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MigrationWare assists John Lewis in reducing IT costs, risks by moving to COBOL, CICS and DB2

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MigrationWare, the specialist applications migration and modernisation company, is in the process of completing the delivery of a significant conversion solution to the department store division of the John Lewis Partnership, a prominent UK retailer.

John Lewis is one of Britain's best recognised department store chains. Stocking hundreds of thousands of separate lines in its department stores, and through its Web site, John Lewis services a wide ranging set of products.

Back in the 1980s John Lewis adopted the use of VisualAge Generator (VAGen) from IBM (then known as CSP), which was aimed at rapid application development through code generation rather than through pure application development. The idea of VAGen was to enable the construction of systems “visually” rather than through having to write code. From a visual composition of a system, VAGen would allow for the automatic generation of code in different languages targeted at different platforms and environments.

VAGen rapidly gained in popularity and became a leading development tool, in particular through the 80s and 90s. However, as we entered the new millennium, popularity waned, culminating finally with the announcement in 2008 that IBM would cease selling VAGen, and that by 2009 support would likewise cease to be provided.

João de Oliveira, marketing director of MigrationWare, said: “We recognised early on that the era for most 4GL languages had passed, and we knew then that many customers would be looking to salvage their investments in business applications by migrating to contemporary technologies. We therefore took the decision early on to develop solutions to help these customers succeed.”

For John Lewis, as an organisation making use of VAGen technology, these announcements presented a serious challenge. For one, this would immediately present a business risk related to running major business systems on unsupported software, and secondly, John Lewis realised that it would become increasingly difficult (and expensive) to find developers skilled in VAGen. John Lewis therefore took the important decision to move its existing VAGen IT systems onto another more strategic environment as soon as possible.

The task of converting hundreds of VAGen programs comprising millions of lines of code was not going to be an easy one. John Lewis therefore decided to engage an outside specialist contractor to do the job, and after some investigation of possible candidates, MigrationWare, a software company specialising in language, platform and database conversions, was chosen.

Sarah Robertson, Project Manager at John Lewis, said: “The systems comprise large, complex programs that require no change to functionality and which would have been too expensive to manually convert. Migrationware is providing a thorough, cost-effective solution by processing these programs through its automated conversion engine, such that there is no change to functionality or user interface.

“Migrationware has been able to be flexible to cope with the technical complications of these large programs and has been committed to delivering high-quality code within predefined timescales.

“The team in Cape Town is a pleasure to work with, and has dealt with any issues as quickly and effectively as possible to ensure the ongoing success of the project.”

The task is focused on removing the need for VAGen by migrating to a COBOL, CICS and DB2 configuration, which is a tried and tested set of technologies, one that is successfully used by thousands of blue-chip companies around the world. A change in platform was not considered as part of this move. However, having migrated the applications away from a proprietary, mainframe specific technology to a platform independent set of technologies, the opportunity now exits to change the platform to a low-cost contemporary alternative.

The project is currently in its final phase. The project timeline is based on John Lewis requirements for testing and implementation purposes. Again, MigrationWare has shown that geographical disparity is not an insurmountable obstacle to successful project delivery. The project is expected to deliver on budget and on time, something which is rare indeed in the world of software development.

Aggie Eriksen, project manager for MigrationWare, said: “This project shows that even in the case of highly proprietary technologies, the option still exists for most customers to change their choice of technology should the need to do so arise.”

Editorial Contact:

João de Oliveira