Legacy green-screen applications: Sometimes it seems as though you can't live with them and you can't live without them. You have a tremendous investment tied up in those old programs. They've been proven through years of rigorous real-life testing. Current users are now very comfortable with them. And, for some types of functions, they're still the most productive and resource-efficient option. Yet, despite their advantages, those green-screen user interfaces just don't cut it in some circumstances.
What happens when you want to expose the information on your systems to a wider audience, possibly providing customers with direct access to some legacy applications, while speeding and enhancing information flows and increasing customer satisfaction? Before you can achieve these objectives, you have to meet the demands of those external audiences for the convenience, familiarity, and ease of use provided by Web-based and windowed graphical user interfaces.
What's more, even for internal audiences who are already comfortable with green-screens, windowed environments can be much more productive for some types of operations. The ability to navigate through applications and drill down through data with a click of a mouse can speed up many functions.
Nonetheless, rewriting applications to incorporate graphical user interfaces is an extremely expensive proposition. Worse, it opens up the likelihood of introducing errors into applications that, after the intensive real-world testing and debugging that comes from years and possibly decades of production use, are now virtually bug-free and fit the organization's business processes like a glove.
Those were the issues that Getty grappled with as it considered providing its customers, gas stations that sell its products to the public, with access to useful data residing on its system. It resolved those issues and modernized some of its applications—with more applications to come—with the help of Strategi webSTYLE software from ADVANCED BusinessLink (BusinessLink).
About Getty Petroleum Marketing
Getty Petroleum Marketing Inc. is a subsidiary of LUKOIL Americas, which, in turn, is a subsidiary of LUKOIL Oil Company, the leading vertically integrated oil company in Russia. Getty, which employs more than 600 people, sells over two billion gallons of gasoline annually through approximately 2,000 Lukoil and Getty branded retail sites located in 13 states in the northeastern United States. The company also operates six petroleum terminals.
Getty uses three IBM System i Model 520 servers. The company also uploads data from System i to an intranet Dell server that customers can connect to in order to access invoices and accounts receivable data.
The ADVANCED BusinessLink Choice
When looking for a product to help the company modernize its applications, Lorenzo Cinque, Director of Systems and Procedures at Getty, saw an ad for BusinessLink's Strategi webSTYLE software in a trade publication. Strategi looked like it would do the job, but Getty also evaluated other alternatives. One of the primary selection criteria was that the chosen solution had to be capable of modernizing legacy RPG application user interfaces without the need to significantly rewrite code.
Getty also looked at other alternatives, but, to adopt any of them, Getty's programmers would have had to learn a new programming language and do considerable rewriting of existing code. Strategi webSTYLE was the only option Getty found that didn't impose these burdens.
As part of its investigation of Strategi webSTYLE, Getty sought and received references for the product from BusinessLink. "We called up the references, some of whom had been using the product for close to 10 years," said Cinque. "They loved it and were very satisfied with it."
After reviewing the product specifications, talking to references, and viewing a demonstration of Strategi webSTYLE, Getty was sold.
Strategi webSTYLE Software
- Strategi ACCESS is used to turn any Web browser into a System i client that provides users with fully functional 5250 emulation. Features include a graphical user interface with intuitive icons that replace function keys; multi-session tabs that streamline session workflow; and active delivery of host reports and files that users can view through any Web connection, without installing any desktop software, eliminating the need for local client administration, maintenance, and support.
- Strategi mobileACCESS does for mobile devices what Strategi ACCESS does for Web browsers. It includes SmartPanning, which allows the use of more readable fonts; intelligent screen compaction that removes wasted screen space to maximize viewable data; application navigation by touching dynamically generated hotspots; intuitive icons that replace function keys and other common functions; and workflow continuity that prevents session interruption and work loss as the mobile device moves in and out of network coverage areas. Strategi ACCESS installs directly on the System i host, eliminating desktop client administration, maintenance, and support.
- Strategi webSTYLE creates Web interfaces for legacy systems, providing highly productive data entry environments for power users. Its features include the ability to replace green-screen interfaces with graphically rich user interfaces, without the need for significant recoding; intuitive icons; multi-session tabs; a trademarked Panels technology that merges data from disparate sources into an application in order to integrate legacy applications and desktop software; and active delivery of host reports and files. Strategi webSTYLE installs directly on the System i host, eliminating the security and point-of-failure risks associated with the use of gateways.
- Strategi SOA allows developers to use their existing RPG skills to extend and evolve legacy applications using a service-oriented architecture (SOA). Developers can use Strategi SOA to incrementally break up large and complex legacy applications into more manageable service-oriented components that are automatically exposed as secure Web services or presented natively through contemporary interfaces such as Web, wireless, PDA, or kiosk, eliminating green-screen interfaces. It also integrates the work of legacy application maintenance teams with the work of developers building new applications using newer languages, enabling RPG and Java or .NET development teams to work together as one, using each other's components. As with Strategi ACCESS and Strategi webSTYLE, Strategi SOA installs directly on the System i host, eliminating the security and point-of-failure risks associated with the use of gateways.
- Strategi webSERVICES allows companies to create modern, industry-standard interfaces for legacy code using a variety of tools. It also provides a way for legacy programs to use Web services provided via .NET, XML, Java, or a public provider.
Strategi webSTYLE at Getty
Getty's contract with BusinessLink called for BusinessLink to do most of the implementation work for the initial project. This project modernized an existing RPG application and gave it an industry-standard, windowed GUI with mouse navigation capabilities. This was done without the need for recoding of the RPG application. Getty used this easier-to-use graphical interface, which had a look and feel that was more comfortable for users familiar with PC applications, to enable a group of its gas station customers to access inventory status, tank readings, and sales data directly from Getty's systems.
Getty sees this first application as only a start. The company will be reviewing its software portfolio and expects to find many other applications that can benefit from a windowed, mouse-driven GUI.
After watching BusinessLink create the first user interface and seeing how easy it was to do, Getty expects that its developers will be able to undertake future projects on their own without any problems, possibly after taking advantage of BusinessLink's education programs.
Strategi webSTYLE leaves Getty free to run a mixed green-screen and GUI environment. That's important because the company does not plan to create graphical interfaces for all of its applications. "Green-screens are still the most efficient interfaces for some data entry applications because you're just entering a series of fields," explained Cinque. "A mouse only slows you down in that sort of application."
Because the Strategi software consumes little System i resources, Getty is able to provide new graphical interfaces for its applications without upgrading server capacity or impacting application performance.
"When you have thousands of programs that are working well, you don't want to change the code," noted Cinque. "Being able to easily create a Windows-based interface that allows you to navigate through the application with a click of a mouse—an interface that is familiar to younger users who have never seen a green-screen—is a tremendous asset. With Strategi webSTYLE, if we have a report that works, we can make it available through a windowed application without rewriting it. In fact, whatever we have on the System i today, it just works with Strategi webSTYLE in a windowed environment without any complications. "
One of the biggest advantages of Strategi webSTYLE for Getty is that, by creating a more intuitive front-end for its applications, the company can open those applications up to a broader audience without the need for significant support or training. "By making applications user-friendly and then giving a category of customers access to the information available on System i, you improve the communication, speed, and accuracy of information for those customers," claimed Cinque.
In many cases, graphical interfaces are also more efficient for internal use, even when users are already familiar with a green-screen interface. "By giving an application a graphical interface and making it more user-friendly, it becomes like any other Window-based application," stated Cinque. "Being able to just click a mouse to navigate to sub-screens or to drill down to get more information about a particular number can make users much more productive."
Cinque went on to say that "the greatest advantage that we've gained from BusinessLink is that, in the long-run, it's going to minimize the cost of migrating Getty application software from a green-screen environment to a Window- and GUI-based environment."
For more information on the Strategi suite and how it can help to modernize legacy applications, call BusinessLink or visit its Web site. See below for ADVANCED BusinessLink's contact information.
Joel Klebanoff is a consultant, a writer, and president of Klebanoff Associates, Inc., a Toronto, Canada-based marketing communications firm. Joel has 25 years experience working in IT, first as a programmer/analyst and then as a marketer. He holds a Bachelor of Science in computer science and an MBA, both from the University of Toronto. Contact Joel at
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