For businesses today, access to data is essential to both technical users—like your IT team—and business users. However, being able to quickly access information from your IBM i and remote databases and present it in an interpretable way is not always so easy.
Query/400 has long been the go-to for IBM i data access. It’s been around for over 30 years, but the tool hasn’t advanced with changes in technology. Writing programs is too time-consuming. SQL is better, but there are no built-in interfaces or deployment options. It all can be a time-consuming drain for you and your IT team, especially your programmers. Worse yet, if IT becomes the bottleneck to getting important data, it can frustrate your business users, affect the efficiency of your organization, and slow the ability of business users to meet business demands.
That’s where a modern data access tool like Sequel has the advantage. IT managers, analysts, programmers, and business users at organizations of all sizes trust Sequel for speedy, secure access to data—and translating it into usable information.
These articles are fast reads full of insights that will help your IT team take back control of BI, satisfying business users and bringing quick ROI to the company. Read on to learn:
- Top data access strategy mistakes to avoid
- Key benefits you should receive from your business intelligence tool
- Important tips for smarter data access on IBM i
4 Data Access Strategy Mistakes to Avoid
Data has become a key component of organizational decision-making. As research links analytics to competitive advantages, more companies are focusing their efforts on the ways they access and use data. However, as organizations start to select and implement new business intelligence tools and make use of data from their IBM i databases and other sources, IT teams should be aware of several potential pitfalls.
An outdated or poorly matched business intelligence tool can have the opposite effect of its intended purpose: it can be a time drain for IT and be detrimental to company efficiency. Many organizations still struggle to use their data effectively. Overcoming these barriers requires a multi-faceted approach that brings both business and technology processes into a unified strategy.
Here are the four mistakes to avoid when working to improve IBM i data access and delivery for your business and improve efficiency for your IT team.
1. Starting without a plan
Before really delving into the details of your data, it’s important to have a plan. You need to be able to answer questions about how the data will be used, who needs access to it, and whether this creates any security concerns.
Many organizations struggle with technical integration challenges when deploying analytics initiatives. As a result, IT professionals need to assess existing technology environments to determine which platforms and databases information resides in. This evaluation is key to informing your choice of a data access tool as well as its implementation. It may also reveal problems within your current data management and access practices.
2. Not listening to your users
The myriad of tasks IT professionals deal with daily makes it easy to forget some of the fundamentals. In places where technology meets concerns from business units, it is more important than ever to pay attention to what end users are saying about the struggles they have with actually getting useful and timely data to do their everyday jobs. Many technical teams say they have difficulty identifying the most important metrics to include in reports for business units; it is a common complaint that business users don’t use what they say they will, don’t know what they want or need, and want to see information differently day by day. Sometimes that is true, and reports have to be adjusted after they are rolled out, but sometimes it is due to a lack of communication and coordination between an IT team and their business users.
3. Not finding a solution that is flexible enough to meet both IT and business demands
If one thing is true in the technology world, it’s that IT solutions will always be rapidly evolving. While this means there will always be more emerging opportunities to take advantage of, there will also be pitfalls.
One common mistake is letting enthusiasm for technology dictate solution, tool, or platform selection. There are many options and solutions available, running the gamut from full-blown business intelligence built over a data warehouse to simple query tools.
IT may be more concerned with security and protecting data while business users are concerned with getting the data they need when they need it. It is important to maintain objectivity and understand how a potential solution might create difficulties, or more ideally bridge the gap between technical and non-technical needs.
Here are some questions to ask to help guide you in the right direction:
What does IT want? The ability to:
- Automate data delivery from IBM i and beyond
- Manage and monitor access to critical data for security purposes
- Provide key information without having to write time-consuming code
- Deploy quickly and easily to meet service levels
What do business users want? The ability to:
- Have on-demand access to key information and mission-critical data
- Export data to Excel and other file types easily
- Look at data in different ways without coming to IT for every change
It’s important to ask tough questions before adapting your IT and business strategy to any new technology trend. When in doubt, fall back on the intended goals of your initial plan and determine how a given solution could solve some real problems within your organization.
4. Sacrificing data integrity for easy data access
When IT gives business users unfettered access to data, it opens the company up to unnecessary security and data integrity problems. Without IT supplying data, business users will ultimately turn to their third-party tools to access and analyze data. Without guidance from IT at some level, business users might not realize that the data they are using for their analysis is inaccurate and not up-to-date. Then the incorrect data can be disseminated throughout the organization. On top of that, not having user authorizations in place means that business users might get access to data they shouldn’t be seeing. So, while providing users self-service data access is a worthwhile time-savings for IT, leaving IT out of the data picture entirely is too much of a risk.
