The rise and fall of JBA software – AS400 ERP System21


Nov 27

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.

The rise and fall of JBA software - AS400 ERP System21 1

JBA’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 man years’ 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 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

JBA Software

JBA Chertsey Christmas Party 1991

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.

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.

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 twenty year old programs that I wrote as a youngster. Pretty amazing really. Check out INFOR and AURORA😉


About the Author

IBM i Software Developer, Digital Dad, AS400 Anarchist, RPG Modernizer, Alpha Nerd and Passionate Eater of Cheese and Biscuits. Nick Litten Dot Com is a mixture of blog posts that can be sometimes serious, frequently playful and probably down-right pointless all in the space of a day. Enjoy your stay, feel free to comment and in the words of the most interesting man in the world: Stay thirsty my friend.

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