Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Leave a Legacy (follow-up)

Earlier this month, I did a blog on Leaving a Legacy (BI product, that is). In particular, I talked about how many large companies still have old 4GL application development tools such as FOCUS, NOMAD, and RAMIS. Not only are there hundreds of firms with these 1970s- and 1980s-era 4GLs installed, most are probably still paying annual maintenance fees of 15% to 20% of the purchase price.

Following that post, I received inquiries into how difficult it really is to convert these products. Management within these organizations are demanding, "Just replace it -- it's only a reporting tool!" but their IT groups are struggling to comply with the mandate.

Many make the decision to convert to a data warehousing ad-hoc tool such as Business Objects, moving the data off the mainframe. That creates its own issues, but there are two main reasons why this does not work well. First, the 4GL is a full application development tool while Business Objects is an ad-hoc report writer. These are apples and oranges; the replacement does not have all the features of the original product and it is not the paradigm that the end-user expects.

Another reason is that the 4GL provides real-time access to mainframe data. A data warehouse tool does not. It only allows the user to see copied data; perhaps not up-to-date, maybe not to the level of detail they need, and often without all of the needed columns.

A better solution might be to keep things where they are and convert to a new mainframe BI technology such as WebFOCUS or the zLinux Cognos. At one mainframe client, we automated the 4GL conversion and dramatically reduced the time, cost, risk, and skill-set requirements by baking translation logic into a software utility. We also reduced the amount of effort by keeping all the back-end data the same by staying on the big box. To help with support issues, we switched to a new Unix System Services operating system.

Even a conversion utility is not a magic wand, of course, and your enterprise BI conversion initiative will still be difficult. If somebody is telling you otherwise, you want to be careful moving forward with their advice.

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About Me

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I am a project-based consultant, helping data-intensive firms use agile methods and automation tools to replace legacy reporting and bring in modern BI/Analytics to leverage Social, Cloud, Mobile, Big Data, Visualizations, and Predictive Analytics. For several world-class vendors, I led services teams specializing in providing software implementation and custom application development. Based on scores of successful engagements, I have assembled proven methodologies and automated software tools.

During twenty years of technical consulting, I have been blessed to work with smart people from some of the world's most respected organizations, including: FedEx, Procter & Gamble, Nationwide, The Wendy's Company, The Kroger Co., JPMorgan Chase, MasterCard, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Siemens, American Express, and others.

I was educated at Valparaiso University and the University of Cincinnati, graduating summa cum laude. In 1990, I joined Information Builders, the vendor of WebFOCUS BI and iWay enterprise integration products, and for over a dozen years served in branch leadership roles. For several years, I also led technical teams within Cincom Systems' ERP software product group and the custom software services arm of Xerox.

Since 2007, I have provided enterprise BI services such as: strategic advice; architecture, design, and software application development of intelligence systems (interactive dashboards and mobile); data warehousing; and automated modernization of legacy reporting.