So, how do you improve productivity?
It’s one thing to understand the elements of data access individually. It’s another to bring them together to improve productivity in both the technical and user aspects.
If your goal is to improve the productivity of everyone involved with data retrieval and analysis, you need to look for the right tool that is:
- Flexible enough to bridge the gap between IT and business needs
- Powerful enough to address IT security concerns with business demand
- Robust enough to reduce programming for IT and provide analysis for the business
That’s where a BI tool like Sequel comes in. With Sequel, IT can save time by providing a solution that business users can use themselves to access and analyze data from IBM i and beyond.
10 Benefits Your Business Intelligence Software Should Deliver
You’re ready to move on to modern business intelligence software for your IBM i. All business intelligence software systems will give you some level of access to data. Only the best will provide the added benefits and features connected to accelerating decision making and programmer productivity.
Sequel is the premier BI solution for IBM i, providing real-time data and easing the burden on IT. Here are the key features beyond data alone that Sequel can provide your organization:
1. Ease of installation and setup
Software download and installation should be quick and easy. Traditional data access and BI solutions have a reputation for being complicated and drawn out, taking a long time to reap the benefit.
With Sequel, all interfaces are installed, configured, and typically ready to go within an hour. This includes email integration, browser interface configuration, and PC client installation.
2. Vendor support and training availability
When evaluating a toolset, an often-overlooked item is the ability of the vendor to really support their tool both from a technical perspective and user support areas. Nowadays, calling a company and getting immediate assistance from a live person is unusual, and it can be frustrating when immediate answers are needed. With that said, it is also necessary to have multiple ways to contact technical support in businesses where there are multiple time zones and even multiple countries to consider.
Training is also important as an option. While it may not be always used, vendors should be able to provide training and services when required.
Sequel is backed with the full arsenal of support and training HelpSystems provides, including phone, chat, and email support. Users also can enroll in a training course or access the robust knowledge base.
3. Scalability and the ability to get data quickly—no matter the database (IBM i and remote databases)
Traditional IBM i data access tools struggle to scale. They might be fine for running one query every now and then, but they aren’t sufficient for the business intelligence needs of most organizations today.
Business users and decision makers want information and they want it fast. Switching to Sequel helps your IT department get the data quickly. Plus, Sequel makes it easy to translate data into relevant information for those who requested it. Business intelligence dashboards, for example, display data visually. Anyone can look at it and immediately understand what it means.
With Sequel, you’ll meet the pressing business intelligence needs of today, tomorrow, and years to come.
4. An easy way to convert your existing queries
Don’t waste your time reinventing the wheel. IBM i organizations have spent decades creating queries. Preserve your investment like countless IT departments have when they switched to Sequel. Why? Because Sequel makes it simple to convert existing queries from Query/400. You can convert queries in the green screen if you prefer to write commands. Or, you can convert queries in the graphical user interface (GUI) if you prefer to navigate an intuitive interface. Either way, it’s fast and easy and you can start getting more out of your existing queries from day one.
5. Self-service data access for all users
Users don’t need to be technically savvy to use Sequel. As a result, you can expand access to Sequel to business users and decision makers across your organization. They can use the friendly GUI or a familiar browser to dig into the details of the data. Empowering users with data is a great way to ease the burden on IT. Allow non-technical users to run queries for themselves or simply present them with data in a dashboard or web portal, whichever works best for your organization.
Of course, expanding data access is not a requirement of Sequel. You can choose to empower your users or you can decide to limit data access to your IT team. Many businesses have justifiable concerns when it comes to self-service data access. They wonder:
- Will users somehow gain unauthorized access?
- Will they see something they shouldn’t?
- Will they somehow alter the data and compromise its integrity?
It shouldn’t be a risky business to offer self-service data access. And with Sequel, the risks are mitigated. Access can be restricted to only those who need to see the data, so your average business user won’t see something she or he shouldn’t see. While users can work with the data, they won’t be able to alter it and your data will maintain its integrity.
6. The power to set user access levels and secure data
A big concern for any IT manager and department is security. Providing business users access to data can be daunting. It is a given these days that business users expect to be able to access data while on the go at any time of day or night. But you need your IBM i data to be secure.
