November 27


The rise and fall of JBA Software – AS400 ERP System21

By NickLitten

November 27, 2007


Ever heard of JBA Software?

JBA was one of the world’s leading business software providers in the 1980’s and early 1990’s. Based in Birmingham, England, it had offices nationwide due to explosive growth partly due to the phenomenal success of IBM’s “AS/400” midrange computer system.

Founded in 1981 by two former IBM employees, JBA focused on developing business applications for the System38 and later the AS/400. Its flagship offering was System21, an enterprise-wide management package that included modules for accounting, order processing, logistics, manufacturing, customer service warehousing solutions for anyone using AS400 systems. Complemented by unique solutions for specific industries, System 21 also gave many of the world’s leading food, automotive, drinks, style, and service management companies the competitive advantage they needed in the nineties.

Jba software

JBA Software’s ERP solutions were distinguished by their high functionality and closeness of fit to customer requirements. JBA was one of the first global ERP suppliers to provide industry sector specific products based on a standard commercial product set. These industry sector products contained many thousands of hours research and development which JBA went on to try to break down into a more component-based technology.

In a 1995 report, the Gartner Group consultancy cited JBA’s efforts to release graphical modules of its System 21 product as the key to the vendor’s ability to advance in the enterprise resource planning market.

During this time, the computer industry was separating into two distinctly different market places (a) larger companies who wanted to install and maintain themselves and (b) smaller companies who want a ‘one stop shop’ for hardware, software and middleware:

To meet these requirement JBA formed two dedicated divisions to focus on each area.

Software Solution Division comprised teams focused on selling software solutions primarily to larger companies, JBA’s traditional marketplace.

Computer Solution Division comprises teams principally in North America focused on the ‘one stop shop’ with over 200 affiliates having front line customer responsibility and JBA being the second tier supplier of both hardware and software to them.

At the end of 1997 there were approx 3,000 people employed by the group worldwide and JBA was awarded the IBM AS/400 Star Stream Award for its integration of Lotus Domino with System 21 ERP. JBA was one of IBM’s largest strategic Business Partners worldwide, an IBM Premier Solution Provider, IBM Distributor, IBM Global Financing Partner and Lotus Notes Business Partner.

In 1999, JBA was was acquired by Geac Computer Corporation, a Canadian company for $137 million. JBA offices were cut back and the it’s inhouse development was curtailed. No further release of JBA System21 were to appear.

The final release of JBA System 21 was 3.5.2

I worked for JBA for four years in the early nineties.

It was my first job as a real AS400 RPG programmer.

Based in the JBA Chertsey office, it also introduced a much younger me to the software house concept of working life – the work hard play hard mentality.

Jba chertsey as400 system21 erp nick downes nee litten steve stephen rees claire mckeown brian stagg jodie stagg spoonface paul crtis toby schofield

JBA Chertsey Christmas Party 1991 – I’m in the middle wearing specs and purple pants – dont hate the fashion 😉

This work/life focus meant early mornings, late nights, power lunches, yuppie cabriolet company cars, drunken Christmas parties, long hours pounding on clunky terminals while power smoking and incessantly joking with other AS400 nerds. #goodtimes  🙂

Looking back – the folks at JBA formed me into the nerdy programmer I am today.

Thirty years later, I’m still doing it. Although its at a slightly slower pace. Fond memories.

My jba partner in crime and fellow rpg programmer on the as400
Toby Schofield – my old work/programming/drinking buddy

NOTE – JBA’s software is still alive today, the software has been bought/sold/rebranded a few times but it’s beating heart is still the same. I still go to IBM i Sites, powered by the System21 ERP, and can look at thirty year old programs that I wrote as a youngster. Pretty amazing really. Check out INFOR and AURORA😉

    • I think — but maybe wrong this was a looong time ago 🙂 — it originally stood for “Johnson Brown Associates” which was the founders in Australia. In the UK JBA was also known as “Olympic Software, Ltd.” and “JBA International”

  • Great blog, those were the days!!

    I always wondered what the relationship between OSL and JBA was? We always referred to it as JBA but used to see OSL in the source headers and the library names.

    Yes JBA was great once you got used to everything being passed through the LDA and Manager/400 was a great tool. Did a few courses at your West Bromwich training centre in the mid-90s.

