Partnerships with Vendors and Independent Software Vendors: Rejuvenating Legacy Systems

Some Notable Attempts

Renewing existing software so it uses the latest technology without causing functional disruptions is one of the key challenges of software vendors trying to maintain a loyal client base. IBM has been looking to independent software vendors (ISV) to cater to the needs of both existing and new customers. (For more details, see the Situational Analysis in Part One of this note.) Initially and for a long time since the mid-1980s, Intentia's Movex extended-enterprise resource planning (ERP) system ran exclusively on the IBM iSeries platform. Realizing this architecture strategy limited the growth of its product, in 1999 Intentia redesigned and rewrote Movex in Java (for more information, see Intentia: Java Evolution From AS/400).

Part Three of the Server Platform Situational Analysis series.

By eliminating the hardware centric look of the software, Movex can now offer hardware independence by running on such hardware operating system (OS) and database combinations as IBM eServer iSeries with DB2 database; Sun's Fire Server, with Sun Solaris and Oracle, and IBM eServer xSeries, with Microsoft Windows and SQL Server. The additional advantage of making the switch to Java was that the software became Web enabled, and by using a high-speed Internet connection, users now have a feasible and easy way to implement a solution to connect remote locations to the central software. Further, in 2003, a portal platform called Movex Workplace was made generally available in the Movex suite. In addition to serving as a browser-based user interface (UI) and portal. Workplace offers about 4,000 preconfigured work roles and information flows, plus, it represents a nucleus to create other workflows. Heretofore, the only other realistic solution to remote computing was through Citrix or Microsoft's Terminal Services (MTS).

There are strong indications that moving to Java has actually strengthened iSeries-based sales for Intentia. Namely, Java and hardware independence were key to Intentia, but even with this clear choice, many customers continue to demand iSeries. "The jury is still out" to discern the potential benefits of SSA Global's SSA Open Architecture framework, which fully leverages IBM WebSphere and Java to modernize several products on multiple platforms including iSeries and UNIX.

This is Part Three of a three-part note. Part One presented the situation. Part Two discussed IBM's Response and detailed Challenges.

Partners, Of Course, Can Have Their Own Innovative Ideas

At this point, one should note that the iSeries community of specialized applications and development and integration solutions providers, has not been very receptive to wholeheartedly embracing the IBM WebSphere framework. For a lot of iSeries developers, this is still a "bridge too far", and many customers have questioned the cost-effectiveness of WebSphere. Instead of a radical revolution, they often prefer a step-by-step modernization of their enterprise applications. The reason being is that aside from some standard software packages, the major part of their IT solutions are custom-made and subsequently store the bulk of a company's knowledge and experience. The whole idea of enterprise application modernization is the renewal of existing software so that it can satisfy the need for integration and graphical presentation without any loss of functionality.

Java remains a good language for the development of information and communications technology solutions because it can answer the user's needs, and at the same time, fit the industry-accepted, model-view-controller design pattern. The JAWFLOW (Java Workflow Design) framework described by L.D. Consulting in an earlier TEC article (see A New Development Framework on iSeries or i5/OS: Architecture), shows how a combination of Java on the client side and an integrated language engine for business logic and database access on the server side cannot only provide a graphical user interface (GUI), but also open the possibility of third party software integration. A good example therein was the integration of legacy applications into a new Windows-type environment, and this integrate-ability allows for the step-by-step modernization of business applications.

Every modern framework for software development is intrinsically a multi-tier architecture consisting of business logic, presentation logic, and controller logic. Business logic is responsible for database management and its accompanying transactions; presentation logic is used to present data to the user by means of an intuitive interface; and the interactive controller orchestrates the flow between the front- and back-end systems. In the example provided, the front-end is a J2EE-compliant graphical client, which can run on any standard workstation or thin-client terminal, while the back-end is an integrated language environment (ILE) on the iSeries platform.

Another ISV, HarrisData, is offering its broad enterprise application suite of services on the iSeries platform and is completely browser, point-and-click based, with the latest drill-down capabilities. It is written in Asynchronous JavaScript and XML (AJAX), which has been also chosen by Google and Yahoo Maps as their primary browser operating system, because on-line users cherish not having to wait for a Web page to refresh. It uses browser technology to deliver Web pages that function and feel more like desktop applications, because, as new-breed componentized applications get built, the issue of how users interface in a dynamic fashion with dynamic content becomes a matter of no small importance. The core of AJAX is Microsoft's XMLHttpRequest JavaScript object, which works from the browser level cache. Here cascading style sheets, the DynamicHTML Document Object Model, and a client-side JavaScript engine that decides when to call the server for backup all help to make AJAX UI faster, more responsive, and partially immune to connection losses. It also lightens the server load and does not require downloads for rich content, but still, some technical limitations and missing standards narrow the tool's applicability to another mere flavor of a Java UI. An enriched UI is regarded by many users as a nice extra, but, in the long run, it is the integration on the server side that is of paramount importance.

