AS/400 On Modification and Digital Infrastructure

AS/400, so called the IBM I series, has experienced various upgrades since its introduction in 1988. Today the system still remains as one of the most stable, secure, and best options suited for heavy load data. This can be proven by the fact that large successful multinational companies have AS/400 as a foundation of their operating systems.

However, some companies operating under AS/400 have been suffering from technology obsolesce. This is not because the AS/400 itself, but due to the inability of users to upgrade their AS/400 software into newer practical versions. Why is this so and why do some companies face this problem while some do not?

The answer lies inside the modification processes and digital architecture. The story starts when a new technology becomes available on the market, say for example AS/400 in the year 1988. Due to unique characteristics in business environment and nature, to some extent, operation systems of different firms require different features. For example, an insurance company and a department store would need different ways to store their data, also an insurance firm in the United States and in China may have different regulatory requirements which leads to need of different data parameters. In order to support these unique functions, companies start to modify the system to suit their needs adding functions and adapting the software. Overtime, these modifications were continuously tested, revised, updated, and more modifications were added until the software matches the business as much as possible.

In the short term, these software modifications may have been advantageous to those firms being able to benefit from those custom tailored functions. However, after a decade later the very same modifications that once served as a benefit could turned out to be problematic leading to inefficiency. Problems arise as new technology become available. Companies without or with only small modifications could simply install upgrades on top of their old software. But for companies that have modified their system to the point that it no longer hold key components of the original version this is not the case. At first missing the slight upgrades would not hurt so much and the benefit specific modifications may overweight to benefits from upgrading. But overtime these upgrades accumulate. Take the evolution of iPhone for an example. Imagine how much the iPhone has changed. The iPhoneX and iPhone11 may not be very different, but the iPhone11 does look a lot different when compared to the iPhone3. The same case could be made for AS/400 users who have been modifying their systems since 1988.

Sure the company could make modifications to imitate upgrades, but as technology evolves at a rapid pace the upgrades diverge and become harder to catch up, for instance, surely the 1990 version of AS/400 is not designed to support mobile devices. Since it is highly unlikely, that the modifiers in the 1990s could foresee mobile devices becoming an inseparable part of customer lives. The question now arises, what should companies do to keep those modified systems up-to-date? The obvious choices lie mainly between either buying a new software which supports the state of art technology and going through the labouring and time consuming process of system migration, or continuing to modify their system intensively. Furthermore, if the company chooses to move to a new system there is also the question of whether or not to modify the new system- repeating the same process all over again, which we could see some foreshadowing of what is likely to happen in ten year’s time.

On the flip side, why were some companies able to upgrade their systems? One of those firms are the ones that did not intensively alter their systems. However not only company that did not alter the old system configurations are the ones that were able to install new upgrades smoothly, the ones with good digital architecture were also able to do so. Digital architecture also matters. This is because they have laid out their systems in a way which supports and leaves room for future upgrades

Therefore, by wisely laying out digital architecture, a company could maintain its core system for current upgrades meanwhile still utilising the system to support its unique functions without intensive modifications.

Date : 17/02/2020