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April 09, 2018

Aspects to Ponder in Package Replacements

By Roy Brown

Shining-gemEach kind of migration has its advocates, and each has its pros and cons. Your constraints are going to be cost, time, and risk. Probably in that order. I can’t say much about the first two; that depends on your circumstances. Last week we talked about the differences between conversions and migrations and the risks. Another option is going to a package to execute a migration off MPE/iX. It might even be a familiar package — but on a less familiar platform.

Packages

If you have a package running on your HP 3000 which you are happy with, and the vendor provides that same package, or something very similar, on other platforms, then it’s likely just a case of choosing which platform to go with.

Your vendor-supported migration path should be pretty straightforward, and your hardest problem is going to be to decide what to do with the crust of subsystems and reporting programs that have built up, and which surround the package proper. If there are some you can’t do without, and the features aren’t provided by the package anyway, on the new platform, this may be a good chance to get to grips with the tools and utilities on the new platform, and how things are done there.

But maybe you had a bespoke or home-grown application on the HP 3000, in an area now covered by one or more packages on other platforms, and it makes more sense to move onto a package now than to go bespoke again?

In that case, you have a three-way analysis to do; what does your existing system provide, what does the new package provide, and what are your users looking for?

I’ve heard the advice “don’t go for customization, go for plain vanilla” a lot. It certainly gives cost and risk reduction, though perhaps at the expense of business fit. I reckon that a shame; every company has something that is its USP – unique systems proposition – something in its IT that gives it its edge in its chosen business.

On the other hand, sometimes a company does things differently because it was easier, or “it was always done that way.” Those are things you shouldn’t lose sleep over giving up.

A couple of concrete examples; firstly, meaningful SKU numbers. Chances are your SKU numbers, or product codes, have a structure you understand. If so your homegrown systems will likely have dozens of places where a program takes a different path based on what that SKU number is. A package is unlikely to support that; each property needs an explicit flag on the Part Master, and the package has to work off those.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t keep your meaningful SKUs, where everyone in the business knows what they mean. Just that the package won’t know from the SKU, and so you will need to set those flags for each one. And carefully too, or there will be some real confusion.

That’s a case where you go with what the package does. But in the system I’ve just migrated, we had a critical financial value, set against every order, in a complex and special way that was important to the business. The old system calculated it. The new system would accept a pre-calculated value as input, sure, but it wouldn’t do the calculation.

We could, I guess, have asked for it to be customized in. In practice, we built an Excel spreadsheet as a preprocessor to the package proper, and did the calculations there.

There’s still a little bit of me that says moving stuff off the HP 3000 onto a spreadsheet is going backwards. But then there’s a bit of me that says that of moving anything off the HP 3000.

Custom replacement

This is the Rolls-Royce (or should I say Cadillac?) option. But if your application is unique, so there’s no chance of a package solution, and if rewrite/code conversion doesn’t suit, possibly because of a pent-up backlog of business change requests, or the knowledge that your business area is changing radically, it can be the only sensible way to go.

And if so, you don’t need a few thoughts and observations about compromise; you need to know how to choose from the myriad of possibilities out there. I only wish I knew myself…

Roy Brown is CEO at Kelmscott Ltd., a developer and consultant with more than 35 years’ experience on MPE and the HP 3000.

06:05 PM in Migration | Permalink

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