The Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency (PHFA) is a leading provider of capital for affordable homes and apartments located throughout the state. Created to help enhance the quality and supply of affordable homes and apartments for older adults, people of modest means, and people with physical challenges, the agency operates homeownership programs and rental housing development initiatives that benefit all the state’s residents. Through the housing construction and rehabilitation efforts funded by PHFA, the agency also promotes economic development across Pennsylvania.
Applications for Windows and IBM i
PHFA has a diverse software and hardware environment, and with only fifty state agencies like PHFA in the country (one per state), it can be difficult to find the technology they need right off the shelf.
“We have thousands of IBM i programs running interactive and batch processes that execute the day-to-day business of PHFA,” said Harry Ramsey, Manager of Software Application Development at PHFA. “We’ve also developed hundreds of Windows applications that run on Microsoft servers for niche processes. I’d say approximately 80 percent of our software was written in-house because we needed specialized, custom business applications.”
Since 2001, PHFA had been using their Microsoft environment as another platform for the applications they developed in conjunction with IBM i. They used one Microsoft server for their Windows batch server, where they had about 50 different batch-type applications and applications to monitor jobs running.
Automated Processing Across Platforms
Originally, they were using Windows Task Scheduler to control their Microsoft environment, but when they started using more advanced scheduling, it wasn’t robust enough to meet their needs.
“We had been using Robot Schedule for job scheduling on the IBM i server for years,” said Ramsey. “When we saw the capabilities of Robot Schedule Enterprise, we decided to keep everything IBM i-centric. We use the IBM i server to support the websites, so we decided to make it our standard for scheduling. Now, we control all jobs, on all platforms, with Robot Schedule Enterprise.”
Ramsey was very impressed with how smoothly the conversion to Robot Schedule Enterprise went: “When we started Robot Schedule Enterprise, we took everything from Windows Task Scheduler and converted it in two days. Now, we run around 280 daily and weekly Windows jobs in Robot.”
No More Auditor Concerns
Another nice thing about robust automated job scheduling becomes obvious when the auditors come calling. “It’s great because it’s self-documenting,” said Ramsey. “With all the Robot Schedule Enterprise reporting, job history is easy to track. We can really satisfy auditor demands. For example, I think the Good Morning Report is worth a million bucks. You come in, you look at it, and you can know what ran normally and what didn’t. Auditors like that.”
PHFA also uses GoAnywhere managed file transfer software to exchange 30+ encrypted documents with external companies each day. GoAnywhere is integrated with Robot for IBM i-based tasks, so the audit team looks at the Robot logs for verification.
“GoAnywhere is great because it centralizes communication,” said Ramsey. “It makes it easy for us to grab data off IBM i, add it to spreadsheets, and email it to users. It’s actually eliminated the need for us to write some programs.”
Building Toward the Future
Looking to the future, Ramsey hopes to take better advantage of the monitoring capabilities in his HelpSystems software, including file event monitoring. For now, he is very pleased with his HelpSystems experience.
“I really like how easy HelpSystems solutions are to use,” he said. “They are very intuitive. Everything is straightforward—you can figure out 95 percent of it yourself—and the user guides and HelpSystems tech support easily cover the rest, so there’s both a financial payback and a quality of service payback. Plus, automation makes things simple. As long as I’m managing this part of the business, we’ll always have HelpSystems software. I don’t ever see it not being in our arsenal of tools—they have great products.”
When we started Robot Schedule Enterprise, we took everything from Windows Task Scheduler and converted it in two days. It’s very intuitive—you can figure out 95 percent of it yourself.
Harry Ramsey, Manager of Software Application Development, Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency