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The rise and fall of JBA Software – AS400 ERP System21 

 November 27, 2007

By  NickLitten

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 Software
JBA Chertsey Christmas Party 1991

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

NickLitten


IBM i Software Developer, Digital Dad, AS400 Anarchist, RPG Modernizer, Shameless Trekkie, Belligerent Nerd, Englishman Abroad 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 remember: If at first you don't succeed then skydiving probably isn't a hobby you should look into.

Nick Litten

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    • 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?

    AS/400 HOUSE JBA GOES MULTI-LINGUAL TO CONQUER EUROPE AS A PRELUDE TO FLOTATION
    INCREASE / DECREASE TEXT SIZE
    – CBR STAFF WRITER 2ND NOVEMBER 1988
    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 worked for JBA from 1982 to 1999 writing and designing Order Processing, Inventory, Purchasing, Sales Analysis, etc – Great years ! Tremendous team and work ethic.

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