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Thousands of Green Screens & Three Solution Providers Journey to the Web

IBM i solution providers launching web versions of their RPG-based wares share their experiences with BCD's Presto.

by Robert Gast
Published: April 19, 2011 by System iNetwork

As the world steadily turns toward a wired online 24/7 reality, nearly everyone expects their applications to be delivered as nice shiny packages wherever and whenever they need to access them. Most executives already know this and have gotten past the cost versus benefit analysis phase and are now keenly focused on how to make it happen.

Here are three IBM i solution providers who faced the challenges posed by large green screen modernization projects who were willing to share their stories as they get close to going to market with new web versions of their proven RPG packages. One of the things they all have in common is they used BCD’s Presto to achieve their goals.

Presto is a rapid web enablement tool that instantly gives all your green screens a Web GUI without having to make any changes to your source code. It also gives users the flexibility to add new functionality or UI elements to their screens, either through the Visual Editor or directly in the HTML code.

Intranet with Cloud capabilities will avoid shock of green screens

For thirty years Arkansas Data Services  (ADS) had been steadily building its reputation as a top full service information technology company, over 20 of those years as an Advanced IBM Business Partner. ADS develops medical and utility billing software, and has a significant presence in other markets.

Rusty Gadberry, president of ADS, wanted to restructure his entire green screen Client Access-dependent medical billing package into a web based zero footprint intranet solution with Cloud capabilities. Says Gadberry, "We wanted to provide a modern solution completely based on IBM i technology. Most new clients we go after are managed by young people, and have doctors, who have never seen a green screen in their life. They almost go into shock when they see green screens. We have lost sales because of this."

Gadberry says he started searching for a modernization solution three years ago, and evaluated everything on the market. He knew he didn't want to deploy anything that used ActiveX which leads to similar deployment problems as Client Access and he wasn't interested in doing a lot of resource intensive code re-engineering.

Ritchie Gadberry, a programmer, says they chose Presto for three main reasons. “First, Presto runs in Web browsers without the need for locally installed software or browser plug-ins. Next, it offers most of the features that we require out of the box and for our exceptional needs. The standards-based underpinnings of Presto that incorporate HTML, JavaScript, Ajax, and jQuery allow us make enhancements and modifications quickly and cleanly. And finally, we chose Presto for the excellent support organization that stands behind it.”

Gadberry says that it took five months to develop the web enabled version of their software. He noted that thousands of screens that were used less often were automatically web enabled with no further changes. They started by developing four custom skins based on one of the skins shipped with Presto to match their company’s look and feel. On top of this they were able to create global rules to further enhance all of their screens at once.

They further customized the screens that users spent 80 percent of their time on -- the ones that would influence sales, and provide extra functionality for existing users. To speed up data entry they replaced many windows lookups with drop downs or auto completes and added date pickers. And they improved navigation and screen design by transforming subfile options into right click context menus and by splitting up busy screens into tabs.

Gadberry had no HTML experience prior to starting this project but that didn’t stop him from implementing some sophisticated features such as a calendar embedded on a scheduling page that calls an RPG Web Service to populate the calendar with events which saves users a lot of time.

Rusty Gadberry says they are now ready to go to market with his new system and they are already looking at modernizing their utility billing software with Presto.

Web 2.0 interface for RPG logic that has been proven for 20 years

King 3 Solutions  (K3S) is an inventory management company that helps warehouses run leaner and smarter. They’ve offered a green screen version of their software for 20 years but knew they had to provide a more modern GUI to meet the upcoming needs of future and current clients. They chose Presto because it gave their apps a Web 2.0 interface without having to rewrite their programs. As IT manager, King Harrison IV says, “The business logic in our system is rock solid and proven. With Presto we were able to give it an interface to match how strong the business logic is.”

Their solution now has a beautiful GUI and is platform independent for the end user as it runs in a browser, including Safari for Mac users. This has allowed them to offer their K3S-Replenish as a web solution that runs on clients’ IBM i servers or as a SaaS solution. Their web solution also retained the current screen flow which was important according to Harrison, “A top priority was to make it as easy as possible for green screen users to adapt to. We made sure that one buyer could use familiar green screen function keys and the person sitting right next to him could use a mouse.”

The new interface and improved navigation has sped up adoption and teaching at new sites, and the new visual elements like graphs, hover over tool tips and tutorials have greatly improved the end user experience. Presto compliments the K3S inventory management solution approach of being able to plug into existing ERP systems as Presto can render those green screens as web pages on the fly.

Prior to Presto, K3S tried several tools over a 7 year period and were not satisfied with the abilities or options of any of them. Harrison said, “I really love the way Presto works. The web-based user interface we created with it for K3S-Replenish is going to help drive new sales.” K3S is now looking at doing web enabled mobile interfaces with Presto.

Modern Interface Appeals to a Broader Audience than Green Screens

Voelker & Associates, L.L.C  (V&A) is a solutions developer specializing in hardware and software solutions for the distribution industry. They have been providing consulting, support services, custom applications, and packaged turnkey solutions to their hundreds of clients since 1978.

About one year ago, V&A had come to a difficult conclusion about the marketability of one of their offerings, Woodstock, a green screen ERP solution for the building supplies industry. According to their president, Bruce Voelker, “New prospects thought our solution was dated because of the green screen interface. This made it harder to compete.”

In reality, Woodstock was quite up to date and very powerful. Voelker reasoned that the only way to show prospects that Woodstock would actually improve their operations and profitability was to completely revise its appearance. After a thorough evaluation they selected Presto to do the job.

The out of the box effects that impressed Christopher Voelker, manager of R&D, were the skins included with Presto that instantly gave all their screens a modern look, the function keys were all converted to clickable buttons and their entire app was accessible from any browser on virtually any device. “There's no question Presto had an impact right out of the box. The navigation and functionality of our applications remained intact in the refaced screens, which was perfect for our existing clients who were accustomed to the green screen. Yet at the same time, it gave a brand new look to our applications, with features that are familiar to most users who prefer the mouse over the keyboard. Presto was the perfect option for keeping our existing clients interested and making our products more marketable.”

Voelker explained that he didn’t have to touch 90 percent of their thousand screens since Presto web enables all screens automatically. He also found it easy to customize their most important screens, about 130 of them. Common enhancements he made were making text and other elements clickable and adding alert boxes to give users more info, date pickers, and arrow buttons for scrolling pages. All the conversion work is now done and V&A are finalizing their marketing plans. All in all, it took one developer less than five months to web enable over 1,000 screens including coming up with their own custom design to match their company’s look and feel.

Peers have much to offer though the wisdom gained from experience, and these three technical savvy entrepreneurs may have already arrived to where you are thinking of going. If you are considering moving forward on an IBM i application modernization initiative, it might be a good idea to include these short real-world examples in your discovery file for future reference.

Robert Gast reports on emerging information management technologies for business. He is the managing partner at Evant Group, a Chicago-based communications agency that focuses on computing related technologies.