We periodically hear from companies running IBM i software applications who are concerned about their future ability to support IBM i. With their in-house expert or small IBM i team nearing retirement age, the pool of technical knowledge is gradually shrinking.
One of IBM i's strengths is that it normally requires minimal staffing. But low maintenance doesn’t mean no maintenance. You should always have at least one staff member who understands the operating system, IBM Power hardware, database, security, storage, monitoring, IBM software and hardware maintenance plans, and system management tasks.
Fortunately, the COMMON User Group has developed an online video learning series to meet this need. The presenters are well respected experts from across North America.
Not a COMMON member? We encourage you to join. However, the bootcamp is open to anyone. Learn more about pricing, video overviews, and speakers at the COMMON website.
While there are numerous IBM Business Partners eager to help you manage your IBM i environment, we believe in-house knowledge is power.
Operational reporting and analytics is a multi-step process. Each step requires different knowledge and skill. First, you need to plan your business questions. Then, you need to understand your company’s database so you can locate, join, cleanse, summarize, and extract the right data. The industry term for this process is extraction, transformation, and loading (ETL). Next, you need to know how to massage and present the data to support meaningful analysis and utilization. The industry term often used for this third step is data visualization.
In our experience, a single staff member rarely has the knowledge and skill required for both ETL and data visualization. Managerial, technical, and analytical staff usually team up to complete these steps. NGS highly values this need to work together – our software supports each step but also recognizes the optimal way to modularize functions, allowing people with different skills and job duties to work both as a team and independently.
In contrast, many reporting and analytics software vendors take what I’ll call the “all-in-one” approach. Their product designs assume that the people creating visualizations are just as comfortable writing SQL scripts and complex expressions. This logic may be valid if the users you support are analytics consultants.
In companies that rely on an in-house team, the ETL developer usually passes the data to the analyst. Often, Microsoft Excel is where the exchange takes place, with good reason. Human resource departments can more easily recruit analysts with strong Excel skills, and these analysts cost less than analytics consultants. While Excel misuse poses data integrity, timeliness, and security risks, we don’t anticipate the software falling out of favor any time soon.
When you evaluate reporting and analytics software, think about whether you plan to hire consultants with “all-in-one” skills or rely on your in-house team of specialists. The solution you choose should reflect your plan. At NGS, we primarily support in-house teams. Our modular design and integration features for Excel users reflect that approach.
IBM and Red Hat – What’s It all About?
Most people who work on IBM i don’t have much exposure to the LINUX operating system or familiarity with how the LINUX software marketplace is organized. Given that, you might not know what to make of IBM’s plan to pay $34 billion for the software company known as Red Hat.
Who's Red Hat?
Red Hat is a $3 billion dollar software company focused on LINUX software development, support, and consulting services.
LINUX is a computer operating system, but unlike IBM i or Windows, LINUX is an “open source” operating system, meaning it is not owned and controlled by a single company. You don’t pay a license fee for LINUX, and today you can run LINUX on IBM Power, IBM z, and many other computers.
Who Develops LINUX?
When it was introduced in the early 1990s, the creators of LINUX envisioned programmers working independently, writing and sharing source code that would lead to the development of a competitive, “free,” operating system kernel that could replace expensive, proprietary operating systems from IBM, Microsoft, and others. It’s doubtful they imagined that a substantial for-profit ecosystem would grow up to support the software.
At least in theory, anyone can contribute code to the LINUX kernel, for others to use at no cost. In practice, nearly all contributions that become part of the LINUX kernel originate with software developers employed by a handful of major companies including Intel, Red Hat, Samsung, and IBM. These companies do not own LINUX, but they do work closely with the non-profit LINUX Foundation which controls the strategic direction of the project.
How Does Red Hat Make Money?
The founders of Red Hat saw that companies were paying Microsoft and IBM a lot for operating system software and that these companies would love a competitive and lower cost alternative. They guessed correctly that companies with an interest in using LINUX would be much more inclined to do so if they could go to one provider, pay an annual support fee, and download a stable “distribution” of the software. Red Hat put together the team to provide that service and became a huge enterprise.
Why Would IBM Want Red Hat?
While IBM continues to develop and earn billions of dollars a year from proprietary operating systems like IBM i and z/OS, LINUX use is growing at a much faster rate – especially in the large data center, cloud and mobile computing markets. By acquiring Red Hat, IBM hopes to grab a much larger share of that growth.
LINUX and open source thinking has had a tremendous influence on the software industry this century. Once IBM and Red Hat are one, it’s likely that more and more of the ideas and trends in the open source software ecosystem will seep into IBM’s proprietary software.
While some vendors are addressing business resiliency, covering solutions from disaster recovery to encryption, they often overlook or ignore this somewhat mundane but critical aspect that can have a large impact on a company’s future success – “turnover preparedness.”
As the current generation of IT professionals looks forward to retirement, the next generation of IT professionals is often left “high and dry,” with little documentation to guide them through the business operations for which they are responsible.
In the September issue of IBM Systems Magazine, NGS’ Director of Marketing, Bill Langston, discusses the importance of turnover preparedness and offers some suggestions for handling skills shortage in your company.
Here’s the link to Bill’s article in IBM Systems Magazine:
Are You Ready for Turnover? Broaden the scope of resiliency planning to include training and skills development
Every time NGS product specialists spend time with new users, we encourage them to call our technical support hotline or use our online incident reporting system when they have questions. We spend a lot of time training non-technical, business users of our query, reporting, and financial software, and many of them tell us they never knew they had those options. Yes – they, and you, do.