Indeed, nowadays, the rapid pace of global business places a unique set of challenges on all enterprises looking to improve and automate their operations, and at the same time, remain poised to adapt quickly to change. With increased competition, deregulation, globalization, and merger and acquisition (M&A) activity, enterprise software buyers increasingly realize that product architecture plays a key role in how quickly they can implement, maintain, expand/customize, and integrate their products. The product architecture is going to do much more than simply provide the technical functionality, the UI, and the platform support. It is going to determine whether a product is going to endure, whether it will scale to a large number of users, and whether it will be able to incorporate emerging technologies, all in order to accommodate evolving user requirements. Thus, one should be aware of how technology might develop in the future, while conducting the alignment of business and IT.

User Recommendations

Yes, technology itself does not generally impact profitability, and only if it should enable smarter business practices can it indirectly improve profitability. Technology can always help to implement new processes and instill some structure and consistency, though. Further, some solutions can also enable novel practices, like design collaboration, customer base trends' profiling, supply chain visibility and problems monitoring, and so on that can be done in new ways and unlock new value. Yet, old software hardly ever dies, and as long as the software is meeting business needs, new technology will not drive change. However, in instances when the software does not meet important needs for the business—like providing demand and inventory visibility or problem monitoring over the Internet—that is when old systems needs to be enhanced or replaced. At times, though not frequently, old technology may become too costly to operate, and cost then drives a replacement strategy.

As they look at the pros and cons, users with aging platforms and ISVs may refrain from modernizing their applications because they are uncertain of the benefits they may realize. However, a recent study from Andrews Consulting Group ( conducted among several iSeries-based ISVs and user enterprises, indicates that such companies might be missing out on significant improvement opportunities.

For instance, iSeries applications modernization can enable user companies to reduce business expenses and improve the collaborative flow of information between customers, trading partners, and employees, through, for example, enhanced integration between core business systems and peripheral applications; high user acceptance of new graphical interfaces; increased user functionality through new possibilities created by the graphical user interface; potential for reduced training and support costs; more flexible development; greater ease in recruiting new developers, etc. On the other hand, vendors can attract more prospective customers, win more business and improve their competitive standing and market perception.

Traditionally the iSeries platform has been well suited for enterprises with up to 400 concurrent users and are seeking a turnkey enterprise solution. Now that the platform features 64-way processing power, it has been widely installed for use with many thousands of users. The platform's reliability, security, and simplicity make it a strong choice in technologically conservative enterprises, divisions, and sites with fewer IT resources, especially if they are in remote locations where there is weak support from other competitive server providers, and where operational conditions are harsh. In certain countries with strong infatuation with the system, its dominance might additionally strengthen its case for deployment. Still, indisputably lower ISV commitment to the platform renders it less suited for enterprises building heterogeneous, best-of-breed environments. This positions Windows as a more strategic choice for enterprises requiring fewer than fifty concurrent users. On the other side of spectrum, users favoring non-native iSeries enterprise products requiring more than several hundred users should opt for J2EE Unix/Linux based servers. Still, many might want to consider the "sweet spot" of the iSeries to be as an alternative to the UNIX/Oracle combination as an enterprise server.

Again, every technology deployment should be about improving business. Many technologies can bring significant business value in the world of technical data, but their justification must be derived from business management improvements. Even the best software solution cannot substitute knowing for sure if there is an effective business initiative (case) that can drive the application of the technology. Each new release or new capability calls for a business decision, which is not so much a "yes or no" answer but rather a "now or later" and "how" decision. The decision must weigh the value against the cost, and if the value does not outweigh the cost, users are usually just deferring the decision until the follow-on release is available, which means facing another value and cost decision.

Enterprises looking for new solutions should consider vendors that have either rewritten their products on a new framework or are at least taking some of the new approaches described above. Can users abandon their existing infrastructure and go to a model-based, pattern-based, or Rapid Development Markup Language (RDML) or any other cutting edge world today? In theory, yes, but that might not prove practical to the vast majority of enterprises, since the IT world is a mix of multiple applications, technologies, etc. Thus, enterprises that are looking to fill in their existing application portfolio should naturally first look at their incumbent vendors for a solution. However, they should also investigate alternative suppliers and the possibility of creating composite applications as well.

If the incumbent vendors do not adequately fill the need, vendors with a strong application function plus the ability to participate in composite applications should be favored. What is required from an ideal composite solution is the ability to integrate the business process, integrate the applications and data, and supply additional functionality to "fill the gaps" and produce a cohesive, composite application that ensures transactional and contextual integrity across the entire business process. This includes manual process and workaround, a spreadsheet, or some other solution that keeps the business process from being fully automated by applications.

Existing and prospective customers leaning toward iSeries-based enterprise products should only pick vendors that have multiplatform strategies and accompanying integration and migration capabilities. Where practical, iSeries-based enterprise application users should use cross-platform development tools, such as Java or particular higher-level language environments, rather than RPG for in-house product expansion or modification. Despite user preference for a single, "one-stop shop" vendor, componentized software products, interoperability standards, and Internet technology will lead to fewer large-scale projects and an ongoing stream of smaller ones, all with a tangible return on investment (ROI) rationale.

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