The State of Modernization
Bruce Vining talks modernization with Jon Paris and Susan Gantner
Photo by Dean Riggott
Application modernization isn’t a new topic. We’ve written about it quite bit in both the EXTRA e-newsletter and this magazine, notably in a series of articles way back in 2003 beginning with “From Green to Dream”. So why revisit it?
Modernization continues to be an issue in the IBM* System i* community, and perhaps a misunderstood one. Looking back, it occurred to us that the “Green to Dream” series typified what many people think of modernization: that it replaces a green-screen interface with a modern GUI. But there’s a lot more to modernization than the UI. In fact, focusing almost exclusively on the UI could impair the overall goal of modernization.
We decided it would be interesting to discuss the subject with someone who’s arguably been involved with more System i modernization projects—both inside and outside of IBM—than anyone else we can think of. That gentleman is Bruce Vining, known to many of us as “Mr. API” because of the role he filled at IBM. See “Who is Bruce Vining?” on page 30 for more on his illustrious career.
We sat down to have a conversation with Vining about the state of modernization on the System i platform.
Paris/Gantner: Tell us, Bruce, what do the words “application modernization” mean to you?
Vining: Application modernization isn’t ILE (Integrated Language Environment), RPG, GUI, SQL, Java* or any other development tool. I believe application modernization represents the use of current techniques, ideas and methods that let a business advance to greater profitability. To an ISV, this may mean providing a GUI to their application to improve their competitive posture; to an in-house development team, this may mean rearchitecting a high-maintenance legacy application to use current i5/OS* features such as ILE and parallel processing. This rearchitecting might not be driven so much because it’s vital for the application in question, but rather done to free development resources that can then be applied to develop other solutions to future business needs. I believe it’s a mistake to think there’s a specific technology that represents modernization.
Paris/Gantner: Given that definition, which we agree with by the way, we don’t know of any System i shop that doesn’t need to modernize! And yet the biggest problem in the System i community seems to be inertia. Why is that?
Vining: I think the major barrier to modernization is the lack of an active change proponent in many companies. Some companies have in-house personnel whose job responsibilities include keeping up-to-date on current trends and pushing new capabilities into their development community. Other companies bring in outside resources, such as consultants, to evaluate the company’s development environment and push new opportunities for enhanced productivity in meeting the goals of the business. Sadly, all too many businesses that use the System i platform have neither of these. Company executives may understand the potential of a new piece of machinery to reduce production costs, but they don’t have the same level of awareness when it comes to new programming paradigms. To better drive modernization in System i environments, we need to return to the basics—namely, demonstrate the business value of modernization.
Paris/Gantner: But where there’s no active change proponent in a company how do you encourage that? It seems to us that in the past the field systems engineer (SE) filled this role. Sadly, when IBM did away with them, that aspect of the support role was never back-filled.
Vining: If there’s any one area where I’d like to see IBM reinvest, it’s in providing greater technical support in the field. As you say, in the past the proponent for change for many customers was the IBM SE. It was the SE who attended modernization education offerings and then provided the outside consulting role to these companies. This, in turn, pushed new technology and ideas into the user-development environments. It’s this proponent for change that’s missing in today’s environment.
Paris/Gantner: We agree. When the support role was handed over to business partners (BPs), this aspect seemed to drop through the cracks. Some BPs recognized that such support would bring sales, but many failed to see the connection because it couldn’t be directly measured. Can this be turned around?
Vining: We can never return to the days of an IBM SE covering every System i installation, but I believe IBM does need to provide more SE-like support to a larger base of users than it currently does. Last year, IBM initiated the movement of a few Rochester developers to the field to provide more support for specific technologies, but this effort needs to be broadened in numbers and generalized in scope.
I think the major barrier to modernization is the lack of an active change proponent in many companies. —Bruce Vining, consultant, former IBMer and API expert
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