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CIOs (Chief Information Officers) have to look into modernising legacy systems while being under the pressure of streamlined IT budgets, having to justify IT spending as well as to deliver increasing service efficiency.
Factors are emerging technologies (cloud, mobile), demands and expectations: Today’s workforce expects modern, dynamic Web capabilities instead of antiquated Green Screen interfaces. Furthermore, BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) has been embraced by more and more companies, so existing systems have to be flexible and modern in an ever changing technical environment. CIOs have to adapt and make the right decisions.
Bite the bullet or modernise
Companies who feel that their old systems are outdated and are looking to update them have two choices to make
- Throw out the old system and implement a completely new system on a new hardware platform or
- Retain the basic functionality of the old tried and trusted system but modernise the user interface.
Throwing out the old system will mean searching for a product that provides the functionality of the old system and additional functionality. It will require data migration from the old system to the new, training for all users of the system, training for the IT support staff and work-shopping with key users in order to configure the new system to the business requirements.
Retaining the core functionality of the old system but modernising the user interface is a less expensive and less time consuming alternative to replacing the old system. It will require less retraining for the majority of users, IT support will be familiar with the system and the user interface can be designed to suit the specific needs of the business rather than a generic interface.
What does application modernisation mean?
Legacy application modernisation means taking an application built in the past and changing it to be not only more appropriate for today’s business opportunities but also to make it future-proof against changes in legislation or business direction.
CIOs not only have to retain the investment made over the years, but also to keep the current information, often built over decades, and even extend the value both of the investment and the precious information; they have to make the information usable by creating reports so the management can utilize it to make informed decisions.
Modernisation means changing a legacy application to become a modern application.
Comparing the characteristics of legacy and modern applications provides insight into what must change in the legacy application during the modernization process. Lansa has summarised the differences between Legacy and Modern Applications as follows:
How to make a legacy application look modern
Since the introduction of PCs on every desk, laptops and mobile devices, users now expect applications to have all the features and user interfaces of a modern application. They are not concerned about what platform the system runs on or what technology it uses so long as they are able to access the system using the same interfaces and devices that they use to access all the other applications they use on a daily basis.
The key factors involved in being able to successfully modernise application are:
- Business knowledge – understanding the business processes the system fulfils
- Knowledge of legacy systems – there is no point in trying to modernise a legacy system if knowledge of the system is limited
- Experience in modernising applications
- A sound knowledge of modern systems and what the user expects from a modern system
- The correct tools to perform the modernisation
An often underestimated aspect is Change Management that has to be attended to before the modernisation project is tackled technically. Departments across the entire company have to be open for modernisation. But this would require a separate blog post.
There are a number of tools available that can be used to modernisation legacy applications.
The tools used by us to develop modern interfaces for our clients are the Lansa toolset as well as Microsoft’s .NET (“Dot Net”) tools, depending on the client’s current systems that should be modernised.
.NET is a modern programming and application framework developed by Microsoft for a range of technology uses. It can be used across all Microsoft platforms, from Mobile through to Enterprise services.
.NET can be used on any range of business applications from Point of Sale through to Data Management Services and Endpoints. Many companies who have run their business on VB (Visual Basic) or Delphi are realising the modernization imperative – .NET is a good option.
Lansa is widely used by companies who wish to modernise their legacy applications principally running on IBM I systems (AS400). In a previous blog post, we answered “what is AS400?” as the younger generation might have come across AS400 in corporate organisations but haven’t covered it during their education. There are still many corporates worldwide relying on these legacy applications in a diverse range of industries including banking, insurance manufacturing and retailing.
Lansa has a whole range of tools that can be used to modernise these applications. They range from simple screen scraping tools to full re-development tools of green screen applications into windows, web and mobile applications whilst retaining the original database.
Providing a web front end to a web application is one of the most popular forms of legacy systems modernisation. The web pages can be developed using Lansa or .NET tools together with bridging software between the web page and the legacy application.
The example below shows two client’s screenshots, based on the same system. The screenshots were provided by our client, courtesy of Honda MPE, Melbourne.
The above screenshot shows the green screen version of a dealer’s list of orders. Commands can only be entered by keyboard and headlines are not self explanatory. Green screens make frequent use of F functions to reach other menu selections. This version uses three different colours to guide the user’s eye, whereas early versions only used green letters and numbers, hence the name.
This screenshot is the web version of the same orders shown before on the green screen. It has a more self explanatory interface, can conveniently be used with a mouse and has more intuitive elements such as dropdown menus, buttons and calendar dates to choose from. Honda MPE modernised with Lansa.
The website provides access to a company’s dealer network in order to place orders to replenish stock. The system integrates two ERP system into one web interface and has reduced the administrative effort at the head office, has reduced the number of errors, has lead to an increased number of orders and has improved production planning as orders can be placed at any time and in advance.
Outlook into the Future
The benefit of this type of modernisation is that in case the client moves to a new ERP system, the web site can still be used and the only changes required will be the bridge into the new ERP system.
The current trend is to develop a mobile interface into legacy applications which can also be achieved using Lansa and .NET tools. The users see modern, graphical front ends on their phones or tablets while still integrating with the existing legacy application.
If you need help to provide a modern look and feel to your existing system with the option to re-use software, just give us a call on 1300 585 355 or send a mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. We have many years experience in modernisation and integration.
There are various spellings used such as AS400, AS 400 or AS/400 but they all mean the same. As the younger generation might have come across AS400 in corporate organisations but haven’t covered it during their education, we thought we’d give an explanation.
The Good Old Days (For Some)
Back in the 70s and 80s, IBM was king in the computer world. Large enterprises automatically contacted IBM when they were looking for new computer systems.
Until SAP came along, some of the largest ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) systems ran on IBM hardware; products such as MAAPICS, JD Edwards, JBA and Movex were amongst the most popular.
These applications were developed for use on IBM mid-range servers using the RPG structured programming language. The IBM mid-range developed from the System/3 back in 1969 and the first of these ERP systems started to appear on the System/34 which was introduced in 1977. ERP systems provided medium to large size companies with a tightly integrated solution covering accounting, payroll, inventory, job costing, etc. instead of having to operate individual, disconnected systems.
In 1978 the System/38 was introduced and it was a major leap forward in terms of computing power and numbers of users. It had its own integrated relational database and integrated microcode.
The System/38 evolved into the AS400 in 1988 and 1000’s of applications have been developed for the AS400 in areas such as banking, insurance, manufacturing and retail.
Since then the AS400 has had several name changes such as iSeries, System i; its current incarnation is the IBM i. The “i” stands for integration.
Although considered old technology by many, the AS400 has kept pace with modern technology and now runs on PowerPC-based CPUs (Central Processing Unit). The use of power chips in the AS400 provides the ability to run two different operating systems on the same machine in different logical partitions
- The OS400 operating system is used for business applications and
- The AIX(Unix) operating system for scientific applications.
FOLDOC Editor Denis Howe explains why the system is still used by many corporates:
“The machine survives because its API layer allows the operating system and application programs to take advantage of advances in hardware without recompilation and which means that a complete system that costs $9000 runs the exact same operating system and software as a $2 million system.”
Source: The Free On-line Dictionary of Computing, http://foldoc.org/
Businesses run on their Computer Systems
Thousands of business applications have been developed for the IBM mid-range and still form the backbone of many computer systems in the aforementioned industries banking, insurance, manufacturing and retail. These applications have developed and matured over a period of 25 years and have business functionality that most of the modern Windows based applications can only dream about as a future development.
It is because of this richness in functionality many of these systems are still in use today running on the latest generation of the IBM i. It is also well-known for being robust and reliable.
