NGS customers who are current on maintenance can take advantage of a variety of valuable, free, and educational offerings. These offerings include online tutoring sessions, share and learn Webinars, on demand videos, and even onsite product reviews with NGS product specialists traveling in your area. Most of these offerings only require an hour or two of your time. I hope you or your coworkers have taken advantage of some of these services and found them very helpful.
But if your company is planning to change to a new ERP system or computing platform, there is probably a multi-year timeline attached to that project. Meanwhile, dozens or even hundreds of employees in accounting, operations, human resources, marketing, logistics, and other departments still need to use your existing software applications and tools every day to help your company meet its near-term goals.
Unfortunately, and all too often, once a major software or platform change is planned, even low and no-cost education related to current applications is deemed unnecessary or a distraction. While that education may not be required anymore for application developers engaged in learning about the future system, it could still hold a lot of value for the business users who will continue to work with your existing systems for one, two, or even several more years.
Take full advantage of your educational opportunities until your company is ready to roll out its new system. Even a few hours saved each month over a year or two in multiple departments can yield a tremendous return on investment. And, let’s face it, enterprise software migration projects routinely take much longer than planned, and you could still be using your current system years from now.
Are you an NGS-IQ query developer who hasn’t had time to get familiar with our Web reporting features? You’ve probably seen us demonstrate WebRunner and IQ Client’s HTML design features, but up to now, your company has left Web software development and support in the hands of a separate person or team that views your IBM i environment as an uncharted island, best avoided. Maybe you feel the same way about that team’s strangely named Web servers, languages, and development tools. There’s a lot to be gained by connecting these islands. Let NGS help you build a bridge between IBM i and Web experts in your company. IQ Client and WebRunner can be the catalyst.
If you’ve never set up or just rarely used Apache Web Server for IBM i, we encourage you to contact us so we can guide you through the steps. It usually doesn’t take more than a few minutes. If you have NGS-IQ queries that your users might like to run from a Web browser, help us introduce your Web developers to the HTML report design features of IQ Client. We can help them install IQ Client and you can identify a few queries to download and copy. After that, we can teach them how to add the HTML design touches needed to transform your query into an attractive Web report that can be run from a portal or Web page. Along the way, you may both become a lot more comfortable with each other’s area of expertise.
The item file is seemingly a simple file. Use the item number the same way as on sales orders along with the human readable description and maybe a few other fields such as color, weight, and so on. Throw in a few department or categories, too, to make summarizing easier and more meaningful to businesspeople.
Unfortunately, different industries have different ways of identifying, classifying, and describing items. There is no easy way of generalizing a single structure for covering all items that will satisfy reporting needs in all industries. Indeed, even within a single company different departments have different ways of looking at items individually and in groups.
The term "item" covers services, too. Think about the chargemaster in healthcare — basically an item master file used to bill for specific services provided. Other companies in services usually have a list of standard offerings. These are essentially item master files just like a distributor would have in its ERP as far as sales reporting is concerned.
An important point about creating an item file in a data base geared for reporting sales data is flexibility. Inevitably, the industry will change, additional divisions and departments will use the reporting, new ideas on management and sales process will be implemented, and a wide variety of other changes could occur in the company to add to the different ways items are viewed.
Additionally, item numbers will change over time. The same product coming from different vendors may have the same item number now, but will be different in the future.
There are the usual ways around this problem, such as adding additional columns or writing some logic that looks at the invoice date to find the appropriate item description. It seems like everyone can create a system that fits their company’s need if they emphasize flexibility for the future rather than perfection in the present.
In my last blog entry, I misspoke. I said there were two main entities – customers and orders – on which sales departments base their reporting. While true, the real world is a little less clear.
For most sales reporting, the most important starting point in the data architecture is the order detail table or equivalent. Sure, there are a lot of reports that will just look at customer characteristics, but those are more suited for marketing than sales use.
For true sales reporting, start with the sales.
I mentioned the detail file because it is the most important. Within ERP applications, there are often order header files which is useful mostly to the ERP application itself. Real world reporting will need to look at the detail level in order to arrive at custom aggregation and tailored analytics.
The data needed for the order detail is simple. The fields needed are broken into foreign keys and facts.
For foreign keys, the simplest ones are who, what and when the sale occurred. Roughly, that is the customer number, item number, date, and salesperson number.
For facts, companies can get a little too wild with this information. Start with the basics of price and quantity. If there is a cost or margin field, grab that, too. Getting more detail might help some people, but the vast majority of sales reporting is handled just by those basic fields.
Keep it simple to start. Too much choice takes up time and creates confusion in the minds of businesspeople.
For a long, long time NGS has worked with customers who have sales related data tied up in their ERP system without easy ways to access and summarize it. Their CRM system (using that term loosely for many companies) does not interface well with the ERP data.
Whether planning marketing strategies or conversing with customers in person, salespeople often do not have accurate information on past order history or comparisons to other customers. Running a green screen application in front of their customers is not something most sales reps want to do. Instead, many simply dodge the issue by saying they will look up order history later and get back to the customer.
