In Alignment

(originally published in IBM Systems Magazine –

My daughters and I ran into one of their old high school friends at the mall the other day. After a quick catch up on who’s doing what, where and when, they all hugged and promised to stay in touch. As we turned to walk away, their friend hollered “Wait… you have my digits?”. What? What was this guy talking about? Apparently I was the only one in the dark, as both my girls pulled out their iPhones, delved into their contacts database and confirmed within seconds that yes, they had his ‘digits’!

Wow. Yes, digits, a.k.a data, everywhere….Everything seems to revolve around data! And as one might expect in this era of ‘instant gratification’, quick access to that data is essential. The same goes for data access in the business world.

IT departments are constantly hit with data-based requests from different departments within an organization. These requests include a wide-range of projects which can include custom reports, process evaluation, system diagnostics and database research or modifications. No matter, the requests all revolve around data. How quickly these requests can be fulfilled depend on not only the skill and knowledge of the programmers within the IT Department, but even more importantly, the tools the developers have to work with, more specifically the database tool available. There are many programmer tools in the System i world, but the most critical is a solid database utility.

The IBM world provides many options to access data on the IBM i. There is a wide variety of third party vendors that offer great interfaces to mine the data residing on the system. IBM even offers a little utility which comes standard with the operating system. Generally IT departments feel stuck with what they have when it comes to database editors. They figure what they see is what they get, since the system has been around forever (I can hear them emphasize FOREVER!). They don’t really research the options available to them, nor how these tools have evolved since the AS400 was born over 25 years ago. But if they did, they would find a goldmine of options and interfaces and intrinsic tools within these tools that are invaluable assets in their little green (and multi-colored, too!) toolbox.

First and foremost, the ideal database utility should include quick, reliable and easy-to-use access to the data you need to get to. My girls were instantly able to hit their contact database on their iPhones, so we were on our way shopping in seconds (thank God!). Database utilities on the IBM i need the same kind of easy-to-use access. This may be required through the historical green-screen interface, a GUI interface via a PC or access via a web browser and even now via mobile devices such as the iPhone or a tablet. Modernization of database utilities offer more options to IT departments and thus satisfy more IT guys and gals. In this case, more is better.

Secure access is also a requirement. My girls have their iPhones locked tight under a security code so ‘Mom’ cannot access what they don’t want me to see. Database utilities also should have the ability to secure data on a user profile basis when the product is installed for each user who will have the privilege to use such a powerful asset. Most come with this feature and help secure data as required within your organization.
Next on the ‘must-have’ list would be be ACDC! (the rock band?) Well, more like A-C-D, the add-change-delete feature. That’s what a good file editor is all about. In fact, as the girls walked away, they compared their friend’s ‘digits’ on their iPhones and noted that they each had different info. One had his home phone and the other had his cell phone (Oh no!)…so both had to add the missing ‘digits’ to their contacts database. Then they were happy. The same goes for editors on the IBM i. Lots of data may need to be added or manipulated at the programmer level for some functions to operate. Oftentimes, this access can be saved and even offered as an application, so future requests could be handled by the business unit manager themselves. This kind of flexibility makes everyone happy and should be a feature available with the database utility you use.

Another feature that is nice with a database utility include access to remote data. Actually this feature is almost becoming a necessity in most shops. More & more IT departments have multiple platforms and databases, like MySQL on a windows server or Oracle on a Sun Sparcstation. It’s so nice when you have a tool in your tool box to access ALL data under one hood, so to speak. That way you don’t have to learn a whole array of different interfaces. The girls find it so nice to utilize the same technology on their iPhone and their tablet. Simplicity at it’s finest.

Once you have the best database utility in-house, you will see so many people reap the benefits. Business analysts can evaluate data and projects much more efficiently. Programmers can get to the granular data, even at the hex-level with most file editors. Database applications can be created and saved to be used over and over again by system administrators or even the business unit managers. Productivity sky rockets. CIOs report glowing project summaries. CEOs smile. And all the ‘digits’ are aligned. That is the foundation of a great business.

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