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Benefits of Modernizing IBM i Applications Go Beyond Look and Feel

Learn why modernizing IBM i applications can improve performance

image of a man at a desk with a computer from above.

“We recognized early on that new and existing customers wanted to move workloads off-site. And so, VAI Cloud was born in 2009,” says Kevin Beasley, CIO of Vormittag Associates Inc. (VAI), a major ERP vendor to hard goods, food and pharmaceutical distributors. The company’s primary application, which governs the operations of 1,500 companies around the world, was built on the robust Power Systems™ platform running IBM i. Before IBM i clouds were readily available, VAI stood up its own, complete with high availability, SLAs and the power to run many instances of their flagship application. 

Years ago, when organizations like VAI were rapidly adopting IBM i applications, the very idea of cloud was barely on the horizon. Or was it? IBM mainframes pioneered a shared computing model, allocated and purchased in increments. Cloud is the evolution of that model, using the incredible power of high-speed bandwidth to enable even more computing to be more broadly shared.

Today, IBM i clouds are everywhere. For those of us who have long supported the platform, this is excellent news and an acknowledgment that IBM i is marching forward into the future.

Moving to the Cloud 

The use cases for IBM i in the cloud range from scalability to high availability and disaster recovery. All of these uses share one thing in common: The applications running on this platform continue to be core to businesses. Companies want to invest in, maintain and enhance their core applications. 

The move to cloud and hybrid models for IBM i provides countless benefits to clients. But just as we boost the platform and the underlying infrastructure, companies running core IBM i applications should consider elevating the application, the interfaces and their role within the broader IT context. 

VAI did just that with their move to the cloud, but the company also recognized that the back end was just one piece of the story. For end users, the experience of using the application mattered a great deal, from back-office accounting and finance to warehouse workers and business partners. On-boarding new users was time consuming, presenting very different interfaces than typical mobile and web apps.

To bring IBM i applications forward means both reassessing the back end and modernizing the front end and integrations. But that doesn’t have to be difficult or costly, and the benefits are clear.

The Vast Front End

VAI’s applications grew over the years, incorporating features and capabilities that helped customers track and optimize their own business processes efficiently. Updating the user experience was a daunting task. 

“Rewriting our ERP apps was never an option and would have required us to start our business from scratch, costing millions of dollars,” says Bob Vormittag, president and CEO.  

VAI explored various UI options with some success. Company officials realized they needed more than just an attractive echo of their 5250 interfaces, so they shifted gears toward a browser-based approach that enhanced and streamlined the interface.

Most IBM i applications are complex enough that reskinning them screen by screen would only propagate inefficiencies in the interfaces. Instead, take the following steps:

  • Identify the parts of the application that are used most, as they’re the priority
  • Examine the workflow, restructuring it to reduce frustration and improve efficiency
  • Design the interface to align with modern UI principles and corporate brand standards 
  • Automate the reskinning of the rarely used parts of the application, building a completely web-based experience

To do that, it’s helpful to employ a solution that can:

  • Flexibly map green-screen interfaces to a web browser, without requiring coding in the host language
  • Automate the initial conversion, rapidly creating a foundation that can then be enhanced in key areas
  • Traverse many screens and processes, consolidating them for users 
  • Provide modern GUI elements and responsive design for mobile users

VAI did just that, web-enabling its core ERP application. With many more applications under its corporate umbrella, VAI took modernization a step further
by building integrations between those applications and
the ERP. 

“No application is isolated in an IT environment. They rely on each other’s business logic and data in order to support the operations of the company. So, our ERP can now programmatically interface with the rest of our suite, providing consistent data and streamlined operations for our customers,” says Kevin Beasley, CIO of VAI.

A Modern IBM i Application

It’s critical to make sure that the results of modernization of the front end, the APIs and the back end of IBM i applications are consistent. Re-platforming has always been a formidable and costly option that many enterprises put off year after year. By embracing hybrid and cloud models, recreating the front end and integrating applications across IT, the IBM i application becomes indistinguishable from a new app to a user. 

With these modernization efforts, VAI experienced business growth of 5-13% annually. More importantly, customers achieved better outcomes with the software.

“We know that lowering error rates, driving operational efficiency and easing application maintenance all mean bottom-line results for our customers around the world,” says Beasley. “Prioritizing modernization of the VAI ERP delivered those results for them, and in turn, for our business as well.” 

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