Sequel adheres to IBM i security best practices—so your mobile data access is just as secure as your GUI and green screen. You can require users to log in with a valid IBM i user ID and password. Plus, you can even require the application to observe all IBM i object-level authority. If you do not have your IBM i object security set up, Sequel also provides additional options for setting up security.
When it comes to keeping your data secure, Sequel has your back—no matter what.
7. The ability to easily create executive dashboards
Dashboards are an excellent way to give business users and executives access to data. And building a dashboard doesn’t need to be a chore. Sequel makes it simple with drag-and-drop tools and snap-to-grid functionality. All you need to do is select which set of data should fuel the dashboard and determine which elements should be represented on the dashboard.
Your IT department can build dashboards and deliver them to users. Or you can empower users to build dashboards themselves. The data is updated in real-time. Building a dashboard—even if you do have to build it yourself—is a solid investment for the long-term. Dashboards help your executive team to be proactive and make important business decisions fast. The result is a significant return on your investment (ROI).
8. Access data on the go with mobile functionality
In today’s mobile world, everyone expects information to be at their fingertips. However, traditional data access tools create barriers to immediate, accessible data.
One of the biggest benefits of Sequel is that it removes that barrier. How exactly? Sequel offers truly mobile data access. Sequel’s browser interface, Sequel Web Interface (SWI), is accessible on any device (phone, tablet, or laptop) and in any browser (Internet Explorer, Safari, Chrome, or Firefox). Business users can launch SWI and immediately dial into their data. This means that they will be able to make decisions immediately, whether they are in the office or not.
9. Freeing up your programmers’ valuable time
Keeping up with user demands for data can be a losing battle for programmers without the right BI tool. Writing code from scratch is a time-intensive and therefore expensive endeavor. SQL has become more widely used and, while it can cut down on programming time, it does not provide the built-in interfaces and output options a BI tool can provide out of the box. With Sequel, programmers can write an SQL statement and have the rest of the work taken care of. Users get access to data in any way they need it and programmers get valuable time back. Add in Sequel’s command-driven functionality that allows it to be used in command line (CL) programming and scheduling jobs, it quickly becomes clear to see why Sequel can accelerate your programmer productivity.
10. Get actionable insights to your most crucial data
The entire point of business intelligence is to understand how your business is performing and analyze ways to improve it in the future. Traditional data access tools give you the data, but not actionable information. Instead, it’s up to IT to translate the data. Decision makers and business users are left waiting and they often only have a murky view of the big picture.
Sequel, on the other hand, does the translating for IT. Dashboards ground data in context and add insight into trends. Run-time prompts, drilldown analysis, pivot tables, graphing data, and working with subtotal and grand totals on the fly all help the users get the key information they need in order to gain the insight they need for decision making and taking action. The big picture is clear.
When you understand the status of your business today, you can more accurately prepare for tomorrow. Business goals can be realistically set, and you’ll be able to meet them head-on.
5 Time-Saving Tips for Smart Data Access on IBM i
Your IT department has endless responsibilities. And endless responsibilities turn into an impossible workload. It might seem like there will never be enough time in the day to keep up. And there won’t be—until you do something about that workload. Get started now by rethinking processes that don’t make sense for your business.
Take data access. The way many organizations approach data hasn’t changed much over recent decades. Writing programs, using outdated tools, and performing multiple steps to get to a usable result all take up time that your IT team—and your organization as a whole—can no longer afford to dedicate.
These methods aren’t your only option. With a smart data access strategy, you can carve out more time in your day. Start building your strategy today with these five time-saving tips.
Tip #1: Leave that old query tool behind
Is Query/400 still the query tool at your organization? Moving on from Query/400 is an easy way to save time.
Query/400 can slow down your organizational efficiency in several ways. Query/400 can only use the classic query engine, which is slower and old. Query/400 also forces the manual running of multiple queries to get to a result, and any modern output takes additional manual steps. Additionally, it takes too long to get insight into your data. You can access data with Query/400, but manual work is needed to turn data into insight. Once again, every hour spent on this is an hour taken away from another task.
Upgrading from Query/400 to a modern data access tool like Sequel Data Access will help your organization save time. The ability to utilize the same query to deliver multiple subsets of data by creating a rule that can prompt the user to enter variable information at run time contributes to significant time-savings, as does the ability to easily gain insight via things like drilldown analysis, powerful reporting, dashboards, pivot tables, and data output in many formats.
