Skip to main content

Building APIs on a Path to AI

Note: This podcast transcript is lightly edited for clarity.

Paul Tuohy: Hi everyone and welcome to another iTalk Business with Tuohy. Delighted to be joined today by an old friend, and by that I mean that we’ve just been friends for quite a while, not that he is old—I’m the old guy in this conversation [laughs]. So hello to Brian May from Profound Logic. How are you, Brian?

Brian May: I’m good. I’m actually getting old, so it’s okay if you call me old.

Paul: Okay so people can’t see at the moment but we can see each other, right? I see no gray, no gray on you at all.

Brian: It’s there. It’s there. It’s definitely on top of the head and in beard—

Paul: Okay [laughs].

Brian: But it’s definitely there. I mean I’ve got kids in college now, so you know I’m getting old.

Paul: Oh. So, you’ve also had a slight job change recently, Brian.

Brian: Yes, I have actually. I have moved into a new area in the company and I am the vice president of product management at Profound Logic.

Paul: Well I don’t know whether to congratulate you or offer you my condolences—a bit of both, maybe.

Brian: Jury’s out [laughs].

Paul: Okay. Well Brian, today I think we’re specifically going to be talking about Profound API—

Brian: Yeah.

Paul: So that I suppose is a good place to start. Do you want to tell us what Profound API is?

Brian: Sure. When I took the role of vice president of product management, one of my primary focuses was our API solution. So in addition to being overall a product management, I’m also the product owner for Profound API—it is my passion. I don’t want to take all the credit for the idea, but I did have to you know, yell at Alex just a little bit and tell him that we’re going build this thing a few years ago. So I’ll take ownership in that it’s my baby. I didn’t do any of the coding so it’s going to work great, but as far as the thought leadership on it, I’ve been involved from the beginning, so I’m really excited to be able to put the majority of my time into this product. So what is Profound API? It is everything you need and nothing you don’t. That’s kind of the philosophy we’ve taken with it. How can we build a holistic solution for what started focused on the IBM i, but Profound API can be used on any platform because it is based on Node.js, so it can run anywhere. So if I were a small to mid-size business, I keep hearing these people say I need to start building APIs. I need to start consuming APIs. I need to be a part of the API economy if you will. What do I need, right? So that’s really the approach we took. We sat down and said okay yes, there are solutions out there now in the IBM i space that will allow you to create APIs, but we want to do more than just be able to create. We want to document them, we want to manage them, we want to be able to test them. We want all of the things that we need to do in one place. That’s what IBM i customers have come to expect. You know we’ve always had complete solutions in the IBM i space and I don’t want this to be any different, so we spent a lot of time trying to make sure that we got the whole thing, soup to nuts.

Paul: Okay so the thing with—well you would know that I have always been advocate of the API approach, Brian, over the years. In modernization of applications, what you modernize towards is that sort of API solution, and there are again a lot of people offering API solutions and that out there. So what is it that is different about Profound API then?

Brian: Again the completeness, but also it is of course based on our Profound Node.js framework, which is also a low code solution. So we can build APIs, whether it’s exposing RPG programs or building brand new logic or accessing databases—not just Db2 but other databases as well. We can all do all of that without writing a single line of code. So we can go in, answer some questions, drag some boxes around on the screen and create a new workflow that we can then expose as an API. So it really is completely agnostic, but because we come from an IBM i space, we can do more than just spell IBM i, right [laughs]? We understand—you know the Profound API product understands how ILE works. It understands how to talk an RPG program, a COBOL program, how to call them using more than just simple parameters, right? You and I have been advocates of ILE for years now, and telling people they should be building service programs and using complex data structures to pass data back and forth. Profound API can do all of that and it can do it all really simply. I think that’s what really sets it apart from a lot of the solutions out there is that one of our core values here at Profound is simplification and that’s what we’ve done. We’ve taken something that can be an extremely complex topic if you want to start talking about APIs and gateways and security and all of those things, but we’ve boiled it down and made it simple, right? You can set the product up and get going.

Paul: Okay, cool. So a thing Brian that really sort of fascinates me, and I think just in the current climate with that—so you’ve been dealing with the whole thing of APIs within companies, not just from the thing of providing APIs but also in the way that companies start to consume APIs from what’s available out there and of course now we have the whole thing with AI going on. And with things like ChatGDT and all that sort of stuff that’s hitting the news and all that at the moment, which of course is old hat to us. Like we’ve been doing this for years [laughs]. So yeah, I mean I remember having a conversation with you I don’t know when—it must have been about ten years ago about Watson—

Brian: Right.

Paul: And about doing API stuff with Watson and things like that. So is it a thing? Are you seeing big changes in that API in the way people are starting to—are they starting to move into that AI within business and that, or—?

Brian: They are. I did a survey recently actually and of the responses that we got back, and I don’t have the exact number in front of me but I want to say 60% of the respondents came back and said that they have plans to actually incorporate AI into their systems at some point in the next three to five years. A lot of them said they’re just getting started. I mean, come on. How many new AI developments have there been every week for the last few months, right? Things are really ramping up with OpenAI and all of the other AI providers that are coming out and becoming readily available, and honestly available in very simple form now. So I have a lot of customers that are testing the waters trying to find the right fit. They come to companies like us to talk about it, get an idea, and APIs are going to be the key, right? Sure it’s great that I can get ChatGPT and type in a question or talk to it and it gives me things back, but from a business use case that’s not necessarily as interesting to me. What’s interesting to me is that there is an API layer that from my applications that I can actually feed data into the AI and get insight back from those APIs, not natural language. Natural language is nice, but for me and from a business standpoint I want to be able to feed it a ton of data and have it identify trends and tell me from a business perspective what should I be doing, right? You know if your AI sees that oh well you know the price is rising on the cost of your materials if you’re in manufacturing, and it can predict that that’s due to market variables that that’s going to continue, then you need to make pricing decisions, and those are things that as a human we can look at and we can kind of say well, I think this is the way it’s going. But when you get into AI, it has access to so many data points that sometimes it can uncover things that we just don’t see, and I think that’s where the key is going to be, and that’s going to be all about APIs. When I did my AI survey, I have one person—I don’t know who is was, they were anonymous—who replied back that why am I even asