Tue, Dec
2 New Articles

In the Wheelhouse: Adventures in Modernization

  • Smaller Small Medium Big Bigger
  • Default Helvetica Segoe Georgia Times

Modernization is a journey, not a destination.


This topic has been on my company's radar for a little while now. A few months ago, we started the implementation process to migrate to a new ERP package, which fell in line with a POWER8 upgrade. This is quite a major overhaul of core systems and will continue well into the year. I'm sure I'll have tales of ERP project pitfalls and successes over the coming months, so stay tuned for that.


In addition to the base ERP and hardware components, we have also been modernizing applications that more or less augment the primary systems that run our business. In our company, over the years we've built many custom applications inside IBM Notes (formerly Lotus Notes). Some of these applications were built to be browser-based, served from an IBM Domino HTTP instance, but some have been built with Notes as the target client in mind. Applications built for Notes do not translate perfectly to the web, depending on what functions you use and unless you use Xpages, IBM's relatively not ideal answer to Notes application modernization, and you're going to have to find another solution, either inside or outside Domino. Why is Xpages not ideal? For my shop, I'd argue that it's harder to learn. For the average Notes developer, you need to learn HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and potentially Java. Not that those are bad things; they're just different, and it takes time to migrate your skills to something else entirely in the spirit of modernization.


The Notes Browser Plug-in is another solution that has gained some traction because it essentially replicates all Notes functions inside the browser. This solution got the biggest applause by the way when it was announced at Lotusphere a few years back, a mere 90 minutes into the opening general session. The problem with that solution is it's hardly a plug-in. Plug-ins aren't hundreds of megabytes in size. You install the plug-in like a client, except you actually use the browser instead of the client. Calling the Notes Browser Plug-in a plug-in is akin to calling The Godfather a commercial.


Now with the coming IBM Verse product, it appears that IBM's focus is on the browser, not the IBM Notes client. Customers and partners have been told to get used to seeing their mail in the browser, because that's where Verse will be delivered. The strategy for the client apps is the Notes Browser Plug-in.


With that being said, we had a decision to make for custom application development that mostly revolved around Notes technology. We could have either gone the Xpages route, which entailed keeping our data inside an NSF database, or done something entirely different and rewritten applications in another language. In the end, we chose to use PHP with Zend Server and tie into DB2 for i. The reason we didn't use Xpages was not the learning curve of the languages but to bring someone up to speed quickly in terms of Domino development. If we have developer turnover, in my opinion it's much easier to bring someone in to maintain PHP code than to replace an Xpages developer. There are some nuances with DB2, just like any other database, but we have a lot of in-house DB2 skill who can fill the gap. Of course, your shop may be able to take Xpages and the Notes Browser Plug-in to make a workable, supportable solution. For us, it just doesn't work that well. More power to you.


This is not to say that the Notes client is going away any time soon. I haven't heard anything of the sort. What I am hearing is the strategy. That strategy doesn't have Notes at the top of the list. With Verse, what you have is a completely online email experience. One of the great features about a client like Notes is that you can take it offline. Until IBM comes out with a solution to an executive who pops his head in my office door asking how he can work on emails offline with Verse, then I'll be skeptical. This is a major stumbling block for product adoption if Verse will eventually eclipse Notes down the line.


While the "Internet of everything" is an end game, we're a ways off. Many commercial flights still don't offer Wi-Fi. Only 1,800 planes in the U.S. and Canada have Wi-Fi service. Given that there are roughly 8,500 planes total, we have a long way to go before we're always connected. That doesn't solve the problem for the executive who doesn't get good coverage while at the lake cabin. Or the executive who likes the blazing speed of an offline mail replica. The need to be offline with Verse is still a problem that needs to be solved, and that may still be Notes.


The great news is that IBM Domino will be a component of Verse. To what degree is still a bit of a mystery, and nothing on-premises is going to be available to download for a while.