IBM celebrated IBM i’s 25th anniversary earlier in 2013 and reflected upon AS400’ early days in this video:
Moving to a new platform can be a very extended and expensive process and at the end of this process the new system may not have the functionality of the old system. This is what we often hear from big corporate organisations.
Nevertheless, modernising has been at the agenda of many corporate businesses. We will address the topic how to modernise legacy systems in another blog post. Stay tuned.
When you consider offering your website visitors a better experience on mobile devices, the question is if you create a mobile version of your website (m.website.com.au) or if you redesign your website in responsive design.
What is responsive web design?
It “responds” to a wide range of screens; no matter what device your website visitor uses, a common user experience is provided on every screen ranging from tiny smartphones, tablets and desktop computers to large TVs.
Google has visualised this as follows:
We decided for a responsive website as it has some advantages over a mobile site. Here are three:
- The mobile site would technically be a second website to be maintained, to be updated and to be analysed in parallel whereas the responsive site is only one website for all devices. Also, Google recommends having a single URL which helps in indexing.
- The website was originally created for desktops and the mobile website would primarily address smartphones, at the expense of tablets which are increasing in market share. We would have addressed both ends of the scale and left out the embracing middle.
- With a responsive site we feel better prepared for whatever devices will be developed in the future; tablets have been sub-categorised to tablets and mini tablets; also, huge flat-screens are more and more used for browsing the internet; whatever new device there will be, our website will cater to all screen sizes.
How to check if a website is responsive when using a desktop
Simply restore down your window by clicking the middle icon at the top right of your window (assuming you use a Windows computer).
Next, hover your cursor over the right edge of the window; you’ll see a double arrow which you can use for dragging it to the left. If the content renders fluidly according to the window’s size, it is a responsive website; if it just resizes the window and the content stays the same, it is a static website, not responding to different screen sizes.
Check how your website looks on various screen sizes even if you don’t have all devices
Don’t have various devices on hand? No problem. Visualise the appearance of your website with this free tool. Simply enter your URL and see how your website looks currently on a mobile phone (landscape and portrait), a tablet (landscape and portrait) or a desktop:
If you want to dive into more detail regarding responsive web design, here are some useful links providing even more links:
Today Regional Development Australia (RDA) Perth, the Digital Economy Branch of the Department of Commerce and Lateral Solutions joined together to hold Module Three of the Digital Knowledge Series for Local Governments in Maylands at RDA’s premises.
This series, made possible through the Digital Enterprise Program, has been designed specifically for local government officers to gain knowledge in the digital space. It makes local government departments aware of digital opportunities and gives them a level of confidence so they can act as consultants when engaging with local businesses and the community.
In the first module, a speaker of NBNCo was engaged, while the second module provided an overview on what local councils have been doing on their digital journey. Speakers from the City of Joondalup, City of Mandurah, City of South Perth and Town of Victoria Park shared their experience.
For the third module, Lateral Solutions were invited as speakers to provide knowledge about mobile apps and the cloud. Around 30 people from various councils attended. Our Managing Director Thushara and our digital evangelist Richard, elaborated on government policies and explained the three columns internet, open source and cloud which are the basis of apps being used more and more for citizen engagement. Our research identified the top eleven categories used by Australian local governments:
2. Report Issues
4. Community Facilities
5. Business & Community Directory
6. Parking & Traffic Information
7. Council Services
8. Track Development Applications
9. Special Offers
10. Community Consultation
Richard demonstrated three mobile apps as examples of how other local governments have been using apps, covering various categories ranging from basic to complex applications:
• “Connect Unley” is a guide to Unley’s region (South Australia) including information about local businesses and initiatives, linked to a GPS based map
• “FixMyStreet” is an open-source basic app catering to report issues. It includes the camera function to send photos, for example of potholes, using GPS data for their location
• DigiMacq, developed for the Parramatta City Council (NSW), employs games visuals and audio on an interactive tour; it takes visitors on an adventure through the township 200 years ago, bringing heritage interpretation into the hands of a younger, tech-savvy demographic
Demonstrating interactivity on mobile devices, we used the web app “StrawPoll” during the session to let the audience decide on a choice of four further topics. “Productivity apps for staff” and “Cloud Computing Solutions” received the most votes.