That is not a good response to build stronger customer relationships.
Through the years, NGS has come up with a basic data mart useable by virtually any sales department. It takes a few NGS-IQ jobs to populate the tables on a regular basis, but the layout is easily understood by any salesperson who wants to create his or her own views and reports.
Here is the quick overview. The sales reporting data model centers on two primary entities — customers and orders. All the other tables join with these entities. Of course, using the NGS-IQ meta function also eliminates the need for any of the report authors to know what a join actually is.
Upcoming blog entries will highlight critical tables and the fields we have found vital at a wide array of companies. The discussion will not cover in-depth issues or advanced analytics. I will concentrate on the typical needs of companies who use IBM i and want more effective sales reporting on older ERP systems.
Interested in knowing how IBM works through the partner channel? It isn’t always straightforward for veterans of the IBM AS/400 to IBM i market.
For small and mid-size customers especially, knowing how the IBM partner channel works is vital to running on this platform. Indeed, most customers will never see an actual IBM employee — their usual point of contact is going to be the local or regional partner.
We are lucky to have had Doug Fulmer present a 29-minute video on how the channel works. Doug is a longtime IBM employee who moved a few years ago to work in the channel for a few of IBM’s hardware partners servicing small and mid-size businesses. Check out the video now.
Here we are again, the start of another year, and the start of another 365 days of new year’s resolutions which we may or may not keep. What’s at the top of that well-intentioned list? For most of us, it’s exercising more and eating healthy.
And with good reason. David Agus, professor of medicine and engineering at the University of Southern California, reports that “86% of employees today are above their normal weight or have a chronic condition, according to a Gallup survey a few years ago. They miss an estimated 450 million extra days of work a year compared with healthy workers, which a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says annually costs American businesses from $150 billion to a little more than $225 billion in lost productivity.” On a more personal level, prescription drug and medical care costs continue to rise at a much faster rate than personal income and can erode your financial security.
These are staggering figures, and they should scare us into being more proactive – both employers and employees. But most of us in the IT industry have sedentary jobs that require long hours sitting in front of a computer screen. Unfortunately, those strong, sitting muscles only make us more susceptible to health risks such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
To combat the problem, David Agus proposes that companies create a new job position – a Chief Health Officer, who would take on the responsibilities of helping our workforce to be healthier without all the guilt strings attached. Some of the duties that the Chief Health Officer might have would be creating health and wellness programs that encourage employees to participate instead of alienating them (in other words, forget about the weight loss contests), redesigning the workplace so that it supports optimal health and productivity (think wireless headsets so that employees can move around while on calls or treadmill desks for those who are desk bound), and creating age-appropriate exercise and healthy cooking classes during lunch break.
While some of his ideas are not feasible for smaller companies or those on a tight budget, I believe that even little steps can make a difference. You probably don't work for a company that will ever have a CHO, but feel free to at least set an alarm to remind yourself to stretch or walk around, or invest in some wearable technology like activity trackers. If you’re motivated by money, consider bringing a healthier sack lunch to work and tracking how much less you are spending on fast food.
Sources and Additional Reading:
Navigating IBM software and hardware maintenance programs is not easy. While some things change, other parts of IBM support stay the same. Keeping up with the changes can be time consuming and is usually something that keeps dropping down the task list for most IBM i IT people.
Figuring out how support programs work with IBM i is very difficult for people new to the platform or businesspeople who manage IT departments. In order to help our customers (and others) understand what is included in different IBM support and maintenance programs, we ask an expert – Doug Fulmer of KS2 Technologies.
Doug works with companies across the country using IBM i. Before KS2, Doug worked for IBM for many years, so he has an understanding of IBM hardware and software support programs very few people have.
This video is a great educational tool for people new to the IBM i platform as well as a refresher for old hands.
We regularly hear customers say they need and want ongoing education but can’t leave their office to attend a conference, user group meeting, or training class. This problem might be due to job duties, budget, or family obligations. We certainly understand.
Fortunately, if you’re an IBM i operator, programmer/analyst, or administrator, there is a FREE event coming soon that can provide some of the education you want — right at your desk. It’s the COMMON Virtual Conference & Expo on December 15, 2015. We hope you will click on the link above, take a look at the agenda, and register to attend. We’ll explain.
COMMON is an international IBM user group that organizes educational events online and around the world. Although the COMMON user group has been around for decades, we know many IBM i customers are not COMMON members, are unaware of COMMON, or have never attended a COMMON sponsored event. If that’s you, take note: this virtual conference is open to everyone. You do not need to join COMMON. There is no fee to attend, but you do need to register.
What’s a Virtual Conference?
Think Webinar. The virtual conference consists of a full day of top experts presenting sessions in a Webinar format that you can view at your desk. You can pick topics that interest you and move in and out of the virtual conference throughout the day.
What If I’m Busy on December 15?
COMMON will keep the sessions available on demand for several weeks afterwards, so you can go back and watch them again or catch topics you missed. The key is to register now so that you’ll receive the login instructions and have the opportunity to view all the sessions you want, even if you can’t attend on December 15.