    I last worked on it in 2018 and wish I was using it now, my current company still emulates the System/36 and have RPGII logic cycle programs with programs described files.

    It’s not unusual to find character or zoned data store in packed fields!! Never had that with JBA!!

    Came across this just before your blog, you might find it interesting?

    With its sights firmly set on continental Europe, IBM mid-range agent and software manufacturer JBA International Plc has set up a subsidiary company to specialise in the development of international AS/400 application software. The 30-strong Studley-based Olympic Software Ltd already offers a range of manufacturing and distribution applications under the gen-eric name of Business/400, and […]

    With its sights firmly set on continental Europe, IBM mid-range agent and software manufacturer JBA International Plc has set up a subsidiary company to specialise in the development of international AS/400 application software. The 30-strong Studley-based Olympic Software Ltd already offers a range of manufacturing and distribution applications under the generic name of Business/400, and plans to offer the same package in the major European languages by the second quarter of next year. The company aims to target large multi-national companies, which use varying configurations of AS/400 hardware in their subsidiaries, and claims that, as the only UK provider of complete a suite of products, it is in a position to offer closer application integration than most. Olympic will also cultivate a softer, personal approach to curry favour with small, two-to-30-employee type companies: traditional parent territory is large, national organisations. Consequently, first Olympic priority will be the expansion of its continental distributor network: managing director Kevin Jones hopes to increase the number of agents to 40 by the end of next year, with particular emphasis on France, Germany and the Benelux countries. In addition, the company will conduct end-user sales via JBA Ltd in the UK, and existing JBA agents scattered across some 20 countries worldwide. As a rough guide, Olympic’s pricing policy is designed to bring Model-B40 prices in line with existing System/38-based product charges, with prices scaled in a linear fashion for B30, B10, B20 users. Donning his JBA hat, Jones was also able to shed some light on the pattern of AS/400 sales. Currently standing at 116, slightly reticent System 36 users account for a mere 10%, with the remaining 90% divided equally between System 38 users and new, non-IBM business. The AS/400 has opened the market from 100-screen to 200-screen, reckons JBA chief Colin Wells, making it very attractive to ICL and Honeywell users. Wells was also able to confirm that, once things – acquisitions and the huge influx of AS/400 business – settle down, plans for going public are definitely on the JBA agenda.

    • The fact that the JBA Applications are still running businesses all over the world, on modern IBM i Systems, is a testament to the good design in the apps themselves!

      I haven’t used JBA for a few years now, spending all my time on other internet technologies, but I definitely miss those early days of computer geekdom 😉

      • I was also a RPG Analyst/Programmer! Based in Nottingham. Spent a couple of years at Carli Gry in Denmark for them. Probably 97 – 01.
        It was a crazy company, great fun – their parties were the best.

  • I worked for JBA from 1982 to 1999 writing and designing Order Processing, Inventory, Purchasing, Sales Analysis, etc – Great years ! Tremendous team and work ethic.

  • Hey Nick! Great article. I was a project manager based initially in Wheeley’s Rd, then Nottingham from 1989. In about 1993 I became Business Sector Manager for Central Europe, based in Prague and Warsaw… working with local IT providers across the Region to bring them into the JBA fold, and helping to translate and ‘localise’ System 21 for local Eastern Europe finance, and tax requirements.
    What great years and great memories. A bunch of wonderful people in whichever office you landed.

  • Hi Nick, I nearly didn’t recognise you!

    I’m working on JBA System 21 at the moment, amongst other things.

    Nice seeing you again after all this time, and some of the old photos.

    Hope you haven’t given up biking?!

    All the best mate,


      • Yeah, it’s been ages!

        My last job was a Triumph Motorcycles in Hinckley and I have to say that I was always mightily impressed. In fact got the chance to ride though the Welsh mountains on a Triumph experience day, which was awesome and I highly recommend to anyone.

        Take care buddy 🙂

  • Hi Nick – Just stumbled across your blog. I worked from 1989 till 1994 in the education division in Kensington House Birmingham. I left teaching to join JBA and help create JBA Education and trained people on the technical courses for AS400 as well as Inventory Management, Purchasing and Sales order processing although my preference lay with the technical stuff. I returned to teaching in 1994 and stayed till my retirement in 2013. Have great memories of the time .

