• July 6, 2022

The Real Cost of IBM i System and Application Replacement

Businesses are constantly comparing themselves to one another. That’s a good thing, in most regards: Competitive analysis is after all the key to finding your company’s ideal position in the market. But it’s important to get a balanced perspective, otherwise you might get a false perception.

Case in point: The idea that no one uses the IBM i or AS/400 platform anymore. This is a myth. There are tens of thousands of companies around the world running their businesses on IBM i. IBM i users include many of the largest banks in the world, well-known retail chains, huge healthcare organizations, government agencies, major manufacturers and distributors as well as a wide variety of services organizations.

Despite that, many IBM i users have the urge to migrate. Often, it’s because they’ve had the same system for a long time and are looking for a more modern look and feel to the applications. Or, they worry that they will not be able to find people who can maintain these older systems. But what they often don’t take into account is (1) the amount of domain knowledge embedded in their current system, (2) the plethora of modernization options available to them that don’t require replacing their incumbent system, and (3) the support the IBM i provides for leading edge open source development tools.

Not only is it difficult to get an accurate estimate of the time and cost to complete a top-to-bottom rip-and replace project, but you can actually end up seriously harming the business if the new system is not properly designed. That’s not always a function of developer talent or management, either: Some businesses who have attempted rip-and-replace conversions have found that they are simply unable to recreate the kinds of highly sophisticated systems that are the product of years (often decades) of real world experience. In fact, the idea that that kind of business logic can be easily translated into a new platform is the real myth.

This is why it’s so important to keep your end goals in mind. Today more than ever, computer systems and the businesses that use them are intertwined in a symbiotic relationship. Changes to one necessarily have a considerable effect on the other. So if you’re not prepared to seriously redesign your business processes, you shouldn’t be thinking about replacing your IBM i.

Often, the desire to migrate is based on either wanting to be perceived by employees and customers as being a modern organization or wanting to improve productivity by streamlining enterprise applications (and usually, it’s some combination of the two). What these managers might not realize is that modernization solutions can put your IBM i applications on the leading edge of user experience design while keeping your solid back-end framework in place.

With the exception of a few opinionated IT professionals, your employees and customers don’t care what system is running in the background. With an IBM i modernization solution in place and modern development tools, end users can interact with a contemporary, attractive application and not know that the system powering it has been running for a decade or longer.

There’s a few different ways to achieve this, depending on your business goals. Some modernization solutions can put a GUI on top of your current green screen, complete with all the hallmarks of modern applications: point-and-click mouse interactions, ribbons interfaces, scrolling pages, etc. If the you want to adjust or combine common workflows, technologies exist that can that can help you achieve that. And for ultimate freedom, building IBM i APIs allows you to access data contained on your IBM i and use it anywhere you want. Developers don’t even have to know anything about IBM i to take advantage of this data.

While rip-and-replace is undoubtedly the most radical strategy to updating your green-screens, that shouldn’t be confused with being innovative or making the right business decision. For many business goals, IBM i modernization solutions get you there with far less risk and at a much lower cost. So before you start investing in a brand-new mission-critical IT system, just make sure that you’ve considered the real cost of replacement.

Dan Magid 0 Posts

Rocketeer emeritus


  • Shmuel (Seymour J.) Metz Reply

    August 8, 2018 at 10:51 am

    I’ve been programming for more than half a century. I have yet to see a migration (as opposed to a port) of a major application that wasn’t fraught with peril. Inevitably key requirements are overlooked, retraining is not given the priority required, documentation is flawed and it costs far more than promised. This has been true even when the migration was to a new application on the same platform.

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