ERP IBM i Modernization

The State of IBM i: Key Takeaways from the Latest Survey Data

Dave Kravitt, CPIM

ALL400S provides valuable intelligence on the world of IBM i and recently shared the results of their year-end 2023 survey of AS400 and i-series businesses.

What is the state of the IBM i / Power i marketplace? In this blog, we draw on both this survey data and our experience working with businesses that rely on IBM i to identify some key trends.

2023 Power i / IBM i Survey: High-Level Takeaways

You can find the full results of the ALL400S survey here, or a helpful PDF summary here. The survey sample is a majority of programmers and developers but also includes system administrators, IT executives, business analysts, and senior executives, providing a broad slice of perspectives on the platform.

Item 2 on the survey shows that over 64% of IBM i developers are at least 50 years old (with 34.8% at least 60). This data confirms the risk of a trend we have discussed in the past—an impending retirement crisis for legacy applications. Indeed, Item 3 suggests that while 48.7% of respondents don’t plan to retire for at least the next decade, a total of 46.5% plan to retire in the next 10 years (and another 5.6% replied that they are already retired or semi-retired). As we explore further below, alternatives like third-party support will have an increasingly central role to play in economizing on the available resources as more seasoned IBM i experts retire.

Item 9 on the survey shows that 28% are using a custom ERP system, with the most used out–of–the–box ERP system, JDE World, coming in at 9.8% of respondents. This accords with PSGi’s experience providing ERP support services, where we support some JD Edwards businesses and many others with ERP systems that have been heavily customized over the years, including many legacy systems.

Nearly 47.8% of respondents remain on version 7.4 of the OS, with 19.8% on the latest version 7.5, and 41.9% remaining on version 7.3. In our experience, the newest versions of IBM i continue to provide valuable new functionality, but certain compatibility issues mean organizations are wise to move forward carefully with updates. IBM i 7.3 recently reached its support sunset from IBM, and we expect to see accelerated movement toward versions 7.4 and 7.5 in the coming months.

Learn more about how PSGi helped one client upgrade from a decade-old version of IBM i while ensuring compatibility with hundreds of integrated modules and applications.

Is the IBM i User Base Robust?

At PSGi, we see the Power i / IBM i platform as a flexible solution that will remain capable of continuing to adapt to novel business requirements for many years to come. In this context, Item 14 (asking “Does your company plan to migrate off of the IBM i platform?”) from the ALL400S survey provides some interesting insights. The majority of people responded “no” or expressed uncertainty if it would ever happen.

Item 15 explores the motivations of those planning to migrate off of IBM i, with 36.3% answering that it was perceived as too old, 33.8% saying “modernization,” 30.5% “corporate direction,” and 28% “moving to cloud.” Another 30% replied either “it’s too hard to find RPG programmers” or “it’s too hard to find RPG programmers who will work onsite.”

In this context, some of the replies in the “other responses” section of the survey data provide some revealing details:

  • “It has been attempted twice but it is too ingrained into almost every part of the business.”
  • “Yes, they started migrating off the IBM i in Jan 2018 and they said it would take 2 years and here we are 5 years later and they don’t know how much longer it will take.”
  • “Maybe in the next 10-15 years.”

These responses speak to just how hard it is to find a system capable of providing the same mix of functionality, reliability, flexibility, and security that Power i / IBM i can offer. In many cases, companies have years of investments in custom applications and deeply engrained workflows and unique intellectual property running on IBM i systems, and the cost and business disruption associated with switching over to a new platform are immense. In most cases, in our experience, it isn’t worth it unless the system is not meeting business requirements. The IBM i platform continues to provide the stability it has always been known for while offering new ways to adapt to modern technology paradigms. New options are emerging all the time that speak directly to some of the concerns highlighted above. For example, we explore new alternatives for bringing IBM i systems to the cloud in our blog here. Item 23 on the survey confirms that 27.6% of IBM i businesses are already making use of cloud hosting with MS Azure, 25% with AWS, and 21.2% with IBM.

IT Backlogs Remain an Issue and Developer Time Remains Stretched Thin

Another interesting question from the survey asks respondents “which activities currently sit in the IT backlog?” Top responses include “development (67.5%)” “bug fixes / application code fixes” (56.7%) “modern user experiences,” (32.8%), “web service API integration projects” (31.7%) and “OS upgrades” (27%).

These replies closely track our team’s personal experience, and are closely related to the growing developer shortage highlighted earlier in the survey. As IT teams become stretched more and more thin, development projects are set aside, and in many cases, functionality that is already built into the existing system goes untapped. As internal resources fall further and further behind on administration, bug fixes, and upgrades, enhancements risk becoming a thing of the past.

Why the Right Support Model is Critical

In this context, the need for innovative support models for IBM i businesses is clear. Item 19 in the survey verified this fact: asked how many hours a month their company could use an IBM developer or fractionalized resource, over 50% of respondents answered “41 or more,” with only 10% responding “none.”

All of this evidence points to the same conclusion: finding the right resources to support, manage, and enhance IBM i systems is critical to unlocking their full value (and ensuring their long-term viability). Item 30 of this survey asks “Who supports your business software?”. 60.2% replied “internal support,” 19.53% said “software vendor,” and 32.4% “combination of the above”, with only 17.75% reporting working with a 3rd party vendor. As the market for developer talent becomes tougher to navigate, we expect to see the use of external assistance is number continue to grow. For example, we take a deeper look at IT staff augmentation and why it is more important than ever in our blog here.

IBM i Remains a Powerful, Adaptable, and Future-Facing System

While the right path forward will be different for every organization, our experience suggests that the Power i / IBM i platform continues to offer an exceptional solution to the needs of a broad variety of businesses. But, like any technology platform, innovative solutions may be necessary to align your IT management and support approach with the business’s broader needs. For some organizations, the best option is to retain their valued IBM i system while getting out of the hardware management business using a PaaS approach. For others, a “headless ERP” strategy can provide a cost-effective solution for modernizing user experience while avoiding unnecessary development work.

Whatever the state of your Power i / IBM i system, PSGi can help identify a strategy that is aligned with your business’s long-term requirements. With staff augmentation, managed services, and application support, we offer the full portfolio of services needed to help relieve the pressure on internal IT teams, work through the development backlog, and ensure that the right mix of resources is available for years to come.

If you’re ready to get your ERP refresh process started and could use the help of an expert team, we encourage you to reach out using the button below. 

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