  • I’m looking for a list of the field name descriptions in each of the files; does anyone know where to find them?

  • Great post Nick, brought back lots of great memories. JBA was the best software company I worked for. I was there 1989 to 1997 at Olympic Software then JBA Software Products and had a hand in designing a number of the modules and bringing verticals to market. Great parties eh? And got to see the world to boot…thanks to founders AGV and JKJ.

  • Hi,
    Great Blog. I was a client of JBA Ireland. Worked for an electronics manufacturing outfit beside JBA’s Ireland offices. We migrated from MAAPICs to System/21. I was the chairman (person nowadays) of the Irish JBA user group. I was also teh project manager for the switch ( Did they have project managers in those days?) I’ve always held System/21 as the measuring stick against other ERP Systems. For medium size companies, it is by far the best system and value for investment. Unfortunately, when the year 2000 came up our HQ bought SAP, previously they ran BPCS.
    I’d say the SAP implementation set us back 5 – 6 years from where we were with System/21. My apprenticeship was as an RPG II programmer. Great memories and a great team in JBA Ireland.

  • I worked on System21 implementation projects across Western-Europe from 1996 to 1999 and I was not very happy as we had to deal a lot with SW-bugs in general or AS400-library issues in the case of the Service Management package. In one larger implementation in Madrid we worked as a 10 people team exclusively on System21-troubleshooting for 2 weeks. One of the recurrent issues was the incorrect configuration of the printing files.

  • Hi Nick…
    I came across the article published by you.
    I worked in JBA Sri Lanka, JBA Singapore and JBA Malaysia offices. I was a software engineer work under Style/400 and Drinks/400 those two were part of the System/21. Hope you remember those.
    I left JBA in 2001 January, just after JBA took over by GEAC. Then move into BPCS ERP. Not sure you ever visited Sri Lanka, Malaysia or Singapore when you are working in JBA.

  • I worked near JBA International office in Rolling Meadows, IL USA, implemented for one company on a D35, got fairly involved was asked to and accepted the position of chairman at the inaugural event of the JBA North American User Group. Life led to joining another company involved in a global rollout of System/21. Nearly every experience had been a positive one, certainly with people. I believe JBA, like JDE, has been of the very, very few companies that were able to cross over their technology to run on parallel platforms – Oracle, Microsoft while (whilst) maintaining productive functionality including custom (bespoke) objects. Thank you Nick for this “bookmark” for something great.

  • Nick,

    What blast from the past. I do not think ever worked directly with you, but we implemented JBA System21 in the last 90’s. I was with at company calling Brent International – out of Iver. It was a great system and JBA was good company.

  • Hi, I wasn’t a computer geek or anything like that however I put my hand up to be systems administrator for our companies new computerised system in the 1990’s.
    I knew nothing about the AS/400 so did a few quick courses as we were going to implement JBA System21 for approximately 400 users.
    It was such a great learning curve starting from scratch that I became the company go to person when issues arrived.
    The Australian team at JBA were fantastic patient and very helpful.
    I loved the software although a few bugs here and there.
    Unfortunately around 2000 they went to a new software Epicur which I hated.
    but by then I had moved out of IT again.

  • Came here on a quest to find out what System21 was. I’m a software dev and got a job ad sent through for a System21 developer. Apparently it’s still a thing. Things have moved on from System7 and adabas natural!

  • Started as a trainee programmer in Marshalls in Newbridge, Scotland on JBA on the S38 before swiftly moving to the AS400. Ended up in Los Angeles in 1993, been here ever since. I have worked with many JBA legends over the years. The company I work for now is retiring System21 and AS400 for cloud technology. How I wish I had found this blog before now! So many wonderful tips and insight.

  • Your experience is the same as mine! I was a Cardiff based Analyst/Programmer on the Style module in System 21 at around the same time. I remember the parties – they were mad! Free bars…!
    And then they opened in Newport, sold to GEAC – now with Tech Mahindra apparently- coding offshored to the Indian company.
    They were good times for me, I spend a couple of years in Denmark with Carli Gry living like a rockstar, business class flights, all expenses paid, fine wine, lobsters, champagne!

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