RPG Programmer of 27 Years Uses WebSmart ILE to Develop Strategic, Revenue-Generating Web Applications
We decided to retrain, rather than replace, our in-house talent. WebSmart really does help you get to the web faster!"
When Susan DeFrance, Mitsubishi Fuso's Project Manager/Lead Analyst/Sr. Programmer, tried WebSmart, she was impressed with how quickly she was able to put together a web-based application that accesses data over IBM i. Within days, the RPG programmer of 27 years was instructing other RPG programmers in her department on how to develop web applications with WebSmart.
Susan's department now plays an increasingly strategic role in the organization, sparking ideas with upper management. They've developed applications for their dealer portal, including warranty claims and vehicle search, and for the first time, they generate revenue by charging for the use of WebSmart-developed web applications.
We asked Susan some questions about her experiences with WebSmart ILE. Here are her responses:
Please tell us about your organization.
Mitsubishi Fuso Truck of America, Inc. (MFTA), headquartered in Logan Township, New Jersey, imports and markets Class 3 through 5 diesel-powered, medium-duty cab-over trucks through more than 200 locations in the US, Canada and Puerto Rico. Over 100,000 Mitsubishi Fuso trucks have been sold into the North American market since the company was founded in 1985.
Why did you choose WebSmart?
Our IT staff at MFTA is small and grounded heavily in RPG and IBM i, with exceptional skill sets and experience. WebSmart marketed itself as an easier transition to the web for RPG programmers and we have found this to be true.
When we learned that we must show a presence on the web, we decided to retrain, rather than replace, our in-house talent. I was tasked with finding a product that would "fit." I looked at other products, jumped through hoops and trudged through some dense training in an attempt to get my hands on a demo of the other products, or to at least set up the infrastructure and see it do something... Anything!
Then I read about WebSmart on IBM's Roadmap and gave BCD a call. I had a simple but real web application running over my data in less time than it took the other guys to return my call. In the end, I chose WebSmart because it was a perfect fit for us.
What types of applications have you developed with WebSmart?
Our field personnel and dealer portal business applications are almost exclusively WebSmart-developed and include warranty claims, vehicle search, sales information and more. Our in-house applications are mainly RPG. But, when I need a small program like an inquiry in a hurry, I'd rather use WebSmart. Nothing beats it for speed and uniformity.
I also wrote our company's Demo Program, which I'm very proud of. This application allows the dealerships to register vehicles as Demonstrators. MFTA employees approve/disapprove/reject the registrations. The Dealer then inputs the list of customers and submits the eventual claim. MFTA approves payment of the monetary reward. All of this must comply with our annual incentive program's rules.
Previously, paper registrations were approved and a date placed against the truck. When the written proof of drivers was mailed/faxed to us, a disbursement was entered using a green screen-based Demo application, then that amount was tracked in the accounting system.
We also had to enforce all rules manually. For example, how many trucks a dealer sold over the last two years would tell us how many Demo claims they could make in the current year. There is a limit of two trucks at a time as active Demos. Dates and mileage had to match up as customers drove the trucks. Names could not be repeatedly used year to year. All of these details are now handled by the Demo Program I wrote.
Developing this program with WebSmart was great fun. It's easy to visually assess the progress of the vehicle though the system with images, hover text and color cues. Partial data entry is allowed but the Submit button doesn't appear until all fields are correct and complete. This validation prevents bad data from getting to the back-end. It also looks really slick!
Next on deck for me is a truck leasing program that sounds very interesting and high profile.
What is your programming background and how much web development experience did you have prior to using WebSmart?
I came from the Atlantic City Casinos IT community (I was one of only eight programmers who actually opened Trump's Taj Mahal). In Philadelphia, I programmed at one of the top 25 law firms in the country. When the law firm moved away from IBM i, I felt that I had to leave because I didn't want to become a third-party application administrator. They had no plans for web development and even if they did, those plans would not include the AS400 or my skill set (zero web development experience).
Are you using WebSmart with mobile devices like iPads and iPhones? If not, do you have future plans to do so?
There are no concrete plans for mobile device programming yet, but I have confidence that we can do it with WebSmart. Soon, I want us to be able to say, 'HEY! We've got an app for that!'"
What has the end user response been to the web applications?
Each year, our dealer community has the opportunity to rate us both through our own surveys and in comparison to other original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). Our "website" has consistently been one of the highest-rated on the industry-wide survey. The consistent look and feel, which helps with the user's comfort level and acceptance of new applications, has often been the touted reason for the high marks.
How has WebSmart changed the way you or your IT department are perceived within your organization?
With no turnover and minimal training, we have a staff capable of simultaneously maintaining and developing both web-based and green-screen (navigator-adapted) applications on IBM i. We've become more visible and less mysterious than we used to be. Everyone has a PC and everyone "knows how a web app works" so this pseudo-expertise is very useful when a user needs to describe what they want on the HTML-side of a project. I feel it has fostered a partnership between user and programmer that I believe is so important to the success of any project.
Since the WebSmart modernization, we spark ideas with upper management, like new sales programs and incentives. We also charge for the use of the portal and, for the first time, generate revenue.
Would you recommend WebSmart to other people? Why?
Absolutely! Definitely! We are an immediate gratification society and WebSmart really does help you get to the web faster!
What has your experience been like with BCD's Technical Support team?
BCD Tech Support is rivalled by none. I don't like to call any tech support, not because I don't like to ask for help - I often scream for help. But most times getting the help is a long and tedious process of repeating what you've already tried, and going from level "basic" to help desk to level "deity."
BCD doesn't give me an entry-level, triage assessment before they help. BCD understands me! And it wasn't much of a process to build this rapport, not when you start with great people. Don't get me wrong: I've been able to stump them on occasion, but they never give up on me. Without hesitation, I believe BCD has the best support I've come across.