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Evolution and Modernization of Legacy Systems

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Are your systems in need of significant renovating? Are you contemplating a demolition and rebuild? Is application modernization an anticipated strategy to address your organization's business needs?

Although modernization is a hot topic, depending who you talk to, it has such broad applicability that it could represent just about any IT project you've undertaken in recent years.

So, What Is Modernization?

Strictly speaking, modernization means taking something old and modifying or extending it to meet current standards. A dictionary definition of modernize is "to make modern in appearance, style, or character; to update" or "to accept or adopt modern ways, ideas, or style."

Applying this definition to our world of business applications can infer any number of strategies:

  • Refacing text-based screens with smart GUIs and dynamic, desktop integration
  • Extending legacy systems with self-service e-business functions or Internet transaction capabilities
  • Improving business processing with integrated workflow functionality, possibly by introducing new modules, such as Business Process Management (BPM), Customer Relationship Management (CRM), or Supply Chain Management (SCM), which extend existing applications
  • Offering wireless deployment of apps to the roaming workforce
  • Re-architecting core systems to take advantage of Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA), Web services, business objects, and components for a more modularized, easier-to-maintain applications environment
  • Replacing legacy systems with modern, integrated enterprise application suites (via packaged offerings, redevelopment from the ground up, or anything in between)
  • Re-tooling IT staff with current development technology that can deliver today's solutions (all of the above) in a timely fashion

Why Modernize?

IT infrastructures and enterprise systems are not generally implemented overnight. For most organizations, their applications are both complex and integral to their day-to-day business operations. The logic, rules, and database structures, embedded within millions of lines of code and sometimes thousands of files, have likely evolved and matured over years, often decades.

This intelligence surrounding the unique nature of a business--encapsulated within these systems--is not something that can easily be trashed. On the other hand, because these applications were often born using decades-old technology and have grown with the business (rather than having been re-engineered with planning or foresight), the technical environment and architecture, as well as the languages or tools used to maintain and extend them, have become outdated.

The latest development tools and enterprise software can enable an organization to more easily integrate disparate systems; transact electronically with trading partners; provide Web and wireless interfaces to customers, partners, and sales; offer efficient GUI’s integrated with desktop tools; automate business processes using workflow, collaboration, and paperless environments.... The list goes on and on. Using current technology and the latest in design paradigms--such as SOA--could allow an IT shop to much more efficiently and effectively deliver system requirements. Ultimately, this can transform the way an organization performs its business processes, leading to cost savings, new business opportunities, and improved customer satisfaction.

So the dilemma facing many IT professionals today is how to take advantage of the latest and greatest technologies without necessarily losing the wealth hidden away in their core business systems.

Modernization is all about finding the solution to that quandary. For some organizations, investment in their systems environment can be preserved while moving forward; for others, widespread replacement of modules or applications may be the best approach.

At a high level, the key strategies for modernization are reface (enhancement of end user experience and productivity), extend (e-business enablement and business process improvement), or replace (complete enterprise transformation). All can result in an evolutionary path to enterprise systems transformation.

Refacing

For those who run their business applications on iSeries accessed via 5250 screens, the pressure from users and management may be to reface the old "green on black" with GUIs.

Did you hear the story of the CEO who read about a glitzy sales order processing system in a Windows magazine and suggested to the IT manager that they replace their systems with it? You know, your basic "flaming logo" story--it produced fancy pie charts at the click of a mouse, promised automatic consolidation of information on shipment status, and integrated with customers and suppliers.

You'll be happy to hear that the IT manager has been acquitted of all charges related to the demise of the CEO. The plea was temporary insanity.

The important lesson, however, is not to murder the executives in your company, but rather to consider how you might actually be able to deliver all the sexy, modern functionality that they crave--without throwing out your systems that appear outdated--and get started on it before they walk into your office with a picture of the system they want you to buy, one that you know just won't work.

If some combination of a 5250 user interface, agonizingly long navigation through menus and screens to perform individual business functions, and the requirement to sign on to different applications to enter or retrieve related information in a repetitive fashion is causing frustration, then refacing your legacy systems with a GUI may produce some significant benefits. If it's done right, you could end up with cheerful, efficient users accessing the same information in the same applications as today, with a completely revamped interface.

How do you do this? How long will it take?

Well that depends on a number of factors, but some strategies, such as screen scraping and Web refacing, can produce results very rapidly (maybe even in a matter of weeks). Alternatively, more sophisticated approaches can result in even greater benefits with a richer, more integrated Windows client or browser interface, which will take longer, possibly months. The best approach for your business will depend on your specific situation, requirements, and budget.

