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Sometimes Looks are Important May 18, 2012

Posted by pgsdiver in IBM i, Modernisation, PHP, Technology, Zend.
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As a follow-up to my previous post about old-fashioned ideas sometimes being the best when it comes to corporate computing, I thought I’d balance things up with a few stories about what truly is new and exciting about what we’re doing.

One of our customers is a large automotive repair chain (Australia’s biggest with over 250 sites)… Now for years we’ve done what I (and they) think is a pretty good job of managing their high-availability application, Visions Solution’s iTera HA product. We keep them in touch with what we are doing on the software and hardware front, and over the past year something wonderful happened.

The IT Manager of their organisation contacted us about an article we ran in our newsletter about PHP and the Zend stack on the IBM i – for which we were the first certified partner in Australia. Now this fellow, Ian, had a particular need within his organisation to provide an incident management system to his workforce, and wanted something web-based, that could leverage the existing information the business had in its ERP system. Along came Team, with Zend, PHP and a growing open-source PHP CRM product called vTiger. Over the course of a few short months we had a working system running, completely web-based and running on their trusty IBM i.

I was initially a bit sceptical about our ability to provide the solution, and before we engaged I gave one of our developers a couple of days to do a prototype for me to see, and to show the client. I was stunned. The quality of the resultant solution was good, but just as important, it looked spectacular, and mirrored almost perfectly the initial design brief from the customer. The old dog (no, I’m not referring to our consultant – more the machine and me!) certainly learned a few new tricks that day, and it demonstrated to me just what you can do with the technology we have if you think just a little laterally about where to get your next application.

In the end, we’ve successfully deployed a fully web enabled application on the IBM i, the customer is overjoyed (and has written a case study for us – check out the Team Computing website news section), and during the process we managed to train up their internal staff to the point that they are now deploying their own rich application using the same stack.

Next step, mobile versions and even more functionality from what they’ve already built.

It’s exciting to watch this unfold, as I never thought we’d be in the business of web developers. Turns out, when you choose the right methods and tools, we are pretty modern and relevant to business, and can do some really catchy stuff.

Contact us if you want to know more, or want to discuss how you can easily and effectively modernise and expand the use of your current solutions.

Being old-fashioned isn’t sexy, but it can be smart. May 2, 2012

Posted by pgsdiver in Technology.
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It struck me recently that I may be getting old.

As I write this I am 44 years old, and despite a few little aches and pains that weren’t there 20 years ago I still feel pretty much as I did when I started out in this industry in 1987. So how did I get so old-fashioned? Why have I begun hating all things Apple, and despising the way in which I have to keep on updating my Windows software and my (admittedly demon-possessed) smartphone?

I travel pretty frequently to visit our clients in Melbourne and other ports, and recently I was sitting next to a young guy who began extolling the virtues of his iPhone/iPad/iPod/iDon’t Care to me, and I have to say I was impressed at just how integrated it all was, and “Wow!”, yes look at that screen resolution – you get the picture. But I found myself feigning enthusiasm as he described a lot of the “Cool apps” he had downloaded. Not many of them had any application (no pun intended) to business, and the ones that did left me a little cold as to their usability. Really, have you tried to edit a document on a smartphone? Tedious!

Anyway, to my point. While I was impressed with the gadgetry that this stuff has brought to our lives, and the undeniable convenience of being able to Google the movies that Ed Harris has been in when someone disputes a point at a barbecue, I find myself wondering about such things as stability, security and the like.

And then the folks at the same barbecue look up “old-fashioned” on dictionary.com and spend the next few minutes looking at me like I am crippled (technologically at least), and offering to get me a blanket for my knees.

Trouble is, it’s not being old-fashioned at all. I truly value convenience. but more important to me is knowing that the document I save is going to be there in a week or month or decade from now, that it hasn’t been able to be accessed by anyone I didn’t want to access it in that time, and that it won’t have become incapable fo being read simply because there have been 7 subsequent versions of my wordprocessor since then.

The systems we spend our time supporting and selling here at Team come from many different families, but the one that has stood the test of time and still lets me access documents I created in 1988 when I joined this company, is IBM’s i. It started life as Olympic, and then Silverlake, being released as the AS/400 and changing names many times to finally now become the IBM Power System running IBM i for Business. Through all of that, applications written way back when it was created (and in many cases over a decade before) can still run unchanged. It’s not necessary in order to understand my story but find out more at www.ibm.com/systems/au/i/

In all that time I’ve still yet to hear about a genuine case of a virus impacting a single system from the inside (the design of the system prevents a virus infecting system files), and I’ve never heard of a security breach caused by anything other than a compromised password or a physically compromised server.

It’s not a sexy machine, although recently we’ve been doing some pretty sexy things with it using PHP and other web technologies, but in my opinion smart business choices don’t have to be sexy ones.

If I was starting a business today I’d ask a few things of my nascent IT team.

1. Give me a system that’s reliable.

2. Give me a system that’s scalable as we grow.

3. Give me a system that I don’t have to patch every week. 2 or 3 times a year should be plenty.

4. Give me a system that is secure, against threats both viral and human.

5. Give me a system that, if I upgrade it, doesn’t make me re-write or re-buy all my software.

6. (And this is the key to an IBM i that makes all the other things possible) Give me a system that is integrated, so I know it all works together as it should.

Like a good lawyer I know, I’ll be asking questions where I already know the answer.

Old fashioned? Me? Sure! But I sleep well at night and I can tell you I am a hell of a lot sexier with plenty of beauty sleep!

The language of computing and business April 10, 2012

Posted by pgsdiver in Uncategorized.
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This is going to seem like a bit of a rant, but it really isn’t meant to be.

I really dislike the language of IT. It is just so specific, and generally we re-use and misuse terms that have completely different meanings in everyday life. For an obvious example you need go no further than the word “bug”.

In my case I usually hate using terms like that, but in order to get my point across to a person who has also been subjected to the same industry jargon as me, I just have to use those terms so as to make myself clear.

I’ll give you an example which wasn’t one of those I used today.

Analytics – IBM is using this term to describe a portfolio of products that extract information and meaning from your business data. Well, actually IBM says a LOT more about it and what it can do for you, but I’ve taken the liberty of paraphrasing for the sake of brevity.

Now, if I use the term Analytics to anyone playing in an IBM software space, they know what I mean, but to anyone else, the term could mean anything. It sounds a bit diagnostic (analysing a problem), cold (an analytical viewpoint as opposed to an emotional one), or even mathematical (Babbage’s Analytical engine anyone?).

So here’s my dilemma: Do I use the term with a business person who I may be visiting to describe the great benefits he or she may gain from using one of IBM’s portfolio of Analytics solutions, and run the risk of having them not understand me, or worse, ask me to explain it! Or, do I do what I found myself doing today, and launch into a confusing description of what I wanted to say without using the term?

I hate this because it can make it hard for outsiders to understand those of us in IT, but I suddenly felt better because I realised we’re not alone. Accountants have their own language, and I have first hand experience of this as a CPA. Lawyers most definitely do it, and so do doctors, which is possibly the most frustrating of all, our encounters with them usually being quite personal and thus the time when we need to understand what is being said the most.

So today I’ve decided to try to avoid jargon in all its forms. I won’t succeed, but it is at least a decent goal to have. If you are one of our clients, or someone with whom we come into contact in the course of business, and any of us at Team descend into jargon, please pull us up on it! Ask us to explain, in plain English, just what the hell we mean. We’ll do just that and then make an even greater effort to keep the jargon out of our conversations with you.

I’ll leave you with a challenge. Try to jot down any jargon you use in your workplace, and I bet you’ll have 10 or more words or phrases before lunch.

Yours in plain English,

Peter

A Blog is born April 4, 2012

Posted by pgsdiver in General Matters.
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Hello all and welcome to the official Team Computing Australia Blog.

We’re going to try to bring you some educational content, entertain you a little, and perhaps try to provoke some thought amongst our customer-base, staff and friends.

Check back frequently or subscribe if you dare, and we’ll do our best to make this a valuable place to spend some of your precious time.

Again, welcome,

Peter Sanderson

Team’s most recent logo, post 2008