Our digital marketing expert Kerstin demonstrated the productivity app CamCard, a mobile app which scans and processes business cards without having to type contact details; it can be exported to the phone’s address book, Gmail or to Exchange. From the card, you can directly call, mail, visit the website or request a LinkedIn connection. A search function not only finds the processed contact information, but also words in added notes.
Regarding Cloud Computing Solutions used in our business, Thushara mentioned the accounting software Xero, Office 365, which allows accessing Office from any device, and Replicon, a cloud based software for timesheets.
Thushara and Richard recommended to start with a small, but relevant app and to include app users early to get feedback so it can evolve to a useful application. Even the development stages can be published via Social Media while the community can be involved for crowdsourcing.
In the Q&A session, we answered questions and councils shared their experience with apps and the cloud.
The presentation slides can be accessed through this link: Digital Knowledge Series Module Three Slides
The speakers’ topic of this month’s meeting at the Inventors Association WA was Cloud Computing. Yesterday evening approximately 30 people in the audience listened to our Managing Director Thushara Weerakody who elaborated a definition, using an analogy of power from the grid; he presented benefits such as scalability, an improved cash-flow and location-independent accessibility on the one hand and addressed concerns such as security issues on the other hand. These can be combated by various types of encryption, “so that even the NSA cannot access the information – yet”. The traditional belief that stationary servers are more secure than the cloud is not valid if you think of natural disasters such as bushfires or floods.
He continued with examples of cloud-hosted platforms that can help inventors at various stages in their process; such as the specialised search engine www.google.com/patents which helps searching for existing patents , the intellectual property management platform IPfolio and oDesk, a platform that connects to and manages professionals globally.
Thushara concluded with examples of Cloud-based services we are using at Lateral in our workaday life, such as the cloud-hosted accounting platform Xero where we recently switched to. Windows Azure and Amazon Web Service were other examples we have been using when we develop mobile apps for our clients.
In the following Q&A session the audience avidly used the chance to ask questions.
We hope we shed some light in the discussions around the buzz word Cloud Computing and are open for any other questions that occur. Contact us on (08) 9388 5318.
15 pairs of eyes watched at Lateral Solutions as Tim Cook entered the stage to reveal Apple’s new developments. Apple’s CEO and his executive team presented new products & features in the keynote opening the Apple Worldwide Developer Conference for 2013 – in summary, there was nothing too ground-breaking, but it was good to see what the Californian giant has been working on.
In the first half of the two-hour keynote, Apple showed off new MacBook Airs; a Mac Pro that looks like a stylish beer can; and their new version of OS X called Mavericks (named after a surf break in California). As anticipated, the main focus was on Apple’s new mobile operating system iOS 7 which made up the second half of the keynote.
Some of the audience in Subiaco were not too enthusiastic about the new flat design, but all found some new features interesting. In addition, Richard, one of Lateral Solutions’ iOS developers, had the beta version installed on his iPod Touch and everyone had the opportunity to try it out.
IOS 7 will be available later this year and lets users see behind icons and use 3D-looking tabs as well as swipe between apps in its new Control Centre, encouraging multi-tasking. Some of the other new features are:
- Apps will be automatically updated so users don’t have to update manually anymore
- Siri gets a new voice (male or female), and integrates Twitter and Wikipedia
- Photos are organised based on location and time and auto-labelled with visited locations
- AirDrop lets iPhone users share their photos and videos over Wi-Fi connections with nearby users
- iTunes Radio plays pre-loaded radio stations or own selected stations; over time, it learns favourite genres. The connection to the iTunes store lets users purchase new songs (first available in the US)
- Anti-theft features to deter criminals from stealing iOS 7 devices – turning off the device and wiping it before selling it to others is no longer possible.
