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Three Predictions for RPG and BPM

In this fifth and final article in our series on business process management (BPM), I offer three bold predictions about RPG and BPM as well as provide some direction on where to get started.

Prediction 1:

BPM will overtake Java, .NET and other modernization techniques as a forward path for custom RPG applications

I’m confident in this prediction for two reasons. First, modernization as commonly viewed will no longer be adequate. Many people in the IBM i world have been talking about modernization for at least 10 years, but really, we need to modernize what we mean by modernization.

For discussion purposes when I say modernization, I include re-engineering or conversion efforts as well. Let’s look at “traditional” versus “modern” modernization:

Traditional RPG modernization goals:

  • Convert RPG to RPG ILE
  • Convert green screens to browser-based or mobile platforms
  • Convert DDS to DDL
  • Convert or recode applications into Java or .NET

Modern modernization goals:

  • Above all else, deliver an application that can be changed quickly and often, most of the time by the users themselves. Howard Smith and Peter Fingar, the authors of one of the early, leading books on BPM, “Business Process Management: The Third Wave” emphasize the critical nature of this first point when they say: “The ability to change is far more highly prized than the ability to create in the first place.”
  • Empower the users to understand the application functionality in a graphical, intuitive, business-oriented manner.
  • Enable the users to manage and change all business rules and workflow in the system, with IT occasionally assisting.
  • Provide built-in tracking of processes so that users and managers can graphically see 1) the status of any transaction in the workflow, 2) how, when and by whose work it got there, and 3) what the view forward looks like; and then 4) control the workflow of the transaction as needed. Provide real-time dashboards of all processes in the business to monitor for problems, exceptions and bottlenecks.
  • Provide metrics and analytics of detailed workflow data to inform lean six sigma or other continuous process improvement programs.
  • Provide cross-device, cross-system view and control of processes and workflows across desktop and mobile devices, off-the-shelf package integrations, cloud-service integrations and business partner integrations.
  • Provide built-in social enterprise features to enable instant online user and manager collaboration at all points of workflow throughout the organization.

Whether we’re talking about traditional modernization or rewriting in Java or .NET, the same truth applies – none of these approaches deliver on the core features of BPM.

Second, the migration path for RPG developers is BPM. Having owned what was once one of the largest RPG consultancies on the West Coast, I’ve known hundreds of RPG developers over the years, and very few have converted their careers to become Java, .NET or Web developers. I think this is largely due to the fact that most RPG developers came from a pre-software engineering world consisting of little formal education in computer science. Many even came from business backgrounds, such as accounting. They didn’t know object orientation, inheritance, abstracted classes, interfaces, callbacks, delegates and so on. What they knew was the business. And that was the beauty of RPG; it was accessible to ordinary business people with an analytical turn of mind.

BPM now brings a renewed opportunity for RPG developers to regain a comparable position of value for their organizations. One way of looking at BPM is that it automates almost all the internal wiring of applications so that businesses can focus on the work of the business and not software engineering. There’s still a need for some amount of technical heavy lifting, but it’s much reduced. The BPM effort is primarily about leading the charge of modeling and optimizing business processes. This is where many RPG developers can offer considerable expertise with their many decades of practical business automation experience.

Steve Kilner is the creator of several software products and methodologies for the IBM i world. He writes a regular blog ( Steve can be reached at

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