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How to Get Buy-in to Make IBM i Web Applications Part of Your IT Strategy

Which web applications must your plan include and how do you prepare your web development team?

by Kevin Cronin
Published: October 27th, 2010 by System iNetwork

The web browser, in its many forms, is clearly the standard and most common way information is viewed and exchanged by people using computers today. In spite of the incredible usability of the web and the millions of applications available, many IT managers in the IBM i community are still struggling to build an effective plan to bring applications to the web. They need a plan that looks beyond immediate short term goals and includes strategies to develop a web presence and to modernize existing applications well into the future.

In my experience, the following scenario is close to the truth for many IBM i shops. You are managing the IT department in a multi-million dollar a year organization and you still have more or less the same IBM i staff you've had for the past 15 years. Interestingly, in the same period, your network admin team has grown disproportionately as personnel are hired to manage the myriad of problems and challenges related to PC networks, software, etc. The number of network support staff is now double or triple the number of developers working on the i.

If this scenario rings true then you know how hard it is to convince your executive team that you need a bigger budget for software, services and/or additional personnel for web development initiatives. Ironically, the incredible reliability of the IBM i and the stability of the applications running on the platform can work against you when it comes time to expand your department to explore new technologies and new development initiatives.

For the above reasons, many IBM i shops are still mainly producing green screens, have a hodge-podge of web applications or are using older web enabling technologies that have been surpassed. Instead, they should be adopting a more comprehensive, long-term web development strategy. Web enabling existing green screen applications with newer technologies is a good first step in moving forward but to truly leverage the full power of the browser interface your strategy should also include new web development efforts that employ true web programming techniques. These applications will grow along with your needs and provide more value and revenue growth opportunities.

Web Applications That Get Management Buy-In

The decision makers and those that control the budgets in your organization need to be convinced of the merits of your strategy. Often, you can find allies that will help you build a case for increasing your budget. Marketing, sales and customer service are a good place to start. Their needs may drive new web based initiatives, and in many cases you may be able to use their budget to fund the development. Focusing on applications that are visible to executives is another good idea.

Your plan must include web applications that have a good and clear ROI such as the following examples:

  • B2B and B2C eCommerce and order entry sites increase revenue by making it easier to sell products, by simplifying the order entry process and by making your sales staff more productive.
  • Inventory, CRM and order inquiry programs reduce costs by providing real-time, self serve information to your customer service reps, vendors or customers to view account, order and inventory information.
  • Dashboards and dynamic web based reports and graphs over real-time data provide visual snapshots of your organization's performance that help your executives make better decisions. They also help you get more value from existing data and make your IT department and your IBM i more visible to the key people in your organization. If you make the executives in your company happy good things will happen.

Preparing Your Web Development Team

Selecting the right applications to start with and deciding how they will get built are important factors in the success of your strategy. In addition to the technologies that you must consider you will also need to review and plan your personnel needs so that you have the proper expertise. You may incur additional costs up front but creating a web development strategy will provide long term cost savings and increased revenue. You can't afford to deliver a low quality application as this can certainly derail your web development strategy quickly.

Here are some options to consider when putting together your web development team:

  • Hire a developer who can focus on web development and work cooperatively with existing programmers who know the applications, business logic and database relations.
  • Provide training on web technologies such as HTML, CSS and JavaScript for your own staff of IBM i programmers to help them ramp up as quickly as possible.
  • Invest in a toolset, such as BCD's modernization suite of rapid web development tools, to speed up the learning curve and increase productivity that lead to faster results. Our integrated modernization suite includes tools for rapid RPG or PHP web application development, instant web enablement of green screens with options to further enhance screens, real-time web reports and dashboards, portals and document management.
  • Partner with a third party such as BCD's Professional Services Group. It's important that your first project and any mission critical applications are a big success. We've worked with many customers in the initial stages of their modernization plan and for complete projects. Here are some of the ways they benefited:
    • Achieved quick results that met immediate demands, providing very quick returns on investment
    • Gave them time to get their own staff trained or to hire new staff
    • Completed sophisticated projects beyond the current expertise of their staff
    • Provided a good foundation for mentoring and knowledge transfer
    • Costs were accurately estimated up front which helped them plan their budget

Keep it on the IBM i

We've all heard about IBM i servers being replaced by non-IBM solutions. Almost without exception, those of us that have been working on the various iterations of the AS/400 (I started on the S/38) over the years love the platform, and for good reason. It is secure, reliable and scaleable. Now the IBM i is an open platform that supports Apache, ILE, PHP, SQL, MySQL, and other open source technologies.

As far as I'm concerned there's never been a better time to stay with the IBM i platform and to make web development on the IBM i a part of your IT strategy.

Kevin Cronin is the Director of the BCD Professional Services Group and has been an IT professional working primarily with IBM mid-range servers for 28 years.