The major overhaul is the design. There is less skeuomorphism such as a leather-bound calendar; instead the design is reduced, uses a lot of white and embraces simplicity, translucency and logical layering. If you’d like to see more details, have a look at this video where Jony Ive, Senior Vice President Design, walks you through the new features in about 7 minutes.
Apple holds the annual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) in San Francisco this year from 10-14th of June 2013. Being one of the major tech events for software developers, tickets were sold out within minutes.
One of our lead developers, Sam, runs the Perth iOS Developers Meetup, where like-minded developers and non-techies with a keen interest in app development get together once a month. This time the Meetup is held at June 11th at Lateral Solutions’ office in Subiaco to watch together the WWDC keynote. This is also known as “TimNote”, referring to Steve Jobs’ successor Tim Cook. Lateral Solutions provides the location and some nibbles.
What can be expected from WWDC? New software for sure. Apple announced they will reveal new versions of their mobile platform, iOS 7, and their desktop platform OS X 10.9. A modern flat design is anticipated, and according to the rumour mill there might be some new hardware such as a watch or a radio product.
Notwithstanding we’re an Apple reseller, we don’t know what Apple will reveal – even our catch up with Apple in Perth last week did not shed any light, so we’re as curious as anyone as to what Apple will show to the world.
Register via Meetup if you’d like to attend. We are looking forward to seeing you on June 11th at 6pm.
Our Perth office is located near the Subiaco train station; next to our office there is a Wilson car park. Find our office by clicking on this Google map
This is another question we get asked quite frequently by startups or small businesses adopting technology. Whether you’re selling goods online, advertising your services, or promoting a mobile app, revenue can be quite substantially impacted by your (in)visibility in Google search results, and how far down the list you appear.
While there are specialist companies around that focus exclusively on improving search results, as a technology generalist Lateral has worked in this area and learnt a great deal about the parts that are important. This article is intended as a gentle introduction to some of the techniques behind improving search results, and will hopefully help dispel some of the misinformation out there.
Option 1: Paying for it
Google’s Adwords service gives you the ability to run paid ads that appear above, to the side of, or below the main list of search results. For a brand new site, this is probably going to be the most effective way to gain a lot of visitors quickly.
You’re able to configure the search keywords, the text of the ad, and target specific geographic locations or browsers (e.g. ‘iPad users in Australia’). You only pay when a customer clicks the ad and visits your site, and the cost per click can range from 20c to $10+, depending on the popularity of the keywords selected (pricing is based partly on how much competition there is for the search terms). You can set a daily budget as well as a maximum price per click to keep your advertising costs in check.
While this is a simpler and faster technique for getting your site onto that coveted first search page, a poorly designed or targeted Adwords campaign can be an expensive waste. The critical aspect to understand is that Google will prioritise ads it deems to be the most relevant and most likely to generate a click for that search term – the net result being that better ads cost less for the same placement. Improving ad relevance can be done by ensuring:
- The search terms are relevant to the product or service you’re advertising. Don’t go scattergun, make sure you understand what problem your customers are trying to solve, and select keywords to reflect their probable search patterns.
- The search terms appear within the ad copy, preferably in the heading (the more the better). These will be highlighted bold in the browser.
- The ad copy is enticing to the customer. This is challenging – there’s not a lot of text you can fit in the ad, and you need to make people want to click it. Google has some tips here, and there are other resources around the web that can help.
- Your landing page (the page on your site the ad directs to) is also relevant to the search term. You’ll generally want a different landing page (with unique content) for each ad campaign – don’t just direct your ads to your site’s home page.