You can choose from a range of user interface (UI) styles. The most sophisticated UIs are often called "smart" clients in contrast to the term "fat" or "thin" clients and are akin to the other, more-current term, "rich" client. In the past, we used "fat" or "thick" versus "thin" to primarily identify how much of the logic was stored on the client workstation versus the server, with the thinnest client interface being a browser. Now, if one refers to a "smart" client in comparison to the more traditional "fat" client, this implies that the UI would have additional capabilities, such as standalone and connected functionality, integration to desktop applications (spreadsheets, word processing, email), and a rich, current Windows interface.

To illustrate some different approaches to modernizing the UI, consider the following snapshots of screens (Figure 1) that might access the same iSeries-based ERP.

http://www.mcpressonline.com/articles/images/2002/Watt%20Modernization%20MCPressV5--11210500.jpg





 

 

 

 

Figure 1: These are examples of what the different methods of application modernization will yield. (Click images to enlarge.)

In the first example (A), basic screen-scraping technology has been used to emulate the screens with some new colors and navigational abilities, but it is still the same basic text-based, limited UI. Still, this can be accomplished very rapidly, and it may satisfy some modernization requirements. The example illustrated in C is a much richer interface, similar to an Outlook style, with a navigational panel down the left side and multiple panels of information viewable at the same time. The B screen is a hybrid approach, with the screen-scraped text interface embedded within the more advanced Windows navigational framework.

Any of these approaches may be viable for your modernization needs. Ultimately, the richer and more advanced the UI, the more time you'll require to revamp not only the UI but also the underlying logic of the legacy systems.

It's also important to remember that often one UI style is not necessarily the best approach for all users. For example, when reaching out to external users, a browser is typically the best interface, partially because of ease-of-access and deployment. For heads-down data entry, a text-based interface may suffice, whereas for customer service reps and users who need access to advanced searches and a large amount of information, a rich Windows interface may provide the most efficiency.

Extending

Although we're reviewing this topic second and pictorially representing it as closer to the ultimate evolution toward a transformed enterprise system, many organizations will have embarked upon extension projects by now, and many may only look to these solutions, having no strong need to reface their UI. Reface projects and extend projects often occur completely independently of each other, and one will not necessarily precede the other. (See Figure 2.)

http://www.mcpressonline.com/articles/images/2002/Watt%20Modernization%20MCPressV5--11210501.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 2: Reface, extend, or replace?


Extend modernization projects involve reusing existing software assets while building new modules or interfaces that are tightly integrated to the old. Commonly, the purpose of an "extend" style of project is to enable e-business for dynamically transacting business with external organizations.

Consider the following three interrelated tactics:

  1. Web self-service interfaces for customers, suppliers, and partners
  2. Electronic transaction processing and collaboration, using Web services, XML, Internet-based EDI, or any agreed-upon standard between trading partners
  3. Integrated, collaborative applications to provide improved business processing and relationship management functionality, often using workflow and imaging

How these projects can effectively modernize not only your systems but also your business processing is best illustrated by example. Sullair Corporation, a global leader in air compressors and related products, has provided significant value to its distributors and customers via a series of innovative modernization projects. Traditionally, an iSeries-based BPCS shop, Sullair has extended its system to provide remote monitoring of equipment at customer sites via a browser interface.

In addition, self-service e-commerce interfaces for product registration and searches, order placement, inquiries, and warranty claims were deployed for easy access by distributors and customers--all without replacing any of the core systems' infrastructure. Sullair further modernized its external interfaces with XML-based B2B transactions, dynamic generation of graphical PDF documents, and a growing number of Web, Windows, and reporting applications.

By modernizing its BPCS applications with these solutions, Sullair has extended the life of its legacy systems.

Replacing

While refacing your screens or extending existing systems to provide new e-commerce capabilities may serve the needs of many, the best approach in some cases might be complete replacement.

Evolutionary approaches to modernization can be very effective if the applications infrastructure that you are starting with has database structures that accurately represent and serve the business and has a modular architecture that allows you to easily separate specific business functions for external calls.

However, if you have determined that your organizational strategy for modernization will be more revolution than evolution, where do you start?

You will need to determine whether...

  • You will replace your application suite in its entirety or in a piecemeal manner
  • Your requirements can be met with packaged software or you would be better off constructing the needed modules with current development tools

In recent years, many organizations attempted to replace their systems by purchasing "best-of-breed" packaged software solutions and then integrating them together. This sounds like an intelligent approach when bandied about in the boardroom, but, in practice, it can be very challenging.

