AS400 moves to the Cloud

By Team Block697

A notable fashion brand found itself struggling to keep pace with the times as it sought to expand its e-commerce business and efficiently manage its wholesale business on an obsolete data management system.

AS400 for dummies

The Application System 400 or AS400 was introduced by IBM in 1988. It was an integrated system featuring hardware (AS/400) and an operating system (OS/400), along with many core functions such as an integrated database.

  • Over 100,000 companies use AS400
  • Installed in 16,000 banks worldwide
  • Is installed in 85% of the fortune 500

These systems are the unsung heroes. Not often used for general office functions or employee productivity, they instead handle robust, computing-heavy applications like ERP, banking, or health information systems. 

In a recent survey of IBM i users, 42% say they are running 75-100% of their workload and business applications on IBM i, reflecting the enduring legacy of the platform.

Recent statistics also indicate the future relevance of the platform as 25% of the users say they are increasing workloads on the platform while a number in the low, single digits are planning to move off the platform.

Situation

The fashion game as it existed has changed, but New York’s Garment district is struggling to adapt. We were excited to find that management had a clear vision of the future and what needed to occur to adapt and evolve into the pace of the digital age. The industry is continuing to phase out “buyers” as they look to make room for digital entrants such as Amazon and move their purchase ordering processes onto platforms such as Joor. Our client wanted a new, faster, more efficient way to manage and process orders, transparent reporting, and leverage that data to grow sales. The client had been managing their data and ordering through an inefficient process of jerry-rigged APIs, and middleware with AS400 as the core of their system. Our first recommendation upon recognizing departmentalized thinking and division was implementing a system for easy fast seamless communication between teams, and then implementing a cloud storage content management system to allow easy file sharing and a secure digital asset storage. The next step was un-raveling the AS/400 system and placing them on a path for a system-wide update within the coming year.

"AS/400 is perceived as outdated. The fact it was created in 1988 and has been renamed several times has not helped to build the perception that it is a modern platform. Even so, it remains a critical part of the computing infrastructure for many of the top organizations in the world. But what users call it can confuse decision makers who aren’t as close to the platform."

The obsolescence of AS/400 is a subject of significant debate. Is it a dated system? The answer is yes and no. Our client was using a version from 1994 running on an OS from 2005. Their specific system was a closed system with little room for modern customizations. IBM has since updated and improved the system greatly. Something that is more than evident in the debate of AS400’s questionable obsolescence’s is an aging talent pool. The digital economy is driven by big data, in order to survive in the digital economy companies, require more flexible, more scalable tools. However, thousands of business still use older systems. Most of those businesses with dated AS400 systems are not seeking to change their business model to include e-commerce business. A serious e-commerce business requires agile digital ecosystems and CRM’s that allow them to understand their customer’s digital profiles then leverage that information in their advertising, and process orders quickly and efficiently. We were looking at this situation with the bigger picture in mind which was the client’s customer growth and retention. In our discovery process and interviews with middle management, what we determined was they need a single easy to use, open system that allowed them to eliminate unnecessary processes in order entry and automate the majority of the data entry functions and quickly respond to wholesale POs’and retail e-commerce orders.

Solution

Our solution to the client’s digital woes was to upgrade from AS400 to IBM Power 8 Cloud and creating a new single API integrated with their e-commerce CRM exporting all reporting data to an analytics application that would allow them to track and monitor year by year sales comparisons and further understand their customer avatars. The API would contain a new user-friendly interface for the sales team rather than the old command prompt interface. The API would have drag and drop capabilities of files and images, eliminating their need for an FTP. This system would close gaps, save time, and allow the client to leverage customer data to grow sales. This new system would extend the bandwidth of the sales team, allowing them to focus on growth instead of spending hours each day entering product and data.

  1. IBM Power 8 is more sustainable than old AS400 systems
  2. It's faster, it's an open system with more room for customization
  3. 8 supports newer programming languages, large young talent pool

The transition away from AS400 for most organizations will be necessary because of an aging talent pool and the availability of cheaper and faster relational database systems. For many organizations it will be a painful transition as companies have built and grown their entire business's around it. It is a hard task to rebuild companies digital foundations as they continue to evolve as digitization progresses.