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 software consultant, specializing in automating transitions from legacy reporting applications into modern BI/Analytics to leverage Social, Cloud, Mobile, Big Data, Visualizations, and Predictive Analytics using Information Builders' WebFOCUS. Based on scores of successful engagements, I have assembled proven Best Practice methodologies, software tools, and templates.

I have been blessed to work with innovators from firms such as: Ford, 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, where I graduated summa cum laude. In 1990, I joined Information Builders and for over a dozen years served in regional pre- and post-sales technical leadership roles. Also, for several years I led the US technical services teams within Cincom Systems' ERP software product group and the Midwest 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. My experience with BI products include WebFOCUS (vendor certified expert), R, SAP Business Objects (WebI, Crystal Reports), Tableau, and others.