Based on numerous failed implementations and difficulties with customization and integration of packaged software, many analysts are reporting a shift from buying applications to building them. When planning your replacement strategy, consider the following consolidated recommendations from AMR and Forrester:

  • Building applications is a real option. Application packages can deliver "overkill" for the functionality required.
  • Revisit your application decision tree with an option to build applications. It was never a no-brainer to buy rather than build applications. It is even less so now.
  • Revisit old assumptions about the economies of building applications. Don't forget to include total cost of ownership (TCO) analysis as well as support costs.
  • Review new paradigms for development. Investigate open-source possibilities, and achieve productivity gains with custom development via frameworks and component technology, SOA, and Web Services.

As is the case in many endeavors, sometimes a compromise or hybrid approach for your application suite can be the best, possibly incorporating some combination of packaged offerings and custom-built software for those unique areas of your business processing. For custom development, there are more options than ever before for starting with pre-built modules or frameworks to make the task more efficient.

Every Situation Is Unique

Your blueprint for modernization should be driven by the unique combination of your organization's business climate, requirements, and, of course, available funding and existing infrastructure.

Regardless of the plan, constant modernization efforts will be the most effective way that IT can consistently contribute to an organization's health and agility within the competitive, global marketplace that exists today.

And if you've got some wise executives who recognize this contribution, you may reap the benefits in your annual bonus!

Eden Watt is Vice President of Professional Services for LANSA, a global leader in software and solutions that enable organizations to leverage their existing IT infrastructure and better maximize business performance. In addition to managing a large international consulting division, Eden has contributed articles, columns, and chapters for magazines and journals. She is a frequent speaker at conferences on the topics of e-business, modernization, and supply chain automation.

Eden Watt

Eden Watt, PMP, is a project director and consultant with over two decades of experience in Information Technology projects, overseeing application modernization and innovative solution delivery for clients. With her strategic partnerships, Eden can offer both consulting services and innovative software solutions to answer many of today's challenging needs, particularly in the area of evolving traditional applications to take advantage of advanced technology. She can be reached at eden@futureday.ca or www.linkedin.com/in/edenwatt.

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    SB PowerTech WC GenericIn today’s threat landscape, upper management is laser-focused on cybersecurity. You need to make progress in securing your systems—and make it fast.
    There’s no shortage of actions you could take, but what tactics will actually deliver the results you need? And how can you find a security strategy that fits your budget and time constraints?
    Join top IBM i security expert Robin Tatam as he outlines the five fastest and most impactful changes you can make to strengthen IBM i security this year.
    Your system didn’t become unsecure overnight and you won’t be able to turn it around overnight either. But quick wins are possible with IBM i security, and Robin Tatam will show you how to achieve them.

  • How to Meet the Newest Encryption Requirements on IBM i

    SB PowerTech WC GenericA growing number of compliance mandates require sensitive data to be encrypted. But what kind of encryption solution will satisfy an auditor and how can you implement encryption on IBM i? Watch this on-demand webinar to find out how to meet today’s most common encryption requirements on IBM i. You’ll also learn:

    • Why disk encryption isn’t enough
    • What sets strong encryption apart from other solutions
    • Important considerations before implementing encryption

     

     

  • Security Bulletin: Malware Infection Discovered on IBM i Server!

    SB PowerTech WC GenericMalicious programs can bring entire businesses to their knees—and IBM i shops are not immune. It’s critical to grasp the true impact malware can have on IBM i and the network that connects to it. Attend this webinar to gain a thorough understanding of the relationships between:

    • Viruses, native objects, and the integrated file system (IFS)
    • Power Systems and Windows-based viruses and malware
    • PC-based anti-virus scanning versus native IBM i scanning

    There are a number of ways you can minimize your exposure to viruses. IBM i security expert Sandi Moore explains the facts, including how to ensure you're fully protected and compliant with regulations such as PCI.

     

     

  • Fight Cyber Threats with IBM i Encryption

    SB PowerTech WC GenericCyber attacks often target mission-critical servers, and those attack strategies are constantly changing. To stay on top of these threats, your cybersecurity strategies must evolve, too. In this session, IBM i security expert Robin Tatam provides a quick recap of IBM i security basics and guides you through some advanced cybersecurity techniques that can help you take data protection to the next level. Robin will cover:

    • Reducing the risk posed by special authorities
    • Establishing object-level security
    • Overseeing user actions and data access

     

     

     

  • 10 Practical IBM i Security Tips for Surviving Covid-19 and Working From Home

    SB PowerTech WC GenericNow that many organizations have moved to a work from home model, security concerns have risen.