Whenever a business is spending money on online advertising, we strongly recommend configuring analytics for the site in order to measure the effectiveness of advertising expenditure, i.e. are the clicks you’re buying atcually making you money? Google Analytics is a free service that integrates well with AdWords, but there are many others available such as Gauges, KISSMetrics, Clicky, and Woopra. Depending on your what your site does, these services can be configured to measure conversions (e.g. percentage of paid search visitors that request a quote), and possibly even revenue (online sales attributed to an ad campaign).
Option 2: Organic search
Traffic from search engines is generally divided into ‘paid’ (e.g. AdWords) and ‘organic’ (standard results). The practice of boosting your organic search results is generally known as ‘Search Engine Optimisation’ (SEO). This is somewhat of a dirty word in some circles, but it can be broadly broken down into two distinct categories:
- Modifying your site design and structure to better cater for search engines, and adding useful content to attract visitors (Good SEO).
- Copying or creating large amounts of useless keyword-laden content, spamdexing, and other techniques designed to trick Google’s search algorithms (Dodgy SEO).
‘Dodgy’ or black hat SEO involves somewhat of an arms race between the SEO companies and Google – the SEO companies find new loopholes and try to exploit them before Google can modify their search algorithm. While these techniques can deliver short-term results, we recommend staying within the rules for stable long-term search performance.
It’s worthwhile understanding the basics of how Google ranks sites for search terms, in order to more effectively plan your SEO activity. While the details of Google’s ranking algorithms are secret and have changed significantly over time, the original PageRank algorithm is fairly well understood. In brief, Google will assign a higher score to a site that is linked to from more (trustworthy) sites on the web, and the text of those links will contribute towards keyword relevance calculations.
Google will also apply additional weightings based on the content of the site (this incorporates many countermeasures to black-hat SEO techniques) – it’s worthwhile reading some of the principles they try and adhere to in this blog entry.
Improving your site’s search results
Following is a introductory list of pointers you should consider:
- Submit your site to Google – if you have a new site, you’ll need to let Google know about it. You can also submit to the other major search engines while you’re at it.
- Ensure your site has useful content that your customers will want to read. A web site that contains a business name, photo, and phone number won’t typically rank very well. One with blog entries, news articles, white papers and any sort of educational content will be more successful.
- Update your site regularly – Adding fresh content will improve your ranking, and the more content, the more visitors you’re likely to have.
- Make sure your meta description tag describes the page accurately in around 155 characters – this will be displayed under your search result.
- Use the latest version of a good CMS platform (e.g. WordPress, Squarespace, Drupal etc) – these will have a lot of search engine friendly facilities built in, like descriptive permalinks, correctly tagged pagination, RSS feeds and the like.
- Don’t be shy about getting your URL out there – make sure it’s in your profile on sites/organisations you’re a member of, contribute articles to relevant news or industry sites, ensure it appears in product/service reviews, and ask customers, partners or suppliers to put you on their site (if appropriate).
- If your business uses twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or another social media service, ensure you’re actively publishing news, links and other content. Also, make sure your site has ‘sharing’ widgets to enable visitors to spread the word.
- Use Google Webmaster Tools to check for problems with your site’s content or structure.
Standing desks have gained a lot of mindshare in recent years, with advocates citing posture, energy and health benefits, however they can be difficult to find for a reasonable price. A few of the Lateral developers put together an IKEA standing desk over Christmas based on the design detailed on lifehacker.
- LACK Side Table: $8.95
- EKBY Robert brackets: $24.00
- EKBY Mossby shelf: $39.95
- Screws from home: $0
We went for a classy black/stainless steel finish which pushed the price up a little, but it still falls a fair way short of $1500+ for commercial alternatives. The goal is to have the desk available for team members to spend an hour or two standing each day if desired – so far the interest has been quite encouraging. One issue we’ve found so far is that the shelf height doesn’t suit all developers, and we end up using combinations of boxes for adjustment – an adjustable keyboard shelf may be a worthwhile addition. An anti-fatigue mat is also on the wish-list.