NGS is one of the sponsors of the COMMON Virtual Conference & Expo. We’ll be giving a session on migration alternatives for IBM Query/400 users, and some NGS staff members will be available to “chat” with you in the virtual expo.
New terms come up all the time for IT people. A really interesting new one is “Data Science” and its corresponding job title, “Data Scientist.”
A month ago, I did a video on data science, based on my background, education, and work in this area. There is not much in the video about the IBM i, but it is still one the IBM i IT people should view.
Really, data science is just the continuation of a long line of statistical analysis techniques. Working with large amounts of data has changed over time, with software and hardware now capable of analyzing much larger data sets faster and with easier to use software than in the past. For this reason, data science has come to the forefront of analytic terms now.
There are IBM i companies that use data science now. Often, the IBM i data is required for the analysis since the ERP system holds the relevant transaction level data. This is usually the point where the IBM i IT person comes in.
If you are that person working with others in the organization who do data science analysis but find yourself a little perplexed, watch this video to get a foundation on real world data science.
Most IT people have to interact with people from some other department in the company. And for most IT people writing reports from IBM i data, this interaction probably happens on a higher than average basis. Writing reports and creating views of data useful to business people requires communicating with others in relevant departments.
Most IBM i technical people have been working with other departments so long that talking business is normal. That is just how the system was designed to be run—with a lean IT staff that is very close to business operations.
For those individuals who are new to the IBM i platform but come from other parts of IT, this level of business knowledge might be different than what they are used to. It would definitely be to their benefit to sit down and learn a little more about business operations. Almost certainly, if they are now responsible for IBM i, then they are now responsible for the ERP, too. Supporting the ERP requires familiarity with the business processes performed by the ERP system.
I have seen some low key meetings, usually one-on-one, with key business people really helping the IT person who is new to IBM i get a handle on operations. Some of our most successful customers have informal NGS-IQ user groups that periodically meet over lunch to share ideas and cross-train each other on business and software functions. Let us know if you would like to try that, and we'll buy lunch for your first meeting.
NGS devotes considerable resources to sending product specialists into the field to meet face to face with our customers. We initiated this effort, which we call our “Customer Success” program, several years ago to proactively connect with new users who have often never received training and with long-time users who are increasingly wearing multiple hats and spending less time keeping up with new releases.
If you've taken advantage of one of these sessions with an NGS product specialist, hopefully you and your staff gained new knowledge and discovered we were there to answer questions, teach, and learn — not to sell you more products (although you are allowed to do that, too, if needed).
Other vendors and sometimes new customers ask why we travel when we could be holding Web meetings and conference calls from the comfort of our home office. The fact is, we also do those things every business day, but even with today's technology, we're almost always able to cover more topics in greater depth and reach more people when we meet you face to face.
The next time we contact you about visiting with you or your staff, we hope you’ll remember the benefits of this program.
NGS has customers that have moved their IBM i operations to outside data centers. Most seem to start with simply co-locating their server into data centers. Some go an extra step and move their IBM i processing from their own hardware to a partner's server in a partition or virtual machine. Essentially, they use a cloud service to provide the processing previously done by their on premise servers.
We speak to customers all the time who are considering such a move. In order to answer some of the common questions we hear, I spoke to one of our long time partners who moved into the cloud hosting business a few years ago for IBM i. Here is a short video where I ask the questions I hear our customers asking. Bob Kennedy of CPS Technology was kind enough to take a few minutes to answer them. Enjoy!
From time to time, nearly all of us resist or postpone developing new skills and learning how to take advantage of new technology. This can be especially true as we age, even among information technology professionals who have had long and successful careers in an ever changing environment.
According to the Pew Research Center (PRC), approximately 30% of the United States workforce is over 50 years of age. In another study published this year, the PRC estimated that approximately 59% of Americans born between 1946 and 1964 were still active in the workforce. If you are in this age group, you may be thinking more about the end of your career than about learning new work-related skills. The simple fact is, however, that staying mentally sharp and developing new skills at work not only raises our value in the workforce, but also helps us stay mentally sharp and productive at home.
The US Social Security Administration says that a man who is age 50 today is likely to live another 32.3 years while a woman age 50 is likely to live to another 35.6 years. That’s the average life expectancy. Many of us will live much longer. Taken another way, if you are in this age group, you probably have as many years in front of you, in or out of the workforce, as you’ve had since you left high school or college. That’s a long time and it will be a whole lot less interesting for those who’ve stopped challenging themselves to learn new things.
Unlike our peers in physically demanding occupations, those of us who work in information technology can, with a commitment to lifelong learning, continue to perform at a high level regardless of our age. That’s cool and important to remember next time you find yourself resisting an opportunity to learn.
Personnel changes happen more often than technology at many companies. If your company has changed IT personnel from experienced IBM i people to IT people who have little background on the platform, watch this video. Afterwards, IT professionals new to IBM i will come away with a deep background and an understanding of key IBM i concepts. Watch this short video for some ideas to stimulate the discussion in your enterprise.
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