Blog
You and i

Steve Will

Steve Will
Bio


Bookmark and Share

July 2014

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
    1 2 3 4 5
6 7 8 9 10 11 12
13 14 15 16 17 18 19
20 21 22 23 24 25 26
27 28 29 30 31    

07/22/2014

Modernizing – Mincron and LANSA

Mincron logoI’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?
LANSA logoA: 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.

IBM i LogoQ: 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. 

 

 

07/10/2014

Modernizing –TMW and Profound Logic

Tmw-logo Investing in your assets, improving customer satisfaction, staying competitive, planning for growth – these are just a few reasons why an organization decides that the status quo is not aligned with its business objectives. In the IT world, companies spend money on hardware, software, education, services – all so they can do something different, something better, than what they’ve done before.

In the IBM i market, many of these efforts center around modernization, which is why investing to bring new technology to bear on existing software has been a frequent topic in this blog, in Tim Rowe’s blog, and in our recent Redbooks publication. And, in that same market, there are ISVs out there who are working to help others modernize.

This blog is the first in a series in which I have asked some of those ISVs to get me in touch with their customers. Why? Because I think hearing the stories of those who invested and saw value will help others understand what’s possible and feel comfortable following in the footsteps of those who have been successful.

Logo-1-flat-requestToday’s blog started with me asking the people at Profound Logic (www.profoundlogic.com) if they would connect me with one of their many customers – in particular, I hope to reach one of the ISVs who used the Profound Logic technology to modernize their own solution. I received an immediate and enthusiastic reaction, and very soon they had passed my request on to TMW Systems.

TMW Systems (www.tmwsystems.com) provides solutions in the transportation industry. I asked them a few questions about the updates they have made to their solutions. They have a great story to tell, so I will let them tell it. 

Q: Can you share some examples of customers doing new things with your solutions on IBM i?
A: The Innovative product line of TMW Systems is now providing a path to a modernized user interface using Profound UI. This provides our customers with the functionality of a point-and-click browser interface for their younger users who might not be accustomed to a green-screen interface. It also enables access to their Innovative software system through smartphones and tablets for all of our Web Edition customers. 

Q: Your product solves business problems for a specific industry or customer set. How does the modernization work you’ve done help satisfy those customers?
A: Our new interface features tools such as drag-and-drop options for dispatch systems and the ability to provide useful visualization with charts and interactive mapping for resource planning and asset allocation. We are also particularly pleased that the new interface with Profound is more similar in look and feel to our other TMW product lines because many of our customers make use of more than one TMW product. 

Q: Investment protection lies at the core of modernization efforts. How much of (your, a customer’s, an ISV’s) solution remains in tact, protecting that investment, after modernizing?
A: With the addition of Profound UI, our IBM i customers can continue with their current equipment and platform, benefiting from the stellar reliability, data integrity, affordable operating cost and ease of customization in our product. For our customers making the decision to go forward with these systems, employee satisfaction and retention are important factors in the equation. Their users can now enjoy a browser interface with familiar point-and-click operation that also presents their data in a format they may find more appealing and less intimidating.

Q: Is modernization necessarily a long process? How much can be done in a short time?
A: Modernization does not have to be a long process at all using the Profound UI product. The time and effort will depend on the size of the application. If you plan ahead to determine the desired theme, the conversion from DDS to Rich UI can be accomplished very quickly with minimal tweaking. 

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: Many of our customers want a solution that will work with their current equipment. By providing a browser-based solution, our customers gained the potential for universal access to our application from a variety of devices. Providing mobile access also helps to broaden the user base that can benefit from the software.

In summary, it’s clear there are ISVs out there reinvigorating their solutions using the latest in modernization technology on IBM i. I really appreciate the help I got from Profound Logic in getting the story from TMW Systems, and I want to specifically thank Matt Mullins, Director of Development at TMW, for providing me the answers.

I have asked similar questions of others who are using other modernization technology, so stay tuned for their viewpoints in future posts.

