be done in a very short period of time.
Q: In your customer set, is modernization more about getting to mobile device support, creating browser-based interfaces, getting to graphical client-based UI, or something else?
A: All of the above. Our customers wanted the GUI for their employees but they also wanted mobile apps for both employees and customers. While our initial focus was a GUI for our SmartDistributor ERP system, we also planned to develop mobile applications. With LANSA’s LongRange mobile application tool we were able to quickly develop mobile apps that run on the IBM i on Power Systems and we used our current, in-house RPG skillset to create them. Another advantage of this tool is that it allowed us to deploy to both Apple and Android devices without the need to acquire or hire the knowledge to do either. The combination of all of these things has allowed us to successfully bring modern applications for IBM i on Power Systems to market quickly and effectively.
Providing more value to customers, protecting the investment of the ISV and the customer, and bringing new customers to their product and IBM i and Power Systems platform: these are great reasons to modernize. With these blogs, I am not trying to endorse any specific product set or approach – my goal is to show that there are several ways to modernize, and these ISVs have had great success by doing it. If you work for a company that truly values the investment it has made in its business solution through the years, it is worth your time to think about how that solution can be made more valuable by making it modern. First think, then act.
Stay tuned as I highlight other approaches in the near future.