There are many reasons for modernization, but you have to weigh not only what you modernize but how you modernize. You need to be able to justify your moves to yourself five years from now as best you can. Our choice to move away from Domino as an application development platform to more widely accepted languages wasn't an easy one. The ability to maintain the Notes client applications in the future was certainly a concern, especially in a small market of rural Nova Scotia, which is no different from rural Utah or Manitoba or upstate New York. It's much easier to find people who know JavaScript and CSS than it is to find someone who knows LotusScript.


We still use and plan to use Domino for vendor-supported applications, mail, LDAP, Traveler, Sametime, and all the other good stuff Domino does well. Let the vendors worry about modernizing their own products. It was just the custom application modernization that really needed a new direction.


People struggle with a similar challenge today with RPG applications on IBM i. I think this challenge is a little different because RPG depends on nothing but the IBM i operating system, as the language is not deeply tied to a client. One of the challenges for RPG shops is finding RPG programmers to maintain existing systems. It's certainly true that many universities don't teach RPG, but if we've invested in RPG and plan on investing in modernizing RPG, then I think what we need to be doing is telling local colleges we need modern RPG programmers. They're not going to be teaching languages that aren't in demand. We also need to be telling our colleges we need people with experience using RDi, not SEI. IBM's Academic Initiative is doing a good job, but we need to be augmenting that with our own efforts of promoting RPG as a very much alive and in-demand language, along with IBM i as a modern platform. We need to be modernizing our RPG to completely free-form so that we don't need to worry about finding RPG programmers who know what a C-spec is or have to explain the concept of an indicator.


While RPG does business logic like nobody's business, we also need to be investigating other languages that do have support on IBM i. We can't rely on RPG as the only tool in our arsenal. If so, we're setting ourselves up for a rougher ride than we have to take. IBM i has allowed us many options for development, especially in the last five years. We need to be expanding our horizons with more open tools to ensure we're not solely bound by reliance on any one framework or language.

Steve Pitcher
Steve Pitcher works with iTech Solutions, an IBM Premier Business Partner. He is a specialist in IBM i and IBM Power Systems solutions since 2001. Feel free to contact him directly This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


Support MC Press Online

$0.00 Raised:

Book Reviews

Resource Center

  • SB Profound WC 5536 Have you been wondering about Node.js? Our free Node.js Webinar Series takes you from total beginner to creating a fully-functional IBM i Node.js business application. You can find Part 1 here. In Part 2 of our free Node.js Webinar Series, Brian May teaches you the different tooling options available for writing code, debugging, and using Git for version control. Brian will briefly discuss the different tools available, and demonstrate his preferred setup for Node development on IBM i or any platform. Attend this webinar to learn:

  • SB Profound WP 5539More than ever, there is a demand for IT to deliver innovation. Your IBM i has been an essential part of your business operations for years. However, your organization may struggle to maintain the current system and implement new projects. The thousands of customers we've worked with and surveyed state that expectations regarding the digital footprint and vision of the company are not aligned with the current IT environment.

  • SB HelpSystems ROBOT Generic IBM announced the E1080 servers using the latest Power10 processor in September 2021. The most powerful processor from IBM to date, Power10 is designed to handle the demands of doing business in today’s high-tech atmosphere, including running cloud applications, supporting big data, and managing AI workloads. But what does Power10 mean for your data center? In this recorded webinar, IBMers Dan Sundt and Dylan Boday join IBM Power Champion Tom Huntington for a discussion on why Power10 technology is the right strategic investment if you run IBM i, AIX, or Linux. In this action-packed hour, Tom will share trends from the IBM i and AIX user communities while Dan and Dylan dive into the tech specs for key hardware, including:

  • Magic MarkTRY the one package that solves all your document design and printing challenges on all your platforms. Produce bar code labels, electronic forms, ad hoc reports, and RFID tags – without programming! MarkMagic is the only document design and print solution that combines report writing, WYSIWYG label and forms design, and conditional printing in one integrated product. Make sure your data survives when catastrophe hits. Request your trial now!  Request Now.

  • SB HelpSystems ROBOT GenericForms of ransomware has been around for over 30 years, and with more and more organizations suffering attacks each year, it continues to endure. What has made ransomware such a durable threat and what is the best way to combat it? In order to prevent ransomware, organizations must first understand how it works.