 

 

 

06/12/2014

SUGA, SunGard and Excited Customers


SUGA.jpgOne of the most exhilarating experiences in my job is watching a long-time user as they first see what their system can do Today!

Recently, I was able to witness this many times, when I attended the SUGA conference, which was held at the Disneyland Hotel and Convention Center in Anaheim. SUGA is a user group run by users of SunGard’s Public Sector products. SunGard, of course, is a major ISV with many products on many platforms, but one of their lines in the Public Sector is NaviLine, and a key part of that suite runs on IBM i. If you’ve watched the i marketplace for a long time, this product set was once called HTE.


Sungardps-stackedEarlier this year, I had been invited to present to a group of SunGard Public Sector employees at their annual education event. I delivered the “IBM i Trends & Directions” presentation, and the reactions were quite positive. While I was visiting SunGard, though, I was also able to see some exciting transformations they were making in their product line. They were updating a part of their product set to create brand new graphical interfaces, with significant functional enhancements for their customers who use the IBM i-based solutions. They had just gotten started, but their progress was impressive.

Shortly after my visit to their development site, I was invited to give my “Trends” presentation for the users at the SUGA conference. I showed up a day early, because I wanted to talk to the SunGard development team again. The first one I ran into was Kevin Mooney, Director of NaviLine Public Administration Support, and he was smiling.

 “We’ve been giving demos, previewing that new interface and the new function, and we are getting great reactions. Customers are very excited,” Kevin told me.

We discussed it for a while, and soon it became clear that I had to see this for myself. So I attended a session where the SunGard team was demonstrating the new look and new capabilities. The reaction? The room was full of happy customers, anxious to get the new system.

You see, to many IBM i clients – perhaps to most IBM i clients – the application they use is what they see as “the system.” They don’t see any more of IBM i or Power Systems than what shows up through the interface to the software they use to do their jobs – software such as the application I was watching, which is devoted to helping utilities (such as power companies or water companies) run their businesses.

When the application interface is the decades-old 5250 green screen, customers can get their jobs done – of course. But the customers also assume that this interface is the only interface available; they think of the platform as “old.”

But when an ISV uses the latest technology to provide interfaces that are powerful, intuitive and obvious, then customers have an entirely new view of the platform. It seems like a new “system!” And when, like SunGard, they also take advantage of some redesigning to give clients even more capabilities, the reactions are extremely positive.

These NaviLine customers really love their existing systems – most of them still think of them as the “iSeries” – for all the same reasons most clients do: it’s reliable, it’s easy, it runs the business. They don’t want to consider another system or operating system. But they also want the power that comes from using modern tools, and they want to see their solution providers investing in those tools.

That’s what these customers saw at SUGA, and I was very happy to share that experience. Nothing demonstrates the power of the platform better than a user who is taking advantage of the innovative technology we have built: “We” being IBM and our software partners.

 

 

 

05/20/2014

COMMON, the SAP on IBM i Summit and More

IBM i Logo
Ever since the announcement of IBM i 7.2, many of us on the IBM team have been very busy talking about the release and the new Power systems with customers and partners. In fact, for me personally, this activity began several weeks before the announcement, with previews for various groups. I’ll touch on a couple of these events today.

The biggest event, in terms of raw numbers, related to the IBM i 7.2 release, was the annual COMMON conference in Orlando. The tone of the conference was extremely positive, from everything I saw. Oh, certainly, I received many requests from customers for new enhancements – this happens whenever I have the chance to talk with our users – but even these requirements were typically framed by words similar to “I love this system and what you are doing with it. But what I want to see ….”

Another big event, which was timed to occur after the 7.2 release, had more to do with gathering a segment of users who have more in common than simply the “Power + IBM i” system: the SAP on IBM i Summit. This event drew about 100 people from many parts of the world, representing more than 50 companies – many from the US, but also participants from Germany, Denmark, Brazil and even Indonesia. The participants were treated to a few general sessions on IBM i, such as the combined Trends and 7.2 presentation I delivered, but most of the sessions dealt specifically with using SAP on IBM i, including several sessions that described specific functions delivered to SAP customers who use our platform. The whole event was hosted by the SAP on IBM i Center of Excellence within our Lab Services organization, and could not have taken place without the joint development teams from SAP and IBM. Like COMMON, it was a great success.

