Thursday, December 2, 2010

BI Modernization FAQs

This past year, the Kencura Systems team has kept busy converting legacy reporting applications into web-based BI products.

With the business intelligence market consolidation of the big mega-vendors (IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, and SAP) and an industry move to web-based reporting products, companies are replacing their legacy reporting applications with modern technologies. Many of these application conversions have also involved platform changes. 

Converting these large applications manually would take too long, cost too much, and be too risky.  Because of that, we automate as much of the process as possible.

I get asked lots of questions about how we accomplish this seemingly impossible task, so here are my responses to some common FAQs. 

What is DAPPER?

DAPPER is a toll-gate project methodology for addressing the complexity of converting legacy reporting applications into modern enterprise web-based BI products.  DAPPER is an acronym for our major conversion steps: Discovery, Analysis, Pilot Project, Project Plan, Execute Plan, and Retire Legacy Product.  

Do you have BI Modernization software tools?

Kencura Systems uses the "BI Analyzer" and "BI Transformer" which are components of a proprietary software application that automates many of the tasks performed during a legacy BI modernization initiative.  Written in C/C++, the application is quite small and fast -- the entire application takes less than 4 megabyte of disk space. Depending on the technology being converted, the software can process hundreds if not thousands of programs per minute.

What is the BI Analyzer?

During initial Discovery and Analysis steps, we use a feature called the BI Analyzer to scan legacy BI application and inventory the details into a data repository.  Using software to perform this activity dramatically reduces the manual effort, cutting down on the time and cost of performing upfront conversion analysis. This database provides details for scoping the work effort and performing the later conversion tasks.  Using scanned inventory data, we can automatically generate analysis and project-related documents. 

Does the BI Analyzer scan company data?

The BI Analyzer scans application code such as program logic, metadata, web launch pages, batch jobs, and so forth.  We do not need access to any of the underlying data. Kencura Systems does not use client scanned application data for any purpose other than to perform the conversion engagement.

What is the BI Transformer?

When executing the conversion plan, we use a feature called the BI Transformer which can read legacy code and automatically translate the syntax to a web-based alternative.

From which reporting languages does the BI Transformer currently convert?

We have used the BI Transformer in client engagements to convert SQL, QMF/SQL, NOMAD 4GL, FOCUS 4GL, Oracle Portal, and Crystal Reports.  We are currently investigating parsing other languages such as IBM Cognos Impromptu and SAS.

To which BI products does the BI Transformer currently convert?

Currently, we convert legacy reporting applications into WebFOCUS, the enterprise BI product from Information Builders. We are also investigating a new generator capable of producing IBM Cognos.

Is your conversion process "Point-to-Point" or do you have a "Canonical?"
A smart person asked this question. Rephrased, the question is: does your conversion tool only work with specific combinations (such as NOMAD-to-WebFOCUS) or does it translate the old language into a standard (a "canonical") and then re-translate that to another language (and is then theoretically anything-to-anything)?  The answer is that we started out with some point-to-point features but have since moved to a true canonical translation process. We have parsers that understand how to read a legacy language and convert it to the canonical.  We then have generators that can read the canonical and generate the web-based BI syntax. 

What languages can the BI Analyzer scan?

We can quickly create scanning capabilities for any text-based language.  In addition to the languages that the BI Analyzer can currently convert, we also have scanning capabilities for SAS, Brio SQR, RPG, COBOL, and others.  As an example, for the SAS product we can automatically determine the complexity of applications by scanning for statistical analysis procedures, screens, output file creation, reports, database updates, and so forth.  If you have a little-used reporting tool that is in a simple text format (let's say something like mainframe CA/EARL or DYL/280), then we could still put together a simple keyword scanning feature within a day. 

What else can the BI Transformer do?

We have also enhanced the conversion application to perform general mass-string conversions and specific conversion tasks.  For example, we automated the conversion of changing hundreds of userids from mainframe security to Active Directory. We translated hundreds of HTML web pages using CGI calls to instead use Java servlets.  We translated hundreds of mainframe batch jobs (MVS JCL) to call WebFOCUS instead of FOCUS.

Does it work?

Absolutely.  The predecessor of the BI Transformer was first created and used successfully in the early 1990s for a large consumer goods product firm here in Cincinnati.  About ten years later, the concept was rewritten into a web-based application.  During one of the first engagements of the next generation, a Fortune 50 financial services firm won a ComputerWorld award for automating hundreds of legacy mainframe ad-hoc report user libraries to a web-based BI product.  Estimated to take years and cost millions of dollars, the project was instead done in three months at a fraction of the cost. Since then, we have successfully used the software at other well-known companies and government agencies.  If you would like, you can talk with our happy clients.

How much do the BI modernization tools cost?

Kencura Systems does not sell the BI Analyzer or BI Transformer as formal software products. Instead, our consultants use it on our services engagements to speed the project. If, however, you do not want our services to perform the conversion project, we could work out a software licensing arrangement. 

Where are the BI modernization tools installed?

Typically, we do not install the BI modernization tools within the customer's environment. Instead, the software is usually on a stand-alone computer belonging to Kencura Systems. 

Some firms have secure that prohibits the sharing of legacy source code. For those clients, we can implement the tools differently; see this article on handling BI Modernization Initiatives in a secure environment

How can my company benefit from DAPPER and BI Modernization?

If you have a legacy reporting application that needs to be converted to a web-based product as quickly, safely, and cost-effectively as possible, please contact me.  We work directly with the company using the BI software or with their services partners who need assistance reducing the time, cost, and risk of performing legacy conversions. 

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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.