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Long-Time IBM i Consultant Uses WebSmart PHP to Transition to the Web Development World and Replace an Antiquated Spreadsheet-Driven Process

  • Russ Khoury, President
  • Paul Russell Associates, Inc.

"What sold WebSmart PHP for me was the technical support."

Russ Khoury, an independent IBM i consultant since 1985, used WebSmart PHP to build a browser-based prospect management application for his client's sales team. The PHP application replaced their previous system, which relied on multiple spreadsheets that were difficult to access and could only be updated by one person at a time.

Backed by BCD's technical support team, Russ successfully transitioned to the web development world and replaced an antiquated system with an easy-to-use PHP web application.

We asked Russ some questions about his experiences with WebSmart PHP. Here are his responses:

What is your programming background and why did you decide to begin developing web applications for IBM i?

I began green screen development in 1979 and have worked exclusively with IBM midrange applications since then. Most of my clients are small to medium-sized companies that use traditional green screens.

I recently had an opportunity to create an application from scratch for a client. I knew that their sales associates (the end users) were more comfortable with a web GUI so I convinced my client that a browser-based application would be the way to go.

Why did you choose WebSmart PHP?

I had worked with ProGen [BCD's RPG code generator] a number of years ago and I liked it so I wanted to give WebSmart a shot.

I tried WebSmart PHP and I found that it was easy to use. It generated code on the fly for me and I was able to put some simple things together in a reasonable amount of time. What really sold it for me was the technical support.

I'm an RPG IV, free-format kind of guy and I had dabbled in some PHP in the past so reading PHP was relatively simple. But no matter what a book says, it doesn't tell you how to develop something. You're not only learning PHP, you're also learning some JavaScript or jQuery, HTML and CSS. You're putting together multiple technologies that are pretty foreign to an RPG, CL, SQL, DDS person. That's when you need technical support.

When I struggled with something for a while, I often said, "I'm going to make a quick phone call because there's probably a two-minute solution." And 99% of the time, BCD's technical support team had an answer for me or gave me the clue to what I was doing wrong. They really were terrific.

What was the purpose of the application you developed and what features did it include?

The application that I developed with WebSmart PHP is a sales-based application that manages prospects. It incorporates a web service that interacts with the US postal service for address verification and standardization. All of the data entry was done via PHP.

I also included automated email follow up reminders. Because the information was in a database that resided on the i, I was able to run a SQL statement to select the records that had today's date, for instance, and I used MMAIL to send email from the system.

How did your client's sales representatives previously manage prospects?

The client's sales associates used various Excel spreadsheets to track the prospects and the stage in the sales process they were at. They would have to be printed and updated constantly, but only one person could update a spreadsheet at a time.

What has the end user response been to the web applications?

The end users are happy and comfortable with the application because they find it easy to use. It was great getting such positive feedback from my client.

Were there any websites you found especially useful to learn web development technologies?

  • W3Schools
  • jQuery
  • I would Google everything that I was trying to figure out, which is a mixed blessing. You'd get more hits than if you searched for RPG or IBM i-related things, but when you get a million hits, you don't always know which one will solve your problem.

What is your favorite feature in WebSmart PHP?

The IDE is useful. I found it intuitive, helpful and quick to start up.

Would you recommend WebSmart PHP to other people?

Yes, I would recommend WebSmart PHP hand-in-hand with BCD's technical support for a person or group just starting out with web development. I didn't want to get stuck and tell my client that I didn't know how to do something. I'm selling time and if it takes too much time, then I'm not doing well. That's where BCD's technical support made the difference for me.

What has your experience been like with BCD's Technical Support team?

BCD's technical support team is very knowledgeable, helpful, and patient. I could get 80-90% done and they'd get me over the hump, so it was always well worth calling them. I relied on them heavily in the beginning and they helped enhance my skill set, which made the project successful.