Many IBM i-based systems have been successfully performing their business function for decades. Even though the Power i platform has a stable future through at least 2032, IT leaders sometimes assume that antiquation has come with age for this 30+-year-old product family.
In our experience, this assumption is false. IBM i is not only a stable option that can continue performing well in support of business-critical systems but an inherently flexible system that can be readily integrated with a variety of new capabilities.
In this article, we take a look at how IBM i’s ability to be integrated with other systems is an important part of its long-term value proposition—and how careful long-term planning is a must to ensure continued agility.
A Hybrid ERP Enhancement Strategy: Legacy Stability with the Flexibility to Innovate
A legacy ERP system can become a technological manifestation of a wide range of valuable organizational knowledge. As it is configured, modified, and baked into operational processes across the organization over many years, the ERP begins to reflect uniquely competitive business processes, intellectual property, and historical “lessons learned.”
With this much value embedded in your legacy ERP, starting from scratch with a new ERP can be a huge challenge (and cost and risk). In many cases, it is unnecessary. IBM i continues to update both the Power i hardware and the IBM i OS and its associated toolset. While any given IBM i-based application may be quite old, the environment is far from out-dated. Over time, IBM i’s toolset has been developed to enable it to be easily integrated with external applications. In our experience, it is safe to assume that IBM i can successfully communicate with virtually any on-premises or cloud-based business application.
An older ERP can still be used to serve data to new applications with new capabilities or receive data from them. This is why the ability to integrate with new applications offers a natural path for upgrading the capabilities of a legacy ERP while retaining its stability and obtaining a favorable ROI from the combination of old and new.
Businesses have proven options for integrating external services and applications to interact with the ERP. Many applications come with API’s which can be called to perform various functions. When present, API’s offer a convenient avenue for integrating with other applications. If an API is absent or limiting, it can readily be developed as needed. Event-driven interaction is another useful option. IBM i’s database allows for events to occur without any changes to the underlying application. When a given change occurs in the database, an event is triggered and can be used to communicate with outside systems. Web-service-based integration is another common possibility that can readily be configured in the IBM i environment. And these are only a few examples of integration possibilities.
With cost-effective, flexible options for integrating new capabilities, we think a “hybrid” approach can often offer some great value for many businesses. This strategy has two basic goals:
- Keep legacy ERP systems that are stable and performing well in place. Moving away from systems which are currently performing well often introduces unnecessary cost and risks.
ERP systems are the heart and soul of a business. They are not cheap or easy to replace. And, with the option to continue enhancing via integration, replacement is often unnecessary.
- Carefully integrate newer systems to add new business capabilities seamlessly to the stable foundation of the legacy environment. We take a look at some common examples below.
This approach aims to offer the best of both worlds. It can allow the business to continue benefiting from ROI on legacy technology investments and software integrations—without sacrificing the flexibility to continue enhancing the organization’s technology capabilities.
PSGi has worked directly on large IBM i integration projects with a number of manufacturers. The examples below represent prototypical capabilities that can be valuable to integrate with your ERP. Cloud- and browser-based applications mean businesses have more options than ever before.
Example Capabilities that Can Be Integrated with a Legacy IBM i Environment
- Product Lifecycle Management Software (PLM)
- Warehouse Management Software (WMS)
- Third-Party Logistics (3PL)
- Supplier Relationship Management (SRM)
- Electronic Data Interchange (EDI)
- Inventory Systems for Field Sales Representatives
- Shop Floor Management Software
- Product Data Management (PDM)
- Trade and Promotion Management (TPM)
- Payment and Invoice Management
- Customer Relationship Management (CRM)
- Analytics and Business Intelligence
- Barcode and RFID scanning systems.
- Accounts Payable Automation
- Computerized Maintenance Management System (CMMS)
- Quality Assurance and Control
- Blockchain integrations for inventory tracking (especially raw material inventory) and limited-intermediary transaction processing.
Why Careful Planning is Essential for Integration-Based ERP Enhancement
With this much flexibility built into the IBM i operating system, it is inherent on the IT organization to use some forethought when developing a long-term strategy for integrating point solutions with your legacy ERP. The foundation of a successful long-term plan is a clearly defined method for moving data in and out of the ERP application. Integrations should reflect a well-defined vision of how data flows between the ERP platform and associated applications.
We are working with a large organization running multiple ERP solutions feeding a consolidated financial system. Unfortunately, by the time we were brought in, several of the integrations had already been developed, separately and in a haphazard fashion. This approach made the overall result much more complex than necessary (and certainly more costly). A clear overall plan from the beginning would have resulted in a consistent, simpler integration methodology rolled into all the ERP solutions that would also have been more cost effective.
Another company we work with started their integration strategy by implementing a product data management (PDM) module to externalize the information. From that point on, many point applications which they added had a single place to easily get their data.
In order to remain competitive, business requirements will continue to evolve and IT will be called on to address them, and sometimes to find a point solution that needs to be integrated with existing applications. Ad hoc or haphazard integrations may limit the ERP’s agility in responding to future business challenges. Maintaining an agile technology environment through well planned integration strategy is essential. One driving purpose behind integrating new capabilities is allowing an older application to remain as agile as ever. Without a quality, consistent long-term integration plan, a thicket of tangled applications risk hampering the very agility these newly integrated functions were intended to promote.
PSGi has a deep well of experience helping manufacturers identify and execute the right support strategy for their IBM i applications. If you are interested in reaching out to learn more about identifying the right long-term approach for your ERP, contact our team using the button below.