Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Using Word Clouds to Analyze Legacy BI Applications

If you have end-user reporting applications on the mainframe, some of them may have been around for decades. More than likely, the original coders have long ago retired and few people today can explain what these applications are doing.

I decided to add some visualization to shed light on legacy applications' inner secrets. Here is a word cloud generated from the keywords found inside a legacy FOCUS 4GL application:
After scanning the legacy libraries, I used the R statistical programming language to create a word cloud.

Somebody with an understanding of the FOCUS language can decipher this word cloud and quickly see that this application runs on a mainframe computer (e.g., the DYNAM commands) using green-screen technologies (e.g., the -CRTFORM and PFKEY commands). It is primarily a mainframe reporting application (the TABLE command) using menu navigation screens.

What is unusual is the big CASE keyword, which is a MODIFY database maintenance feature to provide procedural branching.

In this word cloud, the MODIFY count is small, the CRTFORM count is slightly bigger, and the CASE count is relatively large. Without looking, my first hunch is that somebody used the old IBI MODIFYTALK facility to automatically generate an add/update/delete online transaction application. That 1980s tool was notorious for generating a lengthy routine with lots of CASE logic.

In addition to the keywords, I could also do a word cloud of the actual database tables being accessed. If I needed more detail, I could also do word clouds for the columns of particular tables.

Since I'm a visual guy, this seems much nicer to me than looking at a spreadsheet or tabular report of numbers.

Of course, this type of visual analysis is not limited to the FOCUS product from Information Builders. It could be done for the other 4GLs (NOMAD and RAMIS) or reporting tools such as SAS, QMF/SQL, Crystal Reports, etc.

There is no reason you should not understand your legacy reporting applications.

If you are interested in learning more, just contact me. 

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About Me

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I am a project-based consultant, helping data-intensive firms use agile methods and automation tools to replace legacy reporting and bring in modern BI/Analytics to leverage Social, Cloud, Mobile, Big Data, Visualizations, and Predictive Analytics. For several world-class vendors, I led services teams specializing in providing software implementation and custom application development. Based on scores of successful engagements, I have assembled proven methodologies and automated software tools.

During twenty years of technical consulting, I have been blessed to work with smart people from some of the world's most respected organizations, including: FedEx, Procter & Gamble, Nationwide, The Wendy's Company, The Kroger Co., JPMorgan Chase, MasterCard, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Siemens, American Express, and others.

I was educated at Valparaiso University and the University of Cincinnati, graduating summa cum laude. In 1990, I joined Information Builders, the vendor of WebFOCUS BI and iWay enterprise integration products, and for over a dozen years served in branch leadership roles. For several years, I also led technical teams within Cincom Systems' ERP software product group and the custom software services arm of Xerox.

Since 2007, I have provided enterprise BI services such as: strategic advice; architecture, design, and software application development of intelligence systems (interactive dashboards and mobile); data warehousing; and automated modernization of legacy reporting.