ASNA Case Study: Making IBM i information available where users need it
Answering field techs' questions with an IBM i mobile application
Systems Implementation has provided software and services to the IBM midrange community since 1980. Systems Implementation offers a one-stop, full-service IBM i ERP package for two-way and wireless companies that include, hardware and software services, and on-going tech support for these businesses.
Several years ago, Systems Implementation used ASNA Wings to modernize the UI of its IBM i green-screen ERP package. Wings transforms green-screens into HTML5 Web pages for use with desktop browsers and tablets. Before Wings the application's green-screen diminished the prospects’ first impressions of Systems Implementation’s solution. Wings changed all that, and prospects and customers love the application's new browser-based Wings UI.
Lately, Systems Implementation noticed customers acknowledging a need for mobile solutions, particularly in the area of Field Service. Enterprise mobile applications, once a curious novelty, are rapidly becoming mainstream. Managers are realizing that mobile applications have genuine and rapid ROI potential.
After several conversations, Systems Implementation identified several areas where a smartphone-based solution would offer not just improved functionality, but new and powerful functionality that could dramatically redefine business workflows and increase sales offerings. This is the story about how Systems Implementation coupled existing RPG skills with ASNA Mobile RPG to provide a new IBM i mobile solution to its customers.
Our success with ASNA Wings lead us directly back to ASNA. We quickly knew Mobile RPG would also be a good fit for us."
Says Taber Alderman, Systems Implementation President and CEO, "ASNA Wings added a 'wow' factor to our existing RPG applications and customer adoption has been a resounding success. With that challenge behind us, we realized that we needed a solid mobile solution to offer additional, specialized capabilities. Our Wings success lead us directly back to ASNA. We quickly knew Mobile RPG would also be a good fit for us."
The challenge defined
Taber explains the business challenge, “Although Field Technicians already had the ability to access their service tickets from the field to record their parts and labor using a laptop, they needed more function and flexibility. Many times, technicians just wanted to update the status of the ticket to say they were done with the job, but they had already shut down their laptop. In addition, we realized that if technicians had the ability to scan barcodes for commonly used parts and labor, we could provide real gains in productivity, and drastically reduce keying errors. There was also an increasing need to capture the customer’s signature at the end of the job and provide a copy of the completed ticket before leaving the site. The need for this increased functionality, coupled with the promise of enhancing Technician productivity, set the stage perfectly for a mobile solution.”
Systems Implementation knew that its ERP, as currently written, wouldn't translate directly to a smartphone-based solution. A mobile application needs to be very focused, with minimal operator options, and minimal layers to get to exactly what the user needs to do. However, as the plan for the new mobile app came together, the team realized that much of the file IO and business logic needed was encapsulated in RPG program objects the mobile app could call. And because Mobile RPG apps are written with ILE RPG, those program objects would be very easy to call and reuse.
Getting to it
MR’s mobile user interface is mobile-ready HTML5 pages that run in a smartphone's browser. ASNA also has a hybrid container called ASNA Go for both Apple and Android phones. When installed on a smartphone, ASNA Go presents an MR app as a hybrid mobile app. ASNA Go provides better control over the back button and enables closer interaction between the Web app and the smartphone hardware (to enable barcode scanning, for example).
After a few whiteboard sessions and some requirement planning, Systems Implementation developer, Scott Massoia, started dabbling with MR. Scott has deep IBM i and RPG programming experience. With only minimal Web experience or formal training (and some work further modernizing some Wings displays), Scott quickly found his groove with MR. Scott used MR's online help and a couple of tech support calls to answer most of his initial questions. Notably, he didn’t need any formal training.
Scott explains, "Most of what I needed to know I was able to learn from ASNA’s Mobile RPG examples. I did need to make a few calls to ASNA tech support to clarify something, but overall Mobile RPG was pretty easy for me to learn. I was able to build our first mobile app in less than 90 days."
Mobile RPG was pretty easy for me to learn. I was able to build our first mobile app in less than 90 days.
Mobile RPG's mobile UI designer snaps into Microsoft's Visual Studio. Because 100% of a Mobile RPG's program logic and file IO is written in ILE RPG, no code is written in Visual Studio. Rather, it provides the UI design surface. It is true that learning to navigate Visual Studio presents a challenge, but not much of one. Scott's work with ASNA Wings had already provided him with the Visual Studio knowledge and confidence he needed to jump right in. Had Scott needed it, training for both Visual Studio and Mobile RPG is available directly from ASNA.
Several of Mobile RPG's controls (those that require multiple data elements--such as lists, maps, charts, and tables) surface themselves to the RPG program as simple subfiles. Other single-element controls (such as text boxes, checkboxes, and images) are simply fields in the RPG program. Mobile RPG doesn't impose a style or an API set on its back-end RPG. The RPG program can use full free-format or fixed-format syntax and it can use SQL or record level access--any style of RPG works just fine. (See this article for details on writing a Mobile RPG application). Scott's deep RPG experience paid off handsomely for developing this mobile app. In several cases, Scott was able to call existing RPG program objects to avoid needing to duplicate code and logic.
Screenshots from Version 1.0 of the Systems Implementation mobile app
The new application takes advantage of many intrinsic smartphone features. It integrates with a smartphone's telephony, its camera, and its GEO location facilities. Like most good mobile apps, the app has a variety of searching facilities to make it easy for mobile users to find things. It also uses images, PDF file upload, image upload, and signature capture, barcoding, lists, maps, and built-in spool file integration. Emailing is done through an SMTP server on the IBM i but it could also be sent through a mail server on the Windows Web server.
“My first mobile project with Mobile RPG was very interesting," Scott says. "At first I was a little concerned about performance, but that proved not to be a problem. Our mobile app performs very well. Having taken care of our field technicians, I'm looking forward to rolling up my sleeves and building a mobile solution for our salespeople."
On to production
Systems Implementation's new mobile app is currently deployed for more than six customers (at publication time) with others pending. The early feedback is incredibly positive and enthusiastic.
With such great benefits for everyone involved, we’re looking forward to continuing our ASNA partnership and developing other mobile apps with ASNA Mobile RPG. Next up? FUSION Mobile for Sales, and we can’t wait to get started!
Taber concludes, "Our new mobile solution, FUSION Mobile for Service, is really exciting! It provides our customers with a modern, intuitive tool that delivers even more flexibility and function to better serve their customers and employees. It also puts us a step ahead of the competition, helps with customer loyalty and retention, and provides us with a new revenue stream as well. With such great benefits for everyone involved, we’re looking forward to continuing our ASNA partnership and developing other mobile apps with ASNA Mobile RPG. Next up? FUSION Mobile for Sales, and we can’t wait to get started!”