    During this session Carol Woodbury will discuss the issues that the world is currently seeing such as increased malware attacks and then provide practical actions you can take to both monitor and protect your IBM i during this challenging time.

     

  • How to Transfer IBM i Data to Microsoft Excel

    SB_HelpSystems_WC_Generic3 easy ways to get IBM i data into Excel every time
    There’s an easy, more reliable way to import your IBM i data to Excel? It’s called Sequel. During this webinar, our data access experts demonstrate how you can simplify the process of getting data from multiple sources—including Db2 for i—into Excel. Watch to learn how to:

    • Download your IBM i data to Excel in a single step
    • Deliver data to business users in Excel via email or a scheduled job
    • Access IBM i data directly using the Excel add-in in Sequel

    Make 2020 the year you finally see your data clearly, quickly, and securely. Start by giving business users the ability to access crucial business data from IBM i the way they want it—in Microsoft Excel.

     

     

  • HA Alternatives: MIMIX Is Not Your Only Option on IBM i

    SB_HelpSystems_WC_GenericIn this recorded webinar, our experts introduce you to the new HA transition technology available with our Robot HA software. You’ll learn how to:

    • Transition your rules from MIMIX (if you’re happy with them)
    • Simplify your day-to-day activities around high availability
    • Gain back time in your work week
    • Make your CEO happy about reducing IT costs

    Don’t stick with a legacy high availability solution that makes you uncomfortable when transitioning to something better can be simple, safe, and cost-effective.

     

     

  • Node Webinar Series Pt. 1: The World of Node.js on IBM i

    SB Profound WC GenericHave 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.
    Part 1 will teach you what Node.js is, why it's a great option for IBM i shops, and how to take advantage of the ecosystem surrounding Node.
    In addition to background information, our Director of Product Development Scott Klement will demonstrate applications that take advantage of the Node Package Manager (npm).
    Watch Now.

  • The Biggest Mistakes in IBM i Security

    SB Profound WC Generic The Biggest Mistakes in IBM i Security
    Here’s the harsh reality: cybersecurity pros have to get their jobs right every single day, while an attacker only has to succeed once to do incredible damage.
    Whether that’s thousands of exposed records, millions of dollars in fines and legal fees, or diminished share value, it’s easy to judge organizations that fall victim. IBM i enjoys an enviable reputation for security, but no system is impervious to mistakes.
    Join this webinar to learn about the biggest errors made when securing a Power Systems server.
    This knowledge is critical for ensuring integrity of your application data and preventing you from becoming the next Equifax. It’s also essential for complying with all formal regulations, including SOX, PCI, GDPR, and HIPAA
    Watch Now.

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  • Backup and Recovery on IBM i: Your Strategy for the Unexpected

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413Robot automates the routine 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:
    - Simplified backup procedures
    - Easy data encryption
    - Save media management
    - Guided restoration
    - Seamless product integration
    Make sure your data survives when catastrophe hits. Try the Robot Backup and Recovery Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • Manage IBM i Messages by Exception with Robot

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413Managing messages on your IBM i can be more than a full-time job if you have to do it manually. 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:
    - Automated message management
    - Tailored notifications and automatic escalation
    - System-wide control of your IBM i partitions
    - Two-way system notifications from your mobile device
    - Seamless product integration
    Try the Robot Message Management Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • Easiest Way to Save Money? Stop Printing IBM i Reports

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413Robot 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:

    - Automated report distribution
    - View online without delay
    - Browser interface to make notes
    - Custom retention capabilities
    - Seamless product integration
    Rerun another report? Never again. Try the Robot Report Management Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • Hassle-Free IBM i Operations around the Clock

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413For over 30 years, Robot has been a leader in systems management for IBM i.
    Manage your job schedule with the Robot Job Scheduling Solution. Key features include:
    - Automated batch, interactive, and cross-platform scheduling
    - Event-driven dependency processing
    - Centralized monitoring and reporting
    - Audit log and ready-to-use reports
    - Seamless product integration
    Scale your software, not your staff. Try the Robot Job Scheduling Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • ACO MONITOR Manages your IBM i 24/7 and Notifies You When Your IBM i Needs Assistance!

    SB DDL Systems 5429More than a paging system - ACO MONITOR is a complete systems management solution for your Power Systems running IBM i. ACO MONITOR manages your Power System 24/7, uses advanced technology (like two-way messaging) to notify on-duty support personnel, and responds to complex problems before they reach critical status.

    ACO MONITOR is proven technology and is capable of processing thousands of mission-critical events daily. The software is pre-configured, easy to install, scalable, and greatly improves data center efficiency.