Yesterday we noted the story of LAACO, a self-storage company which had to replace HP 3000s, so automated, with Windows partitions running a Windows application. A new which, IT manage John Wolff was quick to note, did not perform all the work of the 3000.
The spark under the kindling, which fed the fires of change and disruption, was the age of the MPE-trained staff. When your average IT employee age is nearly 70, it's probably time to make some changes. But they do not have to include leaving an MPE application that fuels your company.
Welcome to the world of Software as a Service. SaaS, as it's called on the PowerPoint slides in pro-transition presentations, eliminates the need to maintain staff that is savvy in MPE. They now work for a services company, one that hosts the application, maintains the code and adds features as needed. The application becomes as simple to use on-site as opening a browser window. Your own IT staff only need to know business workflow.
HP embraced the concept more than 14 years ago when it promoted the idea as Apps on Tap for the 3000. The computer was taking hits on its populace as Unix and even Windows systems were getting plucked for replacements. Even earlier, 3000 advocate and software engineer Wirt Atmar of AICS used his QueryCalc as the model for what we now call SaaS. Atmar had a mantra about where the 3000 was running in those days of the 1980s and '90s. "These places were using steel filing cabinets instead of computers when we came along," he said.
Brian Edminster of Applied Technologies reminded me of the late, great Atmar and how his idea connects to our modern era's SaaS. Facing the facts, a company should know that going forward there's going to be extra staff to pay when the high-level IT salaries go out the door along with MPE knowledge. Sometimes the veteran programmers don't go, just move on to other projects. Even at LAACO, they had to hire two staffers to do IT tasks which the Windows replacement could not do.
Thinking outside of the box, Edminster said, "I'm surprised more IT managers haven't thought of this -- especially when migrating is cost prohibitive."
Migrating/Transitioning is not the only answer for this application, or any home-grown application. It's come later than it should, but Wirt Atmar's proposed SaaS (Software as a Service), using the 3000 as the host, is a concept whose time has come.
I'd argue that with lower cost than doing a migration, and with less risk (and likely lower total cost) transitioning to alternative software solutions a 'home-grown' app could be documented and turned over to a service organization. One that will host it, and do all operations and maintenance on the application for you.
Replacing also has secondary costs. This is having to add personnel to do work that the system used to do for them, or just plain losing functionality that previously gave them a competitive advantage. There are other examples, for sure, but I'd bet doing this kind of SasS Homesteading would be less costly and disruptive to companies like LAACO. Less costly and disrupting than salaries for two new office clerks, plus the cost and maintenance of the replacement package.