Category: Enterprise Software
Many companies seeking to change their ERP application weigh the pros and cons, comparing the cost of change against the benefits of a new system. There are lots of hard costs in everyone’s numbers — hardware, software license, implementation, and customization charges add up quickly.
For many on IBM i, the cost is too high to justify the change, especially when they can stay with a proven system that continues working just as it has done for years. But for some, the benefits of a new system are worth the cost.
Those who do opt for a new system often choose a server system other than the IBM i. In that case, the experienced IBM i technician is usually relieved of his services to the company.
Inevitably, and sooner rather than later, the company realizes it has lost a special breed of IT person. IBM i people are typically more experienced and have worked more closely with the actual line of business departments than the new IT people brought in for the new system. Basically, all that valuable knowledge in translating true business needs into IT processes is gone.
That is a huge cost only understood too late.
We continue to add customers for our Qport Office utility. It is a software application which takes Query/400 produced output and automates the process of delivering the data to the business user’s Excel, Word and other applications.
With the increasing rejection of DB2 Web Query as a viable option for IBM i based reporting, Qport Office is making more sense to people as the next step for easier access to IBM i data without needing an IT person to “walk” the data to the business user’s application. It is especially valuable as a tool since many IT people at small and midsize companies spend more and more of their time NOT working on the IBM i system.
Since so many queries are written in Query/400, companies who depend on the system can use the long existing queries in new ways by letting business users get the data directly from the Query/400 report. This ability can be incredibly useful for companies that lose their veteran IBM i IT person. Business users can sample the existing queries to find reports the IT person had run, formatted and then distributed.
There is a lot of confusion as to what companies can do with IBM Watson. At least Watson is architected so that any system can access it by processing via program calls over the Internet. Programmers need only to communicate input and receive output to make use of Watson-based analytics.
That is the main message you hear from IBM, but it is only part of the story.
Watson is not a magic box which mystically does whatever you tell it to do. Someone needs to create procedures and analytical models that produce a result from a future input. It is not much different than creating a formula in an Excel cell that uses the value in a second cell in a calculation. In this example, Watson is equivalent to the first cell — consuming the value in the second cell to create an output. In operation, your program from IBM i supplies the value in the second cell so that Watson can process the formula. The missing key in the marketing is that someone needs to create the formula in the first place.
Certainly, the analysis is going to be done on a platform other than the IBM i, but for businesses with critical data on the i, knowledge of the existing database and the historical information are vital in making that data useful for creating analytic models in Watson.
In a recently completed survey of non-customers, we found that analysts who used Query/400 reported spending an average of 1.625 hours per day extracting, manipulating, and distributing data. We know from previous studies that people who move to NGS-IQ typically cut the time they spend on these tasks by approximately 50%.
That reduction in time is due to NGS-IQ having many more features which let analysts and business users write and run fewer queries and automate data transfers, spreadsheet updates, and report distribution. The math works out to 0.8125 hours per day in labor savings or about 10% of an eight-hour work day. Using a national average of $70,000 annual salary for a business analyst, the financial savings equate to $7,000 per year.
This productivity savings doesn't include the intangible business value and impression you make on your customers when staff members regularly have meaningful, accurate, timely data at hand.
While it’s unlikely that many companies will store their IoT device messages in the IBM i environment, it's easy to imagine most IBM i customers having systems (maybe cloud based) that store IoT message streams alongside their DB2 on i/ERP database.
While the data is stored separately, there is value to be realized from “merging” IoT and ERP data. Think about sensor data (IoT data) captured from products being used by thousands of customers. This data, once parsed and placed into a searchable format, needs to be viewed in different ways – by product, by customer, by order or install date, and so on. That product, customer, and order information is in the ERP database. Business people need this combination of data to give meaning and perspective to the IoT data.
Depending on the format and volume of your IoT data, with a little data cleansing and filtering, you could probably upload extracts of IoT data to DB2 on i. Once the extracted IoT data is there, forward thinking IBM i customers can begin to discover its business value.
I am not the only one to say it – business intelligence is integral to enterprise resource planning.
ERP does a great job of working with individual items, transaction, orders, and so on. Getting aggregate views is generally done in current generation ERP applications, but older versions usually lack the cool, built-in reporting features (often marketed as “analytics” by ERP vendors).
Due to the steep cost of an ERP upgrade or conversion, most small and midsize companies need to keep running their current ERP system and maximize their return on investment by surrounding the ERP system with reporting and analytics software. They may not be as slickly integrated, but third-party reporting products do a better job than hard-coded reports built into the ERP screens.
With custom or “homegrown” ERP software, a reporting solution can make or break a company. Obviously, there isn't an ERP vendor to turn to, and many of the developers who originally wrote the ERP system have probably left the company. Simply deciphering the data base to run reports and to create “analytics” in the ERP is much simpler than modifying the old custom code to do the same.
