The Grass is Always Greener Over The Septic Field - An Argument for Modernization Over Replacement

The Grass is Always Greener Over The Septic Field – An Argument for Modernization Over Replacement

Let’s talk a little bit about migrating off the platform. Hang on a second. What?

That’s right. Let’s talk about moving away from IBM i.

It’s been often said that the grass is always greener on the other side. I would argue that in the case of moving away from IBM i, the grass is most certainly greener over a leaking septic tank. Since the septic tank is buried below ground far from view, the lush green grass is indicative of hidden problems that will unfortunately make your new property acquisition cost far more than you thought.

What do I mean by that? I’ve made a pretty unsavory comparison.

I need to, yes pun intended, ensure my claims are backed up.

A big part of this is technical debt and how it may pertain to a traditional IBM i shop. Let’s say, for example, a customer bought a turnkey AS/400 software package to run their business back in 1988. For the last 34 years, they may have recouped their original investment many times over. Now, the business has changed. They haven’t maintained and grown their applications to keep up with said change. The company wants graphical screens, drop-down boxes, vendor support to make customizations, and an overall lower cost. So they view 34 years of change as something they can forego by simply purchasing a new application system to run their business. The “set it and forget it” mentality may have run up what appears to be an enormous amount of technical debt. This is usually where the perceived need to move to a new platform altogether comes into play.

Considering they’ve gotten their money’s worth out of a solution for the last 34 years many times over, I would argue that a business can afford to reinvest in IBM i and their traditional applications. How hard would it be to implement changes to bring application logic in line with business changes? Well, 34 years’ worth of change is darn near impossible to achieve if you build or buy. The old triangle of “you can have a solution for cheap, fast, and well-done so pick two” certainly works for any professional industry. So to purchase a solution and implement it quickly and well done, well that’s going to cost you financially. That’s the commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) type of solution. It will have to be customized heavily for your business in order to get to the point where you’re starting today.

From a modernization perspective, the same principles of cheap, fast, and well done are exactly the same.

It will take you more time to build those modifications, but the cost remains relatively steady. Of course, additional development costs will be incurred but at a far lower amount than a full COTS system retrofit for your business. In modernization, core application logic largely doesn’t change. If you walk into a bank to do some business (hey some of us still do that), do you really think those graphical screens hit a Windows server? Hardly but perhaps indirectly. You can guarantee that their graphical screens are tapping into logic and pulling back data from an IBM i or z/OS system. They may host user interfaces on another platform with minor logic, but guaranteed they’re tapping into logic written up to 60 years ago. Banks aren’t ignorant of the fact they have a solid investment in core systems logic and require a little elbow grease to modernize the presentation layer. It’s far more cost effective to do that than to rip and replace it.

The same analogy goes to your home. You’ve paid into your mortgage for 20 years. If you need all your shingles replaced, you can certainly sell your home and buy a new one. The cost of that roof replacement will be factored into the selling price or part of the conditions of the sale. The buyer will want it fixed or the price reduced so they can fix it themselves. And that will certainly play into the cost of how much you can afford to put down on the new mortgage. You’re going to pay one way or another. What is the less expensive way to do it? 9 times out of 10, it’s far less expensive to hire a roofer and get the shingles replaced. Maybe you have to refinance in order to put that extra $5,000 to $15,000 into your existing mortgage if you want to spread that investment across multiple years. And you don’t have the hassle of moving to a new place, which also isn’t cheap. I’ll briefly digress. My last move cost me roughly $5,500 in transportation costs to move three hours away, and that was after beating them up and taking them to small claims court after they tried to state their estimate was three times lower than reality, post-move. Their extremely lowball estimate wasn’t my problem.

I can come up with many examples of companies that decided to leave IBM i for greener grass. It’s all anecdotal.

Nobody ever wants to go on the record with that stuff because it’s embarrassing to state you sank millions of dollars to be no further ahead, then have to keep the old system and applications simply because the new system doesn’t do everything a salesperson said it did. Or the cost to migrate and build custom applications for the things the COTS system did off the shelf was simply too much to absorb. I know a customer who sank two years into an ERP replacement (still keeping IBM i) where all they were able to move was AP and GL. Millions were spent on software and consultants and project managers and backfilling employees because they were all involved in planning and execution meetings. They lost seventeen key team members in the process because the stress was unbearable. After two years, they nearly went bankrupt and were bought out. So many examples like this are available if you want to get past the shiny COTS marketing exterior. The cost to rip and replace is far higher than making minor changes to how you actually do technology.

Before you think that moving away from existing applications, you need to understand how modernization needs to be part of an overall IT strategy. Slow, iterative change. Modest investments in existing systems. Giving IT departments the budgets to be progressive instead of reactive. Enhancing the systems you’ve already paid for means your business (and most definitely employees) can absorb change much easier. This is where you need to be leading your organizations.

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