Partner TechTip: Protect Yourself Against the RPG Brain Drain

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Are the IT needs of your company on a collision course with the dwindling pool of RPG programmers?


The question above is in many managers' minds as the pool of RPG programmers continues to shrink due to retirements and other forms of attrition. It is likely that there will be RPG developers available for many years to come, but that doesn't address the real problem. The real problem is what happens when you lose members of your team. A lot of knowledge is walking out the door with them. How can it possibly be replaced?


And can you put a price tag on how much that loss of knowledge will cost you? You actually can make some attempt to estimate it; here's a guide to calculating the value of employee knowledge.


The surest proven way to protect yourself against that loss of valuable employee knowledge is to make the knowledge in your system much more accessible and understandable. This can be accomplished through the use of high-quality tools for analysis and documentation.

Three Steps to Accessing the Knowledge in Your Applications

Typical AS/400 applications represent past investments, and replacement costs, of millions of dollars. Whether embedded in the application, or in the minds of employees, application knowledge is an enterprise asset that needs to be both fully protected and fully utilized. 


Besides fully protecting that valuable knowledge, how can you fully utilize it? Here are three compelling, common-sense things AS/400 IT managers should be doing:

  1. Stop the isolation of IBM i application knowledge. As experienced people leave, and as businesses add other, "modern" systems, the IBM i applications increasingly become regarded as obscure, esoteric, and unknowable. For many companies, these legacy applications contain critical business rules and data, but the enterprise knowledge of them dwindles with each passing year. IT managers need to educate and communicate application knowledge to their new staff, outsourced resources, users, and management to preserve and protect this valuable corporate asset.

  2. Control your business rules. One of the most valuable aspects of your legacy asset is the codification of business rules that control thousands of processes in your company. Do you know where they are? Do you know if they're consistent? Can you tell anyone what they are? Leading IT management consultants such Gartner Group and IBM place great value on the investment that companies have made in developing their business rules. Are you proactively in charge of this asset? You may be interested in this Visual Guide to Business Rules Reuse.

  3. Recover your application design and reuse it. Over many years of ongoing development and maintenance, application architecture naturally erodes to the point where it is no longer optimally designed. In most legacy RPG shops, no explicit application design is documented anywhere; it's implicit in the code. The business rules, data model, complexity metrics, and architecture of your legacy application should be fully driving all projects for maintenance, integration, reengineering, and replacement. They were when the application was built. Why no longer? Do you have this information at your fingertips so that you are sure to automatically incorporate it into all such projects? And really, is your own management process designed around this core information?


It's not uncommon for aging systems to fall into deeper and deeper states of disrepair. This is a serious, sometimes negligent, waste of money. It is the responsibility of the IT managers in charge of these systems to preserve and, hopefully, increase their value.


When viewed as a corporate asset—as suggested by Gartner, IBM, etc.—legacy systems often have substantial value to an enterprise, typically measured in millions of dollars. Such a measurement can be made against the past expenditures to develop the software or the future expenditures that would be required to replace it.


Another way to measure value, though more difficult to quantify, is to look at what the system contributes to the enterprise. For this there are two essential domains:

  • Current Contributions—1) Functionality and data for business operations and 2) functionality and data for external systems, and their support of business operations
  • Future Contributions—Extensive, proven information for the reengineering or purchase of future, replacement systems (that information typically being in the form of architecture, data models, and business rules)


Legacy systems provide value to an organization in multiple ways. Protecting and utilizing that value is a core responsibility of IT managers, and documentation is an essential tool for doing so.

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