Technical Product Manager of IBM i solutions at SMA Technologies:
This is an ongoing project, of course. My role at SMA Technologies is to understand and monitor the evolution of the IBM i operating system, and then continually drive enhancement of the OpCon Agent for IBM i so that the OpCon enterprise automation suite of products can be integrated as closely as possible with this operating system. The primary functions of this integration are to direct job scheduling and then feed back event information. Examples of feedback provided by the Agent to the OpCon application server include job completion status (of course), and any related IBM i message response. But doing this implies much more than simply starting jobs.
Due to the maturity and broad capabilities of the IBM i operating system, the OpCon Agent for IBM i includes a powerful automation toolkit. The tools in this automation kit are like a set of blocks that can be interlinked with each other, as necessary, to mine and understand all forms of information produced and stored by IBM i, as well as to automate the many different kinds of work that are unique to this operating system. Some of these logic block combinations are able to operate independently of the OpCon server, although they typically communicate their actions to the central OpCon server. An example of this type of automation is IBM i Message Management. Other of the automation tools are used to define or script IBM i activities which can then be launched on demand by Jobs that are managed by OpCon Schedules. Examples of this type of automation include RPA (robotic process automation) of green screen workstation interactive jobs, and unmanned automation of IBM i restricted mode operations.
Many of the automation tools are supported by a powerful, underlying data capture and response engine. Data can be captured from many different sources in the operating system including mining data from the DB2 database. Captured data is optionally manipulated by the user-selected functions of the Agents Dynamic Variables table. Response rules can include initiation of any IBM i command, or external event commands sent by this Agent to the OpCon application server, including sharing any of the local captured data with the central OpCon server. Those external event commands are able to trigger automatic building and launching of automated recovery Schedules, when necessary.
As Technical Product Manager, I still contribute hands-on programming to the OpCon Agent. Other tasks I contribute to this project include composition and preliminary formatting of the User Documentation, management of Customer Support tasks that rise above Level 1 Q&A triage, training of SMA staff and clients, and conducting and reporting for client automation audits. Sometimes you will also find me at the IBM COMMON User Group conferences, helping to man the SMA Technologies booth at the conference Tech Expo (if I'm not also attending or delivering training sessions).
One of the most helpful and interesting aspects of developing software at SMA Technologies is that ways to "do differently" are constantly defined by the SMA community of its client-partners. Although SMA initiates product enhancements based on the evolution of the IBM i operating system (and any other operating system in use today), the direction for doing things differently is driven by the real-world experience of the product users. It is estimated that maybe as much as 80% of what OpCon and its Agents do today has been defined by client requests. This critical communications pipeline is one of the best ways that SMA is able to keep OpCon relevant to the latest trends in computer applications. It has also supported development of application-specific automation solutions, especially as related to very large applications such as ERP suites or core banking solutions, as examples.
The most visible evidence of SMA's core value of doing the right thing is how the user interface for the OpCon application server has evolved. Over 40 years, the basic concept of a computer Scheduler application (which was originated for NASA) evolved into a Windows-based server interfaced by means of, first, a Visual Basic GUI app, and then later by means of an Eclipse framework GUI app. Currently, the OpCon user interface is nearly all converted into a web-based comprehensive user experience.
SMA is always striving to simplify, simplify, simplify! Part of making WLA (Workflow automation) agile for our clients is to reduce the complexity and learning curve of the user interface. By leveraging the power of OpCon itself, new user interface tools such as a simple "button" web app (symbolized by the "finger on the button" that is now part of the SMA & OpCon product icon) hide the underlying automation logic and expose to end users a very obvious way that they can interact with OpCon automation. These simple buttons can also be defined by user administration themselves, making it easy to deliver site-specific benefits of OpCon automation to the client's staff without requiring any special technical training.
SMA clients are just now applauding the recently released OpCon Deploy automation application. This is definitely something that SMA needed to do differently. Once again, the existing power of the OpCon server applications has been leveraged to greatly simplify and improve the speed of deploying and adapting previously define automation solutions, such as the OpCon Schedules and Job master records, to similar automation challenges facing SMA's clients. This is especially important in large enterprises, where tens of thousands of jobs can be fully automated much more quickly by cloning and automatically modifying a basic set of automation definitions.