  • SB HelpSystems ROBOT GenericIT security is a top priority for businesses around the world, but most IBM i pros don’t know where to begin—and most cybersecurity experts don’t know IBM i. In this session, Robin Tatam explores the business impact of lax IBM i security, the top vulnerabilities putting IBM i at risk, and the steps you can take to protect your organization. If you’re looking to avoid unexpected downtime or corrupted data, you don’t want to miss this session.

  • SB HelpSystems ROBOT GenericCan you trust all of your users all of the time? A typical end user receives 16 malicious emails each month, but only 17 percent of these phishing campaigns are reported to IT. Once an attack is underway, most organizations won’t discover the breach until six months later. A staggering amount of damage can occur in that time. Despite these risks, 93 percent of organizations are leaving their IBM i systems vulnerable to cybercrime. In this on-demand webinar, IBM i security experts Robin Tatam and Sandi Moore will reveal:

  • FORTRA Disaster protection is vital to every business. Yet, it often consists of patched together procedures that are prone to error. From automatic backups to data encryption to media management, Robot automates the routine (yet often complex) tasks of iSeries backup and recovery, saving you time and money and making the process safer and more reliable. Automate your backups with the Robot Backup and Recovery Solution. Key features include:

  • FORTRAManaging messages on your IBM i can be more than a full-time job if you have to do it manually. Messages need a response and resources must be monitored—often over multiple systems and across platforms. How can you be sure you won’t miss important system events? Automate your message center with the Robot Message Management Solution. Key features include:

  • FORTRAThe thought of printing, distributing, and storing iSeries reports manually may reduce you to tears. Paper and labor costs associated with report generation can spiral out of control. Mountains of paper threaten to swamp your files. Robot automates report bursting, distribution, bundling, and archiving, and offers secure, selective online report viewing. Manage your reports with the Robot Report Management Solution. Key features include:

  • FORTRAFor over 30 years, Robot has been a leader in systems management for IBM i. With batch job creation and scheduling at its core, the Robot Job Scheduling Solution reduces the opportunity for human error and helps you maintain service levels, automating even the biggest, most complex runbooks. Manage your job schedule with the Robot Job Scheduling Solution. Key features include:

  • LANSA Business users want new applications now. Market and regulatory pressures require faster application updates and delivery into production. Your IBM i developers may be approaching retirement, and you see no sure way to fill their positions with experienced developers. In addition, you may be caught between maintaining your existing applications and the uncertainty of moving to something new.

  • LANSAWhen it comes to creating your business applications, there are hundreds of coding platforms and programming languages to choose from. These options range from very complex traditional programming languages to Low-Code platforms where sometimes no traditional coding experience is needed. Download our whitepaper, The Power of Writing Code in a Low-Code Solution, and:

  • LANSASupply Chain is becoming increasingly complex and unpredictable. From raw materials for manufacturing to food supply chains, the journey from source to production to delivery to consumers is marred with inefficiencies, manual processes, shortages, recalls, counterfeits, and scandals. In this webinar, we discuss how:

  • The MC Resource Centers bring you the widest selection of white papers, trial software, and on-demand webcasts for you to choose from. >> Review the list of White Papers, Trial Software or On-Demand Webcast at the MC Press Resource Center. >> Add the items to yru Cart and complet he checkout process and submit

  • Profound Logic Have you been wondering about Node.js? Our free Node.js Webinar Series takes you from total beginner to creating a fully-functional IBM i Node.js business application.

  • SB Profound WC 5536Join us for this hour-long webcast that will explore:

  • Fortra IT managers hoping to find new IBM i talent are discovering that the pool of experienced RPG programmers and operators or administrators with intimate knowledge of the operating system and the applications that run on it is small. This begs the question: How will you manage the platform that supports such a big part of your business? This guide offers strategies and software suggestions to help you plan IT staffing and resources and smooth the transition after your AS/400 talent retires. Read on to learn: