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Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corp. Modernizes with RPG Conversion

free-form RPG
Kody Robinson, business and financial systems developer, AECC- Photography by Daymon Gardner


Customer: Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corp.
Headquarters: Little Rock, Arkansas
Business: Nonprofit electricity provider
Challenge: Wanting to modernize with an eye toward the future
Solution: Hiring a young programmer, using Rational Developer for i for easier coding, converting traditional RPG applications to free-format RPG with ARCAD-Transformer RPG, adopting free-form RPG as the development language of choice, using PHP for browser-based applications and migrating from DDS to DDL to take advantage of SQL
Hardware: An IBM Power 720 server
Software: Arcad Software’s ARCAD-Transformer RPG, IBM Rational Developer for i and IBM DB2 for i

While preparing for future computing opportunities, including cloud, mobile and browser-based access to back-end systems, the Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corp. (AECC) found itself in a bit of a bind. Although its legacy RPG applications— written over the course of several decades—were robust enough, they were hampered by rigid coding techniques and green-screen interfaces.

AECC could have rewritten the applications from scratch, purchased a prepackaged solution or moved to another platform. Instead, it hired a new college graduate and non-RPG coder to help its IT staff determine the best way to modernize. Kody Robinson, business and financial systems developer, AECC, and the IT team took a second look at the company’s existing RPG programs to leverage the applications’ existing logic and update them.

Using free-format RPG and an RPG conversion tool, the organization can now more fully embrace future technologies. “You just need to take advantage of the new features, languages and technologies now available on the Power Systems* platform to get the same results you can on other platforms,” Robinson says. “It’s not an either-or situation.”

Road Map to Modernization

Established in 1949, the nonprofit AECC provides wholesale electricity to Arkansas’s 17 electric distribution cooperatives, serving approximately 1.2 million members and over 60 percent of the state’s land area. In addition to AECC, Arkansas’s cooperatives include Arkansas Electric Cooperative Inc. (AECI), a statewide service association that provides right-of-way maintenance, utility sales, high-voltage equipment testing, governmental affairs, and communications for member cooperatives and other power providers.

AECC is in charge of IT for not only itself, but also AECI. It’s also responsible for developing and maintaining a variety of homegrown applications for utility sales and service, finance and administration, public affairs, and member services. These programs run on a Power* 720 server hosted at AECC’s Little Rock location.

To secure its future, AECC started mapping out a modernization path in late 2014 to offer cloud and mobile-device access to systems. Back then, computing interfaces were green screen and not amenable to browser-based front ends. Although some departments, including accounting and warehousing, were fine with this, others weren’t.

As Robinson explains, “People in our utility sales division, which involves large-scale shipping and receiving, like the ability to log into an application, hit option one or two, key in what’s about to ship and press enter. It’s no big deal for them. On the flip side, other areas don’t want to navigate that way. They prefer a point-and-click environment.”

Jim Utsler, IBM Systems Magazine senior writer, has been covering the technology field for more than a decade. Jim can be reached at jjutsler@provide.net.

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