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Modernizing AS/400 Systems for Business Resilience

As COVID-19 changes the world, organizations have been forced to look inward — at least to ensure business continuity and optimize IT systems, which are increasingly important for survival. These mission critical workloads often operate on 30-year-old systems not designed for the current business environment.

Large organizations often rely on AS/400s, now generally known as IBM iSeries, to operate essential processes like general ledger, customer maintenance, point of sales, pharmacy benefits, and inventory management. These critical applications served companies well for years, so there have been few incentives to change what was working.

However, AS/400 maintenance is getting more difficult. These monolithic systems take a long time to roll out changes. And to complicate matters, there is also a shortage of talent available to maintain the systems, which poses significant continuity risk to important processes. Complete replacement of an AS/400 can take three to five years and requires additional IT budget.

A different game plan is needed to modernize, optimize, and preserve years of investments. Through work and discussions with many clients, Infosys developed a three-step approach to modernize AS/400 systems:

  1. Automate: Businesses that automate their development and support processes reduce IT costs and effort, ensure business continuity, and reduce human error. CL programs and SQL queries bring much-needed automation to the AS/400 environment. These processes include environment data refresh, release and implementation, manual support and monitoring activities, data warehousing, and governance. In the case of one insurance company, modernization reduced program runtime from three hours to 30 minutes.
  2. Optimize: AS/400 systems are still valuable, but not every element is required in today’s environment. Organizations should keep what they need and eliminate the rest, preferably through an Agile approach that optimizes effort. Enterprise assessments identify time-consuming manual, obsolete, or redundant processes. They can then be automated, decommissioned, or consolidated to simplify the IT system. Data from decommissioned applications can also be archived cost-effectively in the cloud. This process used to be cumbersome and lengthy, so Infosys developed an AS/400 discovery tool that finds quick wins and realizes immediate benefits. Common benefits include retirement of obsolete objects, as well as inactive and duplicate jobs that take up valuable CPU bandwidth. This digital housecleaning frees up resources and allows organizations to avoid some pricy and ultimately unnecessary hardware upgrades and software licenses. These cost benefits range from 10% to 30%, based on the complexity and maturity of the existing AS/400 system.
  3. Modernization: The pandemic is punishing the global economy now, but smart organizations are already thinking about how they will emerge from this downturn. When the economy finally recovers, IT systems need to be able to respond rapidly to new market conditions. For example, businesses can replace their antiquated AS/400 green monochrome screens — which can only accept keyboard commands — with modern screens. This will also enable the creation of mobile applications that work with these legacy systems. The extraction of business rules from the system’s code can be loaded into a rules engine, which enables changes to reach the market more quickly. Data can also move to the cloud, which will allow real time analytics for better decision-making.

Beyond making applications future ready, this methodology was also designed to deploy much more quickly than a complete system replacement. These AS/400 systems are cost effective, but they have limited ability to handle changing business needs. While modernization is necessary, that process can be a difficult sell during the financial crisis triggered by this pandemic. However, a phased approach is an ideal strategy to make IT systems future ready.