Twice in the past couple months, I’ve met with IBM i users whose companies had just abandoned attempts to replace their IBM i platforms. Executive management wanted new, modern looking applications and had dismissed the IBM i as “old” technology. At both companies, the executives dramatically underestimated the business domain knowledge that had been built into their IBM i applications over decades of development. At the same time, they overlooked all of the new technology that is now available on the IBM i.
If you have been developing IBM i applications for any period of time, you have probably had countless conversations with end users in which you were asked to add a field to a screen or a column to a report or some new special exception handling for a business function. Each time you responded with an application change, you were building knowledge about your business into the software. Over the years, you’ve created an application that matches the unique way your company does business. If you attempt to replace that application, you will have to rebuild all of that learning back into the system. That is a difficult, expensive and highly risky operation.
With all the new technology available on the IBM i, I often wonder why companies choose such a hard path. Today, the IBM i supports modern languages like Java, Ruby, PHP and Node.js. Using those languages will not only allow you to take advantage of the latest technology, but it will also make it possible to recruit new, young engineers for your development staff. You can build RESTful web services around your existing application functions in order to connect them to native mobile or web applications.
Combining the new technology with your existing applications gives you the best of both worlds. You get the reliability, security and rich functionality of your existing IBM i applications while providing your end users with the latest, coolest user experiences. And you can address the problem of recruiting new engineers. Both of the companies I spoke with last month are now proceeding down that path.
This is the first in a series of blog posts on continuous modernization for the IBM i. Over the coming months, I’ll be blogging about how you can provide your users with the latest in user experiences while leveraging the investments you have in your existing IBM i applications.