This tactic can put off the need (and expense) of installing a new ERP for many years.
Many NGS customers run customized or internally developed enterprise resource planning (ERP) software. Given how long many of these ERP systems have been in place, it’s no surprise that every year a few customers tell us they are actively looking for a new system or have already begun a migration that their company expects to complete in the coming year or two.
With a few Google searches it is easy to find numerous articles and white papers on ERP implementation planning. The consensus seems to be that companies should be able to complete ERP implementation projects in roughly 18 months at a cost ranging from $750,000 to $5.0 million, depending on industry, size, and organizational structure. Larger enterprises can certainly spend much more. NGS doesn’t develop or support ERP software, but we do know customers, both mid-market and larger, with active projects that have now gone far past 18 months and who, we assume, have also exceeded their budgets. If you are in this position, we are sorry your company has found its ERP migration so challenging, but happy you continue to need our software and support.
If your company is thinking about replacing its outdated ERP software, remember that the problem is related to the software, not the platform. IBM continues to roll out new generations of POWER servers (now at POWER8) and new IBM i operating system releases. Reliable sources indicate there will be yet another IBM i release in 2016. Every story surrounding that anticipated release suggests IBM and its partners will enable more programming languages, more databases, more development methods, and more applications to run on IBM i.
ERP consultants and vendors are in the business of convincing companies to change ERP software. Sometimes they are right. But when you are driving your business on an actively supported server platform like IBM POWER, a durable and regularly enhanced operating system like IBM i, and a high performance database like DB2 on i, exit with caution.
NGS-IQ operates in compliance with your IBM i security environment and also lets you control data and query access at a more granular level by using the optional IQ SeQure module. But if your company stores credit card numbers, social security numbers, and other sensitive information in DB2 on i, you should be using encryption to further restrict access. By taking advantage of features introduced in release IBM i release 7.1, NGS-IQ, and a proven encryption solution, you can support enterprise reporting and business intelligence without compromising your sensitive data. We encourage you to learn more by watching this short video produced by NGS business partner, Linoma Software. There is a link to request a data security White Paper from NGS and Linoma Software at the end of the video.
Most of us have a strong degree of skepticism about how companies market their products and services. We see “FREE!” and our eyes narrow and our minds say, “Don’t believe it!” Often that caution is warranted, but every once in a while, it isn’t. NGS’s offer of Qport Office is one of those rare times.
Qport Office is a terrific tool that gives IBM Query/400 users a Windows run-only interface so that they can output Query/400 queries directly to Microsoft Excel, Word and Access. You can obtain a two-concurrent user license of Qport Office without paying a license fee. We invite you to read the recent MC Press “TechTip” article explaining the features and benefits of Qport Office.
We encourage you to order Qport Office today. When you do, you’ll receive 90 days of toll-free telephone and online technical support from NGS. After 90 days you can elect to extend support for a nominal fee, but the software will continue to work whether or not you do so.
Of course, we hope you’ll like using Qport Office and discover we’re a great company to work with. Maybe someday you’ll decide to take a look at our more advanced query, reporting, and online analytical processing software for IBM i users. Until then, why not order and use Qport Office? There's no catch.
NGS has customers in virtually every industry out there, and we certainly have our share of manufacturing and distribution customers. One increasing trend we have seen is the public display of metrics that monitor operations.
Many of our industrial customers have a large television or monitor in the warehouse or manufacturing common area used for general purpose messages to employees. NGS can supply a dashboard-like presentation that summarizes operations for display. When you use the auto refresh feature, the presentation will be populated with fresh information regularly throughout the day.
The general idea is to encourage employees, as a shift or workgroup, to do better. Our customers who are pleased with the results seem to be showing just 2-5 big numbers that show how different production lines, teams, or shifts are performing in comparison to others. (Calling out individuals does not seem to be done anywhere – thankfully.)
NGS software calculates the numbers and displays them in formats and graphs that are easy to digest. The auto update capability refreshes the numbers throughout the work day.
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.
Programmers are taught early in their career to simplify program maintenance by carefully documenting their work. Companies invest significant time and money developing business continuity and disaster recovery plans in the hope they can minimize risk and reduce recovery time if the enterprise is threatened. But many of these same organizations never document their reports and reporting processes. Knowledge of these practices is frequently overlooked until the environment changes and someone stops receiving a report or file they rely on to monitor and guide their daily operations. That's a bit too late.
ERP systems are the core of your company's operation. They reflect your unique business processes, capture your most valuable data, and represent a multi-million dollar investment over many years. There will always be plenty of people eager to tell you it's time for a new ERP system, but in many cases you can dramatically improve and extend the life of your current ERP system by making a modest investment in modern business intelligence and reporting software. Watch this short video for some ideas to stimulate the discussion in your enterprise.
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