But in addition to these larger events, there have been multiple other opportunities for us to share the message. As I type this, Tim Rowe is participating (with many other members of the IBM i community at large) in a series of modernization events in Europe, and I am on my way to Toledo, Ohio, to talk to a group of customers who are served by local partner DMC. I have also recorded some shorter presentations for COMMON, and will be recording a longer version of my IBM i 7.2 Overview soon, for their Web event in June.

I’ve also been preparing a series of blog entries on how our ISVs are driving new business and reinvestment. Recently, I have heard several great stories during my travels, and I decided the community at large needs to hear about how the technology we’re investing in is being used by our partners. So, you can expect to start seeing those stories appear here in the near future.

In the meanwhile, keep learning something new about IBM i and Power every day, from our IBM bloggers, from other bloggers in the industry, from the many articles written in the press, from developerWorks or on Knowledge Center. There’s a lot to learn!

 

 

04/28/2014

Announcing IBM i 7.2

IBM i LogoToday is the day! Announcement Day for IBM i 7.2!

I have the privilege of highlighting the themes for the release, but you are going to want to read about more than highlights, so I am also going to point you to other sources of great information.

In fact, let me start there. In a blog I wrote in February, I talked about the new IBM Knowledge Center. That repository for all IBM products is now available and has been receiving excellent reviews from users. Well, as you might expect, the 7.2 release documentation has a home in Knowledge Center. The URL is http://www.ibm.com/support/knowledgecenter/ssw_ibm_i_72/

From that page you can easily get to what you want, but if you are interested in the overview of 7.2, that link is http://www.ibm.com/support/knowledgecenter/ssw_ibm_i_72/

Now let’s get to the 7.2 themes and some of the technology behind them. I’ll open with the chart we’re using to introduce the release.

IBM i 7.2 Themes.jpg

Our themes are grouped into two major focus areas. First, we have a list of themes that related to delivering a great platform for today’s solutions. Mobile devices, cloud delivery models, advanced middleware – IBM i 7.2 delivers function that enables all of these. And, in conjunction with the rest of Power Systems, we announce support for the first POWER8-based systems. You’ll be able to find a lot of information about new Power Systems, and we will have more information about how IBM i takes advantage of the new architecture in the future, but that’s not the focus of our IBM i bloggers today.

Our blogs for announcement day focus on Integrating Advanced Technology, the second focus area on the chart.

One of the concepts we’re focused on, and we’ve invested heavily in with recent releases, including 7.2, is enabling data-centric design. Mike Cain talks about that in his blog (http://db2fori.blogspot.com/) and in particular how the new DB2 Row & Column Access Control security functions fit into that approach. Giving DB2 the responsibility of enforcing security, which is part of data-centric design, allows you to remove complexity from your applications and administration, while helping to ensure that you don’t miss anything as you enforce security policy for your organization.

IBM i 7.2 also has a theme of managing your system more easily. As you might expect, these topics fall into the areas covered by Dawn May in her blog (http://ibmsystemsmag.blogs.com/i_can/).

Additionally, Tim Rowe will describe how that management is implemented in Navigator, but he’s also talking about the tech preview of IBM i Mobile Access – a management tool you can run on your smartphone and other mobile devices. Tim starts at its new home for this announcement: blogs.systemideveloper.com

As I said above, in one single week, we can’t cover everything in a major release. If your favorite topic is not covered by one of us in IBM, I encourage you to look at blogs and articles written by others who have dug into the details, or go to Knowledge Center or developerWorks and look around. If you have a chance, you can also join us at the COMMON Annual Conference in Orlando in just a few days, because several of us will be at the conference teaching people more about 7.2.

But if you can’t do any of those things, well, just wait a few weeks. We are certain to have more blogs about this major release for the next several months.

Happy Announce Day, IBM i community!