Tip #2: Build in automation of data delivery when possible
Many informational needs are recurring (daily, weekly, or monthly reports/spreadsheets). Instead of many business users spending time every day running the same queries or reports over and over, why not automate the reports to appear in their inbox, in the desired format, when they need them.
Sequel can also refresh data in a dashboard at any time interval with a simple built-in setting. A common example of this use is a company with a distribution center that needs to track fulfillment information. Setting up a Sequel dashboard on a big screen means they can automatically track new orders to be picked and shipped.
Automation doesn’t have to be intracompany only. Several Sequel customers use Sequel to improve things like invoices being sent to outside customers, working with vendors and partners, and improving sales reporting and tracking. Automated access to data can be a large productivity boost to just about any department.
Tip #3: Let your BI tool do the heavy lifting
It’s a waste of time for your IT staff to write all the features and interfaces that are readily available in a third-party BI tool from scratch. Whether it’s browser access or dashboards, drilldown capabilities or summary analysis, all you need to do is implement a tool that is already feature-rich. That way, all you need be concerned with is providing accurate, secure base data.
Fact: Requests for data access are never going to go away. Every leader and every business user at your organization needs accurate information to do their jobs effectively. After all, data drives decisions.
So, saving time isn’t necessarily about cutting down on data access requests. Saving time ultimately comes down to both responding to requests faster with a more flexible tool and utilizing built-in functions of the tool to let business users interact with the information and, in effect, fulfill their own changing data needs. As an example, a calendar drop-down to choose dates at run time is a very powerful option for business users.
So, both IT saves time because they are fulfilling requests faster, and business users save time because they can find the data themselves without continually going back to IT with different requests thanks to Sequel.
Tip #4: Select a solution built for your platform—IBM i
IT, IBM i is your platform: You know it inside and out. When you use a tool specifically built for IBM i, you know it is scalable, securable, and more reliable than any other platform.
Here’s an important point—the platform should be agnostic to a business user. Business users clamor for permission to use graphical Windows or web tools because they are comfortable with them. The BI tool should insulate users from a specific platform; they just need a point-and-click, intuitive graphical interface. They want output to Excel, data on-demand, or pivots tables at their fingertips—no matter where the data resides.
The Sequel business intelligence solution is built for IBM i. It gives technical staff robust and powerful programming tools for accessing data on not just the IBM i but from other data sources (Db2, MS SQL server, My SQL) while having the features business users require.
Tip #5: Give your users self-service data access
Empowering users with data access can have a huge impact on IT’s workload.
Self-service can be a multiple prong approach. One option is to set users up to have the ability and authority to create queries directly, with IT’s blessing. That query-building could be from raw data sources or could be with IT providing various starting points, such as beginning templates or auto-joining of tables.
Self-service also could mean business users do not create queries directly but they have powerful and flexible ways to consume and interact with key information, so they can acquire what they need, when they need it. A powerful delivery method for self-service could be a widely-desired dashboard from which business users can view, download data, perform analysis, or graph/chart data.
Either way, everyone saves time; IT because they don’t need to field every data request and can roll out different levels of usage by business or department needs, and business users because they can have more control in accessing and assessing data.
Saving time means saving money
A smart data access tool like Sequel makes it easy to do more in less time. Sequel is about removing unneeded manual processes, providing automation, security, and reliability of the platform while empowering business users with a modern solution for faster, easier access to their information.
Sequel Data Access
Streamlining Your Team’s Productivity with Better Access to IBM i Data
It shouldn’t be a chore to access, analyze, and deliver your IBM i data. But when you’re depending on older tools like using Query/400, writing RPG programs, or using SQL/400 coding, it’s an endless chore.
There’s a better, easier, and faster way to do IBM i data access—and it starts with a modern business intelligence solution like Sequel Data Access.
For years, Sequel customers have found easy ways to get, understand, and share their data using Sequel. How exactly does Sequel make life easier? Here are a few examples we’ve heard from customers over the years:
- Get accurate data without the hassle. (RPG code? Nope.)
- Get data faster than your IT team can write code.
- See all your data in one spot, no matter what system it’s on.
- Get flexible information that users can manipulate.
- Get clear, understandable information.
- Visualize data and take actionable tasks away from it.
- Spot trends and make informed business decisions.
- Access data in Excel.
- Analyze data in Excel.
- Deliver data to end users in Excel.