Just as frequently, we discover people whose encounters with other vendors have caused them to develop a disabling condition we’ll call “software support phobia” (SSP). SSP stems from low expectations and negative feelings. If you have SSP, you may have experienced any or all of the following thoughts when contacting a vendor for software support:
We’re eager to help you recover from SSP. We believe that all of our customers, regardless of size, deserve the ready availability of NGS’s technical support and product marketing team to guide them through everything from introductory training to the most complex technical issues.
The healing process begins when you contact NGS technical support for help. We hope that’s soon.
One of the most interesting aspects of meeting with NGS-IQ customers is seeing all of the different ways people use the software. It’s a testament to the versatility of NGS-IQ that it can help users satisfy such different requirements.
We recently visited a customer who uses NGS-IQ as an “extraction, transformation, loading” (ETL) tool to move data into Microsoft Access where they have developed a very nice, custom business intelligence (BI) solution. Whereas a larger organization might question the choice of Microsoft Access as a data mart and BI interface solution, it works well for this customer.
Microsoft Excel is the world’s most popular data analysis and presentation tool, but while we spend substantial time teaching customers how to take advantage of NGS-IQ’s Excel reporting features, we have some customers who feel Excel is too difficult to control and frown on its use.
One customer we recently met with primarily uses NGS-IQ to generate and distribute a long list of operational reports that they run during off-peak hours and send out via email; yet another is focused on using NGS-IQ to generate files that are uploaded to the Microsoft Power BI cloud where business analysts use the data to design and share Web reports and dashboards.
The common thread for all of these organizations is that NGS-IQ provides them with the function they need to accurately, consistently, and securely extract timely data, transform it into the desired format, and make it available to the people who need it.
Through the years, IBM has steadily enhanced Structure Query Language (SQL) for the IBM i environment and encouraged software developers to use SQL to define and manipulate their DB2 on i database.
The NGS-IQ query, reporting, and OLAP software is designed to enable people to extract, manipulate, format, analyze, and share reports and files without writing scripts and programs. But as more IBM i programmers become comfortable writing SQL scripts, some of them have said they like writing queries in SQL, rather than through a menu-driven application interface. Thanks to the flexibility of NGS-IQ, this is definitely a viable option.
The NGS-IQ query process includes three program exits that you can use to supplement our native functions with custom routines that tackle complex and unique requirements. The first exit is for a job that you want to run immediately before the query. The last exit is for a job that you want to run immediately after the query. The third exit is for a job that returns the value you want assigned to a new field in the query.
If you like using SQL, consider having your script perform the query logic and then generate a DB2 on i table. You can use NGS-IQ’s first exit to process that request so that you and other users can take advantage of NGS-IQ’s wide range of prompting, formatting, and output features. It’s a terrific marriage of convenience.
Last Thursday, February 8, Bill Langston of NGS and Roger Mellman of LightEdge co-presented a Webinar about IBM Power cloud capabilities, pondering the question of whether moving IBM i on Power off premise was a good idea or not. While companies have been slowly heading in the direction of the cloud, the advice was to proceed with caution: consider the capabilities of the cloud and whether or not your company would take advantage of them, and ask specific questions to prepare for a smooth transition.
The Webinar recording is now available in NGS' video library. Also, check out Dan Burger's IT Jungle article about the Webinar, entitled "NGS and LightEdge Provide New Entry to the Cloud."
Clearing the Fog and Finding a Cloud
Ask a dozen people in the computer industry to define “cloud,” and you are likely to get almost that many different answers. Initially understood to mean a remotely located, shared system used to store files, today the “cloud” label is often used to describe just about any computing environment. Maybe the best example of that evolution is the phrase “on premise, private cloud.” That sounds a lot like an explanation of how companies have been using IBM computers for more than 40 years.
We're not a cloud provider, but we take software support very seriously. We know many IBM i customers are investigating managed service, cloud, and co-location options to meet business continuity, disaster recovery, security, infrastructure, and staffing requirements. Some are eager to use NGS-IQ as a cloud reporting and analytics solution. Many simply want someone to explain where IBM Power fits in an increasingly cloudy landscape.
Spring into Action
During March and May, NGS-IQ product specialists will be traveling throughout the continental USA to attend events, meet users, and conduct tutoring sessions. We hope you’ll look for us, ask your customers if they would like to learn about NGS-IQ, or request a chance to meet with our team member privately to discuss marketing tactics. Our spring calendar is below:
RPG & DB2 Spring Summit
Embassy Suites by Hilton Dallas DFW Airport North
Mar 20 – 22, 2018
COMMON ‘POWERUp18’ Annual Conference & Expo
San Antonio Marriott Rivercenter
San Antonio, Texas
May 20 – 23, 2018
IBM Think 2018
Please let us know if you plan to attend IBM Think, IBM’s flagship conference for 2018, in Las Vegas on March 19-22. There will be more than 1,000 sessions on artificial intelligence, security, cloud, data, and systems led by industry experts, IBM staff, customers, and business partners.
Technology vendors and consultants love to invent and use new terminology to differentiate their products and expertise. In recent years, I’d argue the most frequently used and redefined term in the computing industry is “cloud.” When a term is used often and conjoined with other terms, usually through the liberal use of hyphens, it quickly becomes more difficult for people to understand. That’s when most of us tune out. Ironically, this is often the point in the technology life cycle when related solutions reach maturity and their associated costs and risks begin to decline. We think 2018 is that time for IBM Power and the cloud, so we're co-sponsoring a FREE educational Webinar about IBM Power cloud capabilities with LightEdge Solutions on February 8, 2018.
We’re not a cloud provider, but we take software support very seriously. We know many of you are curious about managed services, cloud, and co-location to help you meet business continuity, disaster recovery, security, infrastructure, and staffing requirements. You might also be interested in using NGS-IQ as a cloud reporting and analytics solution. There is a lot to know and not all clouds or providers are alike. We encourage you to attend this Webinar and learn what's possible.
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