Morton Salt Gets the Job Done With Lansa

Morton Salt, a division of Morton Int’l (both based in Chicago) and the leading North American producer and marketer of salt, was determined to transition from an existing IBM 3090 mainframe environment to a distributed AS/400 environment. To do that, the company faced the unenviable task of migrating its existing mainframe applications to the AS/400 world.

In order to facilitate its transition, Morton Salt determined to implement Lansa for the Web from Lansa Inc. (Oak Brook, Ill.), an application development and migration environment for the AS/400.

According to Rick Pivek, director of strategic business information systems with Morton Salt, the capabilities offered by the Lansa application development environment attracted the attention of both Morton International and its subsidiary, Morton Salt.

“When I was in corporate [with Morton International], I’d heard of Lansa, and at the time I was embarking on a fairly extensive design and I wanted to get a case tool for the [AS/]400, so I asked to look at Lansa,” Pivek explains, noting that he came over to Morton Salt in the midst of it’s mainframe-to-AS/400 transition. “At the time Morton Salt put a team together to accelerate the [mainframe-to-AS/400] development process, and they came up with the same answer.”

According to Pivek, Morton Salt’s pre-transition IT infrastructure was anchored by a mainframe in its Chicago headquarters, with distributed AS/400 Model 170 boxes in its Canadian headquarters and 24 manufacturing facilities. The existence of the remote AS/400 boxes made the task of transitioning much easier, Pivek says.

“We had applications out on the 400 in remote locations, so we really only had to change our host platform, which was a mainframe,” he explains.

Morton Salt first began the transition to an all-AS/400 environment in 1993, completing its migration in 1995. Previously, Morton Salt, Morton International and Morton Chemical were all sharing an IBM 3090 mainframe computer. As part of the preliminaries to its mainframe-to-AS/400 conversion, Morton Salt established a cycle time reduction team to come up with an efficient downsizing plan. The team decided to use Lansa to facilitate the migration of Morton Salt’s existing mainframe applications to the AS/400 environment.

Using Lansa, Morton Salt was able to migrate its order entry, maintenance management, production scheduling, inventory management and truck loading applications to the AS/400. The order entry application, in particular, was one of Morton Salt’s largest applications and represented a significant challenge to the conversion team, even with a development environment such as Lansa.

“This was, in fact, one of the largest applications – not quite following Lansa’s advice to start small,” says Gayle MacCormick, manager of services and operations with Morton Salt. “But even though our first Lansa development project was very large, we managed quite well. The development and implementation was remarkably smooth."

The Lansa environment also allowed developers to take advantage of some of the capabilities provided by the AS/400, especially with regard to Morton Salt’s legacy inventory application, which was rearchitected from a batch processing-based system to a real-time system.

“The new inventory system processes transactions from the remote sites directly online,” says Pivek. “This process involves data queuing of transactions and transferring them back to the remote site."

Application migration is a complicated process and the automated application logic of a development environment is more often than not a poor substitute for an experienced programmer. According to Pivek, the mainframe developers who adapted best to the RPG-based world of the AS/400 were those most skilled in the COBOL programming language.

But even the most polished of developers are often confronted with difficulties in transitioning to a new development environment. Of major assistance to Morton Salt’s developers was Lansa’s Object Repository feature, which provides the programming equivalent of a data dictionary in which developers can define tables, elements and business rules.

“You define [these tables, elements and business rules] once and you don’t have to program for them,” Pivek explains. “Anytime you reference those things, all of that information is contained in the repository, so it makes a programmer’s job much easier.”

Less than two years after its migration was first initiated, Morton Salt began leveraging the benefits of its new AS/400-based infrastructure. The company deployed an AS/400 Model 600 at its Chicago headquarters and continued to maintain the Model 170 machines at its remote locations. All of Morton Salt’s AS/400 boxes currently run OS/400 V4R2.

Pivek says Lansa should be on the short list of any company contemplating a similar such mainframe-to-AS/400 migration. “I’d absolutely recommend it,” he maintains. “I like the repository and all of its benefits, I like the templates, and even though the developers are learning a new programming language, I think it’s easier to learn Lansa than it is to learn RPG.”