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Planning for Success: The Importance of an IT Strategy and IBM i Roadmap

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Over the years, each of us has made different investments into the development and advancements of our IBM i systems. Some have adopted modern practices and technologies but each of us has taken different approaches, putting us all at different starting points in developing our IT strategies. Application modernization means something different to all of us. For some, it might involve modernizing the user interface, code or database. For others, it could mean transforming RPG or CA 2E (Synon) to modern languages. Cloud, AI, IoT or open source are additional examples.

However you define it, many organizations that rely on IBM i applications have this in common: a need to improve agility, grow revenue and increase competitiveness, all while facing limited budgets, technical debt and skills shortages.

What would you say is the most important element in a successful IBM i modernization project? Would it involve sourcing the right solutions or using the best technology? How about having the right skills at your disposal? Of course, you’ll want to complete the project on time and on budget.

All of the above are significant factors, but having a well-crafted and clear IT strategy and IBM i roadmap is critical to digital transformation success and getting your project off the ground. In some cases, these initiatives require a significant investment of time, people, money and tools. Producing a strong business case helps rationalize investments and define the goals and requirements needed to get buy-in from the organization. A comprehensive strategy and roadmap with clear milestones of value delivery shows you the way.

What Is a Discovery Engagement?

When you embark on a modernization project, there are a lot of questions about how you’ll do it and how much it’ll cost. As we all know, in IT, the cost depends on what your desired end-state is and how fast you want to get there. Building a plan helps your organization understand how much it’s going to cost, why they should fund it, what value they can expect, and why now.

When we begin a Discovery engagement, our clients typically come with a strong idea of what they have and what they’re trying to accomplish. They might be trying to improve agility, enable new business functionality, move from green screen to web applications or find alternative solutions for sourcing readily available skills in the market.

As the collaboration progresses, we often find that the client has identified one or two pain points, but there’s more to explore to ensure they choose the right solutions and build the right roadmap. Here’s an example: Systems of engagement such as mobile applications and new web portals can be built as new front ends on an IBM i system. However, it’s important to consider the potential repercussions of building systems of engagement without treating the existing code & database and working with a system that’s not properly prepared to handle it – you may end up with stability or scalability issues.

When we work with a client who wants to modernize, we dig into what modernization might mean to them. We might ask, “What’s your company doing in terms of digital technologies? How has COVID affected your business? Has it required you to pivot or evolve in any way? What other market or competitive disruptions are affecting your business? How are you set up for resources?”

Consider the definition of the word ‘discovery’: It’s the act of finding something that hasn’t been known before. We often discover that what a client thinks they want differs from the reality of what they need to offer real business value. These strategic discoveries lead to far more successful projects.

Why Make a Business Case for My Modernization Project?

Most of our clients come to us acknowledging that they need a detailed strategy to defend the “why now” versus “five years from now” question to their organization. They might have started by looking at tools, which is very common with IBM i shops because many of our clients are developers.

It’s helpful to have a strategist guide you through building the business case. Part of this involves creating an IT strategy, but it’s important to also look at the business strategy. When you work at both levels to build a business case that addresses real business pain, chances are much higher that the company is going to fund the initiative. Bringing together all the stakeholders in the company and an external partner can bring credibility to the strategy, the process and to IT. Figuring out who can benefit most from modernization helps identify business champions and project sponsors.

A strategist can help you define what you need to accomplish by helping you build your IT strategy and IBM i roadmap. We’ll work together to answer questions such as: What are your organization’s ambitions and what will they support? How can we best drive those goals forward? What problems are we fixing? How does this deliver quantifiable value to the company? How can we deliver value now and not after two years of heavy lifting? What is the best approach? What sequence of activities is right for the business?

Ultimately, the organization wants to know how much, and that is dependent on the solution that comes together as we collaboratively develop your strategy and roadmap.

To find out how much, we need to know what we’re doing and how much of it we have to do. That brings us to the second part of the Discovery process, which involves analyzing your code. We can discuss using automated tools that can quickly identify dead code and expose design patterns, the data model and the complexity of your system. This also helps us define key areas to focus on that will bring the most value. Most companies have 20–50% dead code that is a waste of time and money to investment in. This is a vital step in creating a modernization strategy that would bring the most value.

What To Expect From a Discovery?

Ideally, a Discovery session should help you understand where to focus efforts and drive the best value. You should consider the modernization solutions that are available for web, APIs and cloud as well as agile development processes. Creating a roadmap and ascertaining some quick wins will help boost your momentum. Building and layering your plan in stages can help you clearly demonstrate the value of modernization to the business.

Fresche’s Discoveries are based on collaborative workshops. There are a lot of elements for us to explore together, including the business, your system, your applications and how they’ve evolved, the state of your database, the overall health of your code, your staffing and skills and where you want to go.

These workshops have two elements:

  1. Education: Our strategists are here to educate and facilitate. Instead of handing you a cookie-cutter strategy, we present the available approaches, technologies and end-states as well as their pros and cons. Our role is to share what other clients have done and advise as to what might be risky.
  2. Collaborative Strategy Development: Once you understand what’s possible, we collaborate on the best path forward. We work together to define the requirements from both the IT and the business perspectives, while providing parameters around what the end-state and journey would look like. Finally, we evolve those requirements into a solution that has a budget, a resource plan, and a schedule.

Why Work With A Strategist?

Occasionally, we’ll have insights that you might not be aware of yet. For example, we’ve done a lot of work with financial institutions and in fintech. This has given us first-hand knowledge about the industry, regulations, trends and technologies – this helps us fill any gaps and guide you.

While you might know what you want to do, it can be helpful to have an expert working alongside to point out blind spots or confirm assumptions. Quite often, we see that IT and the business are disconnected, and a Discovery engagement helps realign them.

We’ve also had clients say they’re going to develop the strategy themselves, only to come back after months (or even years), because they’re missing key elements or need broader experience that doesn’t exist within their IT departments.

Other clients say, “We know what we want to do and we’re going to go do it.” A year later, they are way off schedule: they might not have fully assessed the effort required, or they realized they didn’t have the skills. They might not have been aware of tools that could have mitigated significant amounts of manual effort. This is where time-to-market might run long or costs rise to unsustainable levels and you run the risk of the business shutting your project down. If you don’t have the right plan and the plan is not rooted in experience and realistic effort models, your odds of sticking to that plan are low.

The value that comes from having a comprehensive strategy is clear. World events are forcing companies to look at where they are spending money and want to be certain that they are taking on strategic activities that will bring value. Having an IT strategy and IBM i roadmap can ensure that you’re leveraging your mission-critical RPG, COBOL and CA 2E (Synon) applications while taking advantage of modern technologies, enabling innovation, improving maintainability and mitigating risk.

Fresche is hosting a limited number of free whiteboard sessions for organizations interested in exploring different modernization options. Whether you want to discuss business or technology issues, our team has worked extensively with hundreds of clients developing their ideal IBM i roadmaps to inspire innovation, improve agility, move to modern systems and more. Whatever you would like to discuss, our teams are here to help you.

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