ASG provides a new Vista for legacy code

Allen Systems Group (ASG) Inc. hopes to alleviate the cumbersome task of finding someone who “knows the code” by creating a visual view into legacy systems.

Since cloning ageing IT technicians familiar with legacy applications was out of the question, the Naples, Fla.-based software company embarked upon a new initiative: ASG-Vista – rapid application maintenance software that brings “Total Application Visibility” to organizations in need.

At the heart of the matter is the need to interpret the software portion of a legacy system that may have been written decades earlier and developed using archaic or ad hoc methodologies that are unable to evolve – a condition Stephen Avalone refers to as “spaghetti.”

“All the program files, database sources, all the stuff existing in a system’s mainframe, it’s all fragmented,” Avalone, director of ASG-Vista product management, explained.

To combat this, Vista was designed to analyse IT systems and provide users with a complete up-to-date information system depicted through a Windows Explorer-like graphical user interface – an improvement over the more traditionally hypnotic green-screen, Avalone said.

” Vista takes all those fragmented pieces and reconnects them using a unique source tracing element,” he explained. “It traces the code throughout the system, forwards and backwards.”

Furthermore, ASG-Vista’s Visual Change component allows for program edits on the fly, then transfers those edits back through the system for integration and re-documentation. The intended result is an increase in productivity and a reduction in cost.

According to one analyst, ASG’s timing is impeccable. Due to the Y2K freeze that has most companies exercising restraint in their hiring policies, the full impact of the lack of IT professionals that do indeed know the code won’t be realized until March 2000.

“The demand will outstrip the supply,” said Jim Sinur, Gartner Group’s vice-president of application development and management in Stamford, Conn.

“Web developers, Web management, content builders and managers and people who understand Cobol – these are some of the areas that will feel the sting come March 2000…it will become severe through to fall of [2001].”

Sinur cited financial institutions and insurance providers as among the prime candidates to feel the full brunt of the source-code problem.

“Any company that has been deregulated or forced to be involved in e-commerce will feel it very hard,” he said.

Avalone said the tactics employed by many programmers with regards to impact analysis may be as solid as swiss cheese – because of missing modules due to a lack of understanding of the legacy environment. “There’s the status-quo approach or the home-grown approach to fixing it, where the technician reads through outdated manuals – or they turn to the resident expert who’s retired or retiring, or they hire a consultant to fix the problem which is very costly,” he said.

Finding a cost-effective means of ensuring existing systems meet the flexible requirements of the user community involves seeking legacy strategies and tools that can reduce application backlog, eliminate the frequency and duration of system downtime and ensure all IT staff fully understand the legacy system before they migrate to new platforms, e-commerce and architectures, Avalone said.

“Companies have invested millions in legacy cleanup but they still have a lot of holes; it’s profound, the millions of lines of source code that are missed. Total Application Visibility will clean up those mistakes.”

One of ASG’s customers, Allied Insurance, offered a glowing review of the Vista application.

“We gave the program a three month trial in June of 1999 and we’re currently in the process of implementing it fully,” said Scott Grau, Allied’s systems development manager in Des Moines, Iowa.

“The overall picture of the production environment is great for training staff and bringing new employees up-to-speed…it certainly helped with our recent merger with Nationwide.”

Grau’s only criticism: “It’s toolbar driven and has a lot of buttons. We found a lot of the information available somewhat overwhelming – but I would definitely recommend this program to other companies.”

Pricing for ASG-Vista ( was unavailable.

ASG is at 1-800-726-5555.