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Surprise Someone!

April 9, 2013

Preface: In case you missed it, IBM has kicked off an ongoing IBM i 25th anniversary celebration. We will continue our tributes and reminiscences here in the weeks to come, leading up to the actual anniversary in June. Thanks to those of you who have shared your early memories so far. You can follow the bigger celebration by viewing the IBMi25 Facebook Page at bit.ly/ibmi25 (link not active). There are some really fun things happening there.

But today's blog is not about what happened 25 years ago -- it's about what is happening today in your IBM i shop. If someone walked into your shop today, would all the applications look like they might also be 25 years old?

We don't mean for this to ignite the debates on whether green screens are evil or whether they are the most practical and robust way to do data entry. We're not necessarily talking about putting a pretty face on all your existing applications, important as that may be.

What we're talking about today is anticipating the needs of the business and your end users - and not just meeting those needs - perhaps even exceeding them. Surprise someone with what You and i (to borrow Steve Will's line) can do for them.

Look around your shop and talk to the people running the business and we're sure you'll find many ideas of ways you can make their lives easier and make the business more efficient and profitable. Maybe there's a function crying out for a mobile app that runs on a tablet or smart phone to better enable people in the field or on the shop floor to work smarter. Maybe a dashboard would help executives make better decisions. Maybe a browser-based report with the ability to sort, filter and export the data to a spreadsheet would more efficiently replace a collection of spooled file reports currently languishing in OUTQs somewhere.

If you're thinking - "Sure, but I can't do any of those things, I'm just an RPG programmer" - think again. It is probably much easier than you think.

This post was inspired by a recent discussion with a software vendor at a conference. He was frustrated - not because he wasn't able to talk to a lot of programmers and explain to them how his product could make it simple for RPGers to write and deploy mobile applications - he had talked to and convinced many that they could, indeed do this. However, far too many of them seemed to be filing that information away for when it may be needed "someday" - when someone comes to them to ask them for a mobile app that runs on i.

Sadly, far too often, when a need for a web or mobile app or a dashboard arises in a company that runs its business on i, the IBM i programmers are not the first people that come to mind as being able to implement such things. Sure, they are good at keeping the payroll checks printing and the invoices going out, but modern, web and mobile things? That's a job for - well, almost anyone except our RPG programmers.

Why? Perhaps because far too often that's all we've provided. If you're waiting for someone to come and ask you for a mobile or web app or a BI solution, you may be waiting a long time. They may never ask you - they may ask the Oracle DBA (who is there because of some small stand-alone application that crept in when no one asked you), or go out and find a "Windows solution" (and we use that term very loosely!).

So what can you do? Surprise someone.

Find a small project that can have a big impact with relatively little effort - most likely with the help of a tool or two. Some of those tools may be free; some may have a cost, but even then, most of them have free trials available. You may be amazed at what you can do in a very few hours with the help of some of these tools. We'll be talking about a couple of free ones in our next EXTRA article appearing in a week or so. Check the comments below for a link to it when it is published.

The goal here is to do something quickly - not taking weeks of planning and months of development time. Create something in a few hours or, at most, days that may not be perfect, but will cause people to say "I never knew you could do things like this!"

You'll find that it can be great fun to spread your wings and do something new and different. And most importantly, you will establish yourself as the go-to person for modern applications. Perhaps the person you'll surprise most about what You and i can do is yourself. Go ahead - surprise someone this week.

Posted April 9, 2013| Permalink

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