Our long time customer, Grand Rapids Association of Realtors, was presented with the COMMON 2017 Innovation Award at the opening session of the COMMON Annual 2017 Conference in Orlando Florida. As I watched the presentation, I took great pride in what they achieved and the role our application development and engineering team played in the success of this project.
Grand Rapids Association of Realtors (GRAR), in Grand Rapids, MI, is a local real estate association with its flagship offering being a real estate search website. When their leadership team approached the IT Director wanting to revamp their website (GRAR.com) to be device independent (specifically mobile friendly) and more visually appealing, it was known they would be facing pressure from the outside marketing influencers to move to a Windows based hosting environment. This is mostly due to the Scarlet Letter that IBM i tends to bears when talking to outsourced marketing firms.
The outside marketing firm quickly moved the conversation towards WordPress, rightfully so, as WordPress dominates the CMS landscape, owning 59% of the landscape according to W3Techs Market Place Trends for CMS . When WordPress came into play, GRAR reached out to our team here at Arbor Solutions because we had an understanding of their business and experience creating applications using WordPress running natively on IBM i.
We worked together to define the business goals, which were to provide our end users with a highly functional, visually appealing search platform that would work seamlessly across any device, while at the same time collecting data and presenting it in a manner that allowed the GRAR leadership team to make more informed decisions. A technical goal for the IT department was to host the application on IBM i. GRAR also wanted to open the solution up and reduce their dependency on IBM i specific talent, allowing them to attract and target a larger and younger talent pool. They also understood how much business logic was already built and stable within the existing DB2 on i environment and preferred to maintain that logic within the RPG programs.
The previous member site was built and managed by an outside firm and any changes made to the site required their involvement. This process was costly and by no means agile. As a result, a major criteria for the new site was to empower non-technical people with the ability to manage and make changes to the site without disrupting the integrity of the data. This would, in turn, take a major burden off IT and let them focus on bringing other innovations to the business.
GRAR and the Arbor Solutions application development team quickly developed a proof of concept and presented it to the GRAR Leadership team. There was little push back due to their understanding of the cost implication of keeping the site on IBM i.
- Used the IBM i toolkit to call RPG procedures on IBM i.
- Created External SQL Stored Procedures to call the DB2 functions in PHP
- Wrote custom routines in PHP to access DB2 stored procedures that gather data.
What we developed was a public facing real estate search site using WordPress that runs 100% natively on IBM i and presents data for search results directly from DB2. We utilized Bootstrap for design and made modifications to the WordPress theme to better fit the desired end results. We presented users with the ability to login with Facebook, Google, or create a standard account. All of the user information and their saved searches are stored in DB2. We use a combination of SQL and DB2 stored procedures to login, create an account, retrieve information, and save / remove searches.
One of the design goals was to give users the ability to use Google Maps to search for properties. We facilitated that by using KML layering. The map search feature was developed by George Slater, an Arbor Solutions senior developer. This search feature offered advanced search functions and added to the websites user experience. Users could now draw a polygon on the Google map and perform a search to locate addresses within the confines of the user drawn polygon. We send these coordinates to a stored procedure that performs all of the calculations to find properties in the selected area. George Slater wrote a blog post shortly after completing the KML Layer search for GRAR. You can check out his blog post “KML Layers- How to Harness the Power of Google Maps” for additional details.
Running WordPress natively on IBM i has allowed GRAR to reduce their x86 footprint drastically by migrating the legacy application from 8 Intel servers onto one 4 core Power System that was already running back end applications within the business. This made it possible to cost effectively move the infrastructure offsite to a more secure and maintainable datacenter. This meant offloading responsibility for connectivity, heating, cooling, electricity, security, and fire suppression, which has resulted in a significant savings of money and time.