Let business modernize IT, not IT

By: Stuart Milligan

To IT, modernization means DDS to SQL, RPGIII to RPG Free, 5250 to Web, Web to Mobile, or any technology specific milestone or objective. To business, modernization means quicker to market, more market feedback, more sales channels, better buying power, lower operating costs, real-time performance, and operational feedback.

In a modern enterprise (a company that exploits both physical and digital growth opportunities) the business typically drives the specifics of all development.

While rarely explicitly stated, the implication in most IBM i shops is that modernization of code/system/database achieves real business value. For many years I partially believed that myself. DDS to SQL, modules and service programs etc are useful, but not as a business driver.

Ironically there is actually a technological solution to allowing business to drive modernization for tangible business gain. And that is digital transformation to a development approach that supports continuous delivery. A REST strategy can deliver this. In the IBM i shops that are already doing this, the business sponsors are rethinking the future of their IBM i legacy, as they enjoy same day turn-around on new or changed requirements.

So instead of making the assumption that low-level technological modernization is essential for business growth, ask the business what they want. Continuous delivery is more important than DDL, rapid integration is more important than RPG Free, and RPG is more relevant on IBM i than Node.js.

Start with an integration requirement that the business needs. That may be for a mobile app, a self-service API, or integrating with a partner. Build that API. Harvest from legacy what can be harvested to support that API. This gives business value and provides very clear focus (and funding) on what should/could be modernized.

You don't need heavy SOA to achieve digital transformation. If you have it implemented, great! Does it work for your business?

Zenith. RCA. American Motors. Texaco. Polaroid. A handful of once titanic brands. Names that today are nearly forgotten. In their heyday, these companies were leaders of industry and an integral part of the business landscape. Yet since 2000, 52 percent of the companies in the Fortune 500 have gone bankrupt, have been acquired, or have ceased to exist. Why? Because digital has irrevocably changed how to compete.

Loosely coupled software components, built for a specific business requirement, have value today. Don't strive for a possible value in the future (the central tenet for building an ESB or SOA design) but now.

Following a proven, global standard (REST API's) provides potentially infinite reusability, anywhere by anyone, using a self-service model and is the central technology component of all digital enterprises. In this world, the value of legacy increases through reuse, rather than decreasing because of complexity.

The other untapped value is using someone else's code just as easily as you use your own. Not just third-party software, but partners, governing bodies, customers and, why not, code from competitors. Why should you build a tedious telephone checking algorithm if you can ask an online service? Or a tax calculation? Or statistical significance test? Focus on your cutting edge and tap in other resources for commodity functions, like sending e-mails. Build whatever UI is needed over that API. The beauty of this modern standard approach is that ALL relevant UI’s support a REST API. Host a hackathon to get the UI/Mobile/Web app built over your API. You will have talents, young and old, from everywhere, interested in your business. It will be competitive and relevant. Your partners and suppliers will love the fact that they can work with you in self-service mode.

The generic business objective of modernization should be to achieve a globally accepted standard of continuous delivery. REST API's have exponentially proven the most successful proponent of that objective. You can start a REST implementation today and be live with an API tomorrow. Join the digital economy.