Common board member discusses open source on System i

IBM System i user group Common recently held elections to fill three posts on their board of directors. Long-time active iSeries and IBM midrange software development professional Dan Kimmel was re-elected to fill one of those posts. In this email Q&A, Dan discusses changes in Common and System i and makes the case for using open source.

What are you roles and responsibilities as a Common board member?
Board members share a responsibility for strategic direction and planning. We attempt to gather information about the needs and interests of the System i community through surveys and the experience of each member, then determine the actions necessary to provide the best services to that community.

I continue to be the liaison to iSociety and to the Community and Networking (CaN) volunteer group. My role in that capacity has been to try to communicate the Board's vision of a System i community, and to secure the resources that group deems essential to fulfilling that mission. CaN is responsible for developing communities and a sense of belonging within all the various communities; the entire COMMON member community and the broader System i community around the world, including local user groups, specific industry user communities, and others.

We're all beginning to discover now that when we contribute to a body of knowledge in a way where we all can utilize the fruits of that effort, we're all better off.
Dan Kimmel,

I also joined the Finance Committee this year, so I will be participating in developing the 2008 budget for Board approval. What changes have you seen in Common and System i during the last three years? What possible changes do you see coming in the future?
There have been huge changes. We changed the conferences from two-per-year to an annual conference. We improved the sense of community, and we stabilized the financial position of the organization. I'd also like to think that we made the conferences more fun and valuable. We shifted our education offerings outside of just the conference.

IBM's new structure and [i5/OS V6R1] will drastically change the arena where System i professionals work. That's going to have huge impact on what our members want and need in education and community support. Our Leadership and Advocacy group is poised to identify any requirements that might arise and take those to the IBM leadership. Our Community and Networking group is ready to provide the tools our members need to help each other through the rough spots. Education is already loading up the education sessions on new tools and features.

We are spending a lot of time and effort learning what our community needs and acting on that information. When we all work together, we're all stronger and each of us can bring more value to our organizations. From your history of working with the iSeries platform, what stands out in particular that has (or will) help you contribute to the System i community?
The System III, System 38, AS400, iSeries and System i have been used by a wonderful community of professionals to bring value to their organizations. That community has been selflessly generous in their assistance to each other in developing their talents and capacity to bring efficiency and profit to their employers. It is this generosity that has made me a more valuable asset and I think my work has contributed to the huge increases in business productivity that have occurred during my 30+ year career; hopefully making life better for everyone. What sorts of software, programming strategies or app development projects have you been working on lately? Have you been using open source in your projects?
I've been developing Java web service applications using open source components. That proprietary, commercial software may itself become open source. The same would have taken three times as long to develop the same functionality in RPG or C or COBOL. Java provides a very rich and productive development environment and has a vibrant open source community. But Java has its drawbacks in the complexity of the JVM and the impact on performance, but I think we will see soon either some improvements in Java technology or another object oriented environment that will supplant it.

I've used some RPG open source. It works very well thanks to use and improvement by a large community of developers – I contribute where I can. Open source offers three advantages. First, I don't have to develop some features of the project myself; I can use the open source. Second, a community of developers maintains the open source feature. Third, I can fix or expand the open source to better suit my customers and contribute those changes to the open source project.

We're all beginning to discover now that when we contribute to a body of knowledge in a way where we all can utilize the fruits of that effort, we're all better off. Open source is the implementation of that concept in the computer application space. More and more of the commercial software you buy has, and will continue to have, more and more open source components.

There's little place for 5250-style applications anymore. A 5250 applications is faster for heads-down data entry but if you need to do heads-down data entry you're missing the revolution. If you need heads-down data entry you're probably re-entering data that should have been captured much earlier in the business process and propagated. Our IT challenge is to eliminate data entry altogether and facilitate the capture of data as it is exchanged with business partners.

I've been working on business process automation based on service architectures. This is one way to capture information as it is exchanged. Anything else you'd like to add?
Tremendous changes have occurred in the technology of information delivery over the last few years. Specific information you had to attend a conference to acquire six or seven years ago you can now obtain in 10 or 15 minutes on the internet. That internet experience is very, very limited in scope. If you want to get a broad feel for all the emerging technologies and techniques for the application of those technologies, you have to read broadly and participate in a community of like-minded people through conferences and on-line discussions.

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