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Fashion school proves fertile training ground for the Smart i

Fashion school proves fertile training ground for the Smart i
Photo courtesy of Dennis Fletcher

Q: And how does Smart i figure into your business?
A: We initially looked for a BI solution on IBM i in years past, but I felt a piece was missing. The i has a great database in DB2* and different BI vendors’ software would run on the i and do the reporting or the analytics, but there was nothing at the time running in the middle, like the ETL (extract, transform and load). We wanted a completely integrated solution.
FIDM ended up getting an integrated solution from one of our software vendors, but it was very tied to that software. Because we needed it to support the whole college, we wrote a lot of custom code around that solution. Then, the vendor chose to go in a different direction in regards to ETL, which meant that all of our custom code had to be completely redone.
That’s when Pete Elliot with Key Information Systems coincidentally came into the picture. He didn’t even know that all this was going on, but just came to me and said, “I’ve got something I think you’re going to like that runs on the i.” Call it serendipity or perfect timing or whatever, but it was exactly what I was looking for. I could go to a new BI solution, not rewrite all of that code, and take advantage of our skill set, hardware and software to add the potential to provide better, faster BI to our executives so they could make informed and intelligent decisions on our data.

Q: Wasn’t the Smart i solution the result of the collaboration among four different vendors, as well as the school?
A: Yes. And I would credit Pete Elliot with that. He’s a visionary. He saw a solution and went out to find the best parts in each area to complete it. He was already an IBM business partner so a platform, the IBM i, was already established and the DB2 Web Query was already there. He needed the ETL vendor, which was Talend; he needed someone who was very knowledgeable in BI to provide the consulting if a customer needed and wanted that, which was Systech Solutions and Al Saavedra; and then he needed a customer who would be willing to play, which was FIDM. The result of Pete’s vision was the concept of a BI tool or appliance—an integrated solution—that customers can deploy without having to buy a la carte piece parts. They can buy a solution and it will do what they need it to do.
But anytime you pull components from individual solutions that work fine on their own and you take them to another level by pulling them into an integrated solution, you’re going to run into some challenges. You’re going to push each of the vendors’ products to their limits. That’s where the teamwork really comes into play. Everyone, including us, just dug in and worked through the challenges and got things done.

Q: So weren’t you almost a test bed as well as a development environment?
A: That’s exactly correct. It wasn’t a fully formed solution when Pete came to me. He was very upfront in that it was an investment from everybody on a solution that didn’t yet exist. All of the individual parts were there but needed some tweaking to pull them together.

Jim Utsler, IBM Systems Magazine senior writer, has been covering the technology field for more than a decade. Jim can be reached at



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