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A Profile
in Versatility

AS/400 Magazine
June 2000


AS/400 at the heart of all matters for one firm

Note: With this issue, AS/400 launches a new column, "Shop Talk." This Column turns the focus towards you, the people who comprise the AS/400 user base. How does your enterprise use the AS/400? What would you change about it? We'll seek out individual AS/400 users for answers to these and other questions. "Shop Talk will appear periodically in AS/400 Magazine.

BY JIM UTSLER

Our initial subject, John Myers, operates a software application firm and an Internet start-up company. Both businesses run on AS/400.

The nice thing about interviewing people on the street is that you never know what to expect. The responses can either be accommodating or downright surly, punctuated with a hand in the face and a curt, "Leave me the heck alone!"

So when we approached our first interviewee, John Myers, president of Strategic Business Systems Inc. (www.sbsusa.com) and corporate director of ScoreBook.com Corp. (www.ScoreBook.com), we weren't sure where the conversation was going to take us. As it turned out, he was more than willing to share a moment of his time, offering insight into not only his own operations, but also into how IBM might improve the AS/400's marketing position.

Although he's the president of a company that specializes in AS/400 applications, Myers knows the importance of having a sound IT environment (his experience with start-up Internet company ScoreBook.com is proof.) With that in mind, we asked him to answer our questions not as the head of an AS/400 solution-provider company, but as the owner of an AS/400 shop.

His responses, while decidedly pro-AS/400, may surprise some people.

Could you briefly explain what your organization does?

Strategic Business Systems has two business units and one affiliated company that are served by a common, Internet-driven, AS/400-served technology base.

The first business unit is our Motor Vehicle Industry business unit (www.VehicleSystem.com). Strategic provides packaged computer systems and services that support the distribution operations of motor vehicle manufacturers.

The second is our IBM iSeries eServer (AS/400) networking, document management, and Internet practice. Since 1996, we have viewed the Internet as a worldwide Communications backbone. The advent of I/NET's WebServer/400 and Webulator/400 opened the door for the AS/400 to gain these benefits. Strategic has provided more than 50 companies with Internet applications, using the AS/400 as their primary server.

Strategic's AS/400 Internet practice includes prominent companies such as Panasonic, Mikasa, Goya Foods, and Merrill Lynch, as well as many of the innovative entrepreneurial companies that form the core of the AS/400 community.

Our new product, WebSurvey/400 (www.WebSurvey400.com), was developed based on many of our early experiences in AS/400 e-business. It allows AS/400-powered Web sites to gather and route intelligence without any application programming. The user specifies the data to be collected on a Web page, and WebSurvey/400 builds the Web page, processes the responses from the page, and routes the responses to specified contacts.

ScoreBook.com, our affiliated company, is a worldwide amateur sports destination. Its goals are to provide Internet-based sports league and team management tools, make players' achievements visible, and form a worldwide player community.

With ScoreBook.com, league managers will be able to run the league from a Web site. This includes communicating with team managers and players, setting up game schedules, recording and publishing game results (with box scores, game highlights, and action photos), keeping player statistics, and determining team standings and league leaders.

Once we have the basics in place, we plan to grow the ScoreBook.com community in a number of ways. Certainly sports chat is a starting point. League and sport newsletters are another.

Because an amateur men's baseball league owner is our partner in ScoreBook.com, the first sports supported by ScoreBook.com will be the bat and ball sports (baseball, softball, tee-ball, etc.). Other sports (basketball, football, soccer, etc.) will follow shortly.

What's the size of your company and its staffing?

All of this work is being done by a company with less than 30 employees. The technical staff consists of 12 development, two technical-support, and four customer-support staffers. That's the power of the AS/400.

One of our biggest challenges in the marketplace arises when we call on a large company that's not aware of the AS/400's capabilities, and they ask how large our company is. They don't understand how a company the size of ours has done everything we have done. They say that they need a "large firm that can throw armies of people at their problems." They just don't get the point that the AS/400 makes ordinary people extraordinary.

Could you give us an overview of your technical environment?

  • Two AS/400 Model 170s
  • One Novell file server (for file and print sharing)
  • One Windows NT file server (for a customer-mandated help desk application)
Contrary to all of the press that Web browsers have received, the Internet is about servers. We want to have the best Internet server on the market for ScoreBook.com. We chose the AS/400 to run our Internet-based business for several fundamental reasons. It's easy to use, reliable, secure, has Internet servers built in, and will grow with our business. We want to be able to focus on our business, and the AS/400 lets us do that.

What types of application development languages are you using?

  • RPG and LANSA for traditional application development
  • LANSA for the Web and e-business
  • I/NET CommerceServer/400 Web server, OS/400 HTTP Server, and OS/400 email
  • WebSurvey/400 for consumer inquiries
We've used LANSA for our e-business and e-commerce applications with great success. LANSA is a very effective product that has certainly given us more than we expected. We knew that it was a very competent tool for both database design and applications generation in the workstation, Windows client, and Web applications. What we didn't realize was how easy it is to integrate LANSA with our existing AS/400 database files and RPG applications.

And as far as ScoreBook.com is concerned, you can't buy the multilingual, multi-sport, e-business solution it needs at CompUSA. We were looking for the ability to quickly create a custom, multilingual Web application that can grow as we do.

LANSA for the Web was our choice to build the application. We define the data to the LANSA repository once. Standard program templates allow us to generate many of our systems functions without writing a line of code. Also, the LANSA repository allows us to define all data elements as multilingual. We can generate our application once and rely on LANSA to serve Web pages in the needed languages.

How does the AS/400 fit into your organization?

The AS/400 is the heart of our organization. It is our factory. We are betting our business on the AS/400, and you can bet we're confident we'll win.

If you had the ability to do so, how would you improve the AS/400?

AS/400's biggest problem is that the general public doesn't know it exists. IBM supports four families of clearly differentiated servers (AS/400, S/390- RS/6000, and Netfinity*). The AS/400 is the least known and most differentiated of the four in the marketplace.

If you don't know the product details, highly differentiated products will seem strange and isolated and never be considered for purchase in the marketplace. If you do know the details, and the differentiation fits your needs, then the purchase of the product is intuitive.

In addition to my role with Strategic Business Systems and ScoreBook.com, I teach business administration topics at the local community college. I recently asked a class of upper-level IT majors, "How many of you know what an IBM iSeries eServer (AS/400) is?" Out of 24 students, only one had any idea what I was talking about. How can we hire our next generation of IT professionals if they don't even know what an AS/400 is?

Spending money to raise the profile of the AS/400 in the general marketplace would pay immediate returns to both IBM and its customers. Other than this, it's a wonderful server, and we look forward to a long and successful run with the AS/400.

JIM UTSLER is a contributing editor of AS/400 Magazine. He has written technology-related articles for a variety of publications, including Business Week and Byte. He can be reached via e-mail at jjutsler@aol.com.

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