Informing the IBM Community

Tim Rowe, from IBM i Development Lab, Rochester USA, chats to

(0)               Hello Tim,  it is nice to talk to you again. Since we last spoke can you tell our readers what has been happening or what to expect in the IBM i Application and Development arena?

Tim Rowe: –        Well there is continual stuff happing in Application & Development,  one of the beauties of Application & Development is that it’s not stagnant, you don’t write something once and leave it alone, although I might add many of our customers have in fact done that to some degree or other,  but there’s  many who have understood that developing applications is looking after the needs of the business and reacting to those needs of the business and continuing to make changes to your applications to support that.

For many of our customers that has led them on a modernisation journey, it’s something that we (IBM) have been talking about and I have been evangelising for quite some time is the fact you can do some very modern things on this platform. You can have very modern rich web, mobile and AI driven applications that interact with IoT devices that could be on your shopfloor, or on your truck, whatever the case maybe, and be able to leverage back into applications a continues integration deployment type model using the tools that are modern in todays development world. So we (IBM) have gone to great lengths to modernise, take RPG for example, RPG is very much a modern language, if you choose it to be, unlike so many other languages and platforms. One of our key tenants is our ‘investment to protection concept’, which for better or worse, means your System36 RPG code still runs on a POWER9 processor,  but it doesn’t mean it needs to stay there.

PowerWire: –     Modernisation has been a big topic in the content of the conferences that I have worked on over the years with i-UG.  We are always trying to teach our readers and attendees that modernisation is a good thing, a must if you will!

Tim Rowe: –        I have to stress, staying current is a choice, it’s a choice for both companies and developers, unfortunately I’ve seen too many companies, their lead development, their architects, whatever they call themselves, say ‘its working, so if it is working why do I need to change it?’ They are losing sight of the fact that in order to make a difference and improve the business, whether that’s with modern interfaces or other things, it does require you to take some modernization efforts and you can use new young developer’s with RPG just as easily as you can with Python or Node, or any of the other amazing languages that we have on our platform. Really the key thing about applications today is they need to be a hybrid type model.

Powerwire: – Hybrid is a modern word now, its being used in every industry sector, even in the events world, i-UG are introducing hybrid events into their schedules.

Tim Rowe: –        Hybrid isn’t just a buzz word it’s a reality, and something that is a reality for importance for what we do as a development team as well as what our customers are doing if they are successful. And what I mean by hybrid, I’m talking about customers who may use DB2, SQL, RPG, but they’ll also be using some of the language that’s in the front end whether its Java, PHP, Python, NodeJS, whatever the case may be, to bring value to that existing application. The other reality is for years people thought of IBM i as an on-premises solution, if you will, and absolutely its an on-prem’ solution, but then again when I throw the hybrid word in for a different reason, applications can be hybrid and we have been working hard to make sure IBM i life very well in a hybrid cloud environment, where there may be aspects of the application that live in the cloud or on-prem’ we don’t care!

PowerWire: –        So Tim, we want people and companies, to modernise and not stand still? I think part of the problem, if I can call it that, is that IBM i is so robust that people feel if ‘its not broken, then why  should I fix it?’. But you are saying  that standing still isn’t good for companies and introducing modernisation is future proofing their existence?

Tim Rowe: –  Yes, there are groups  who say ‘change is hard therefore I don’t want to change.’

PowerWire.: –   Yes, that can be a human failure, we can be lazy and see change as a task, we must educate people to make the change and modernise. Back in 2011 part of our annual conference contained a ‘code shoot out’ where attendees could watch different ways of modernising code, so change was happing even back then.

Tim Rowe.          Changes are continuing to evolve, back then (2011) it might have been a UI modernisation change, while that’s still part of the conversation, its evolved beyond that. Now its being able to have a REST API’s, being able to have REST interfaces, being able to access things from many different locations, its being able to leverage modern source tools like Git so you can use GitHub and stuff to do your source control management. Its being able to do a CI/ CD (continuous integration / continuous deployment), I don’t have to deploy my applications once a year, I can deploy my applications daily with updates because I have automated testing, automated build, I have automated publishing to whatever IBM i and if you start looking from a cloud perspective, the things you can do in the cloud now are incredible. I can spin up the development environments in the cloud and do all my development in the cloud and back up. And the things we have added to our Rational Developer for I products, like being able to allow you to take a block of source code, highlight it, and we can then extract that and create  procedure for you, which is really part of the whole process of modernisation, taking your monolithic code, breaking it down into re-usable components that are understandable we have the ability to rename variables with our rename factor support, again to allow you to go from those cryptic six character variable to something that’s self-documenting, so you do end up with modern RPG with a modern application.

PowerWire.       This is great news Tim, being able to use the cloud and modernise while not being on site, is a valuable tool to have nowadays given our restrictions on movement due to Covid-19 etc. In my opinion, using modern language means younger developers can also work on IBM i and not see it as an old system/platform, which is a good thing.

Tim Rowe.          Absolutely, modern language is what they know. One of the other things that need to happen, if companies want to be successful is to hire younger talent, they need to do things in a manner that makes sense for the younger developer; so you know using PDM to do green screen editing of your development, you are not going to keep a young developer around very long, heck you wouldn’t keep me around very long if I had to do my development using something like that, and I’m not young. You must make sure you are doing things that make sense in today’s world. Modern RPG is definitely a real thing, and its important to understand that you don’t want to run away from RPG, and DB2, and IBM i, because the system is secure, its reliable, it works, it’s cost effective to run your business on, there’s a reason that you keep your core business logic and data on i, but that doesn’t mean you cant use a web or mobile interface.

PowerWire: –     Is there a place / website where our readers can find out more information on this?

Tim Rowe: –        We would love to have a dedicated site for this, but part of the problem is that modernisation doesn’t sit still, so it could be as soon as we publish something it may be old news!  But there are certainly some good places, if you go out to our (IBM) RDI Café, there is some great information about the latest features we’ve added to RDI, if you go to our integrated webservices webpage, again all the latest support that we’ve added into the integrated REST API engine for the system is out there, there is tons and tonnes of great  information, but there isn’t a place for the broader concept that I think you are looking for!

Tim and Scott iSee video blog –

PowerWire: –     Thanks for those tips on where to go to find information and I understand information on the ‘internet’ can sometimes be old news. Its one of the reasons why I keep banging the drum about the benefits of being a member of an IBM i user group, is that they will have knowledgeable speakers at their conferences as well as attendees who work with the platform every day, and it’s amazing what you can learn from your fellow peers at these groups and conferences.

Tim Rowe.          I agree, one of things that your readers could do is visit our IBM homepage there’s a fantastic link to some of  our customers who have done what we’ve been talking about, modernising their application, I think there are about 60 stories out there, that would be a good place to see what customers have done. They don’t go into any detail, but there’s a lot information about the benefits of modernization.

PowerWire:       I’m sure our readers will pop over to the site and take a look!

Tim Rowe:          Before we go, one of the strategic changes we have made on the system is instead of using CL and system API’s to get at information and manage things, we’ve been leveraging SQL services, you might have heard Steve Bradshaw talk about those? (PW, read Andy Youens aricle on SQL Services ) One of the things that Scott and I have done is create a couple of locations so that people can learn how to do this themselves because not everybody is going to be an SQL expert, I know I’m certainly not, but that doesn’t mean I can’t use SQL successfully, so we’ve created a video blog were people can see real life examples on how to do certain things. And Scott has a Gist sight on GitHub where he answers lost of questions with actual SQL examples.

PowerWire: –    Well Tim, as always its been great to speak to you, thanks for giving us your time today, I’m sure our readers will enjoy the insights you’ve shared with them. I look forward to speaking again in the near future.

Tim Rowe,
Business Architect Application Development & Systems Management for IBM i
IBM i ISV Council
IBM i Development Lab, Rochester, MN

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