RPG application gets a Web revamp at Pinnacle Foods

Rather than upgrade to a costly new enterprise resource planning package, Pinnacle Foods updated its legacy BPCS application with a new Web front end.

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At Pinnacle Foods Group LLC, one of the country's largest packaged food companies, employees had begun to complain about using character-based interfaces to access applications running RPG, a programming language native to System i. But migrating to a more modern enterprise resource planning (ERP) application just to get a snappy new Web interface was out of the question.

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The Cherry Hill, N.J., business is home to several popular brands, including Aunt Jemima, Vlasic pickles, and Swanson and Hungry-Man frozen dinners. Since 1998, it has used a popular manufacturing ERP application called Business Planning and Control System (BPCS), which it runs on its System i box in conjunction with the server's DB2 database software.

More than half of Pinnacle's 1,500 employees access BPCS, although many of them do it only through a scan gun, for example. About 200 of them, however, interact with the character-based interface on System i extensively, and complain mightily.

[The most cost-effective approach was] bringing them off the green-screen environment into the Web world but retaining the business logic we already have built.
Tony Hipszer,
CIOPinnacle Foods Group LLC

"We have been constantly dealing with comments from users about the tired look of the character-based applications," said Tony Hipszer, Pinnacle's chief information officer and vice president of information technology.

Options for modernization
Pinnacle had a few options, including migrating from BPCS to something from SAP AG or Oracle Corp. or migrating from a green screen and to a Web-based interface. Last summer, the company chose the latter.

"That was the most cost-effective approach," Hipszer said, "bringing them off the green-screen environment into the Web world but retaining the business logic we already have built."

In November Pinnacle tapped Amalgamated Software of North America (ASNA), a professional services firm in San Antonio, Texas, to modernize its RPG applications by integrating them with a Microsoft .NET framework built on HP x86 blade servers. Thus, Pinnacle employees will still use the BPCS system that lives on System i but will interact with it via a Web-based interface that ASNA is helping it build.

Deployment is ongoing. Currently, the company has the menu system and the "basic look and feel" of the graphical user interface, with order inquiry forms deployed to a few users. By the end of September, Hipszer hopes to have the new interface widely deployed. The timeline is running a bit late compared with Pinnacle's expectations, because Pinnacle needing to educate itself on how the final Web interface should look.

The company uses ASNA's Monarch tool to bring visibility to the RPG-based BPCS application and DataGate to tap into DB2 data.

Hipszer said one of the main reasons it chose ASNA was because of the software's ability to incorporate other data repositories into a user interface: trade management and transportation system applications that run on Oracle and SQL, for example. That integration enables Pinnacle to synchronize data between databases instantaneously instead of just once a day.

"There are some people, such as a customer service person, who are interested in knowing exactly where an order stands in the shipping cycle," he said. "They'll now be able to do that. Things change by second, not by night."

For Pinnacle Foods, another benefit of ASNA is the company's ability to leverage existing staff's legacy RPG skills using a Web language that is similar, thus reducing the learning curve for employees.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Mark Fontecchio, News Writer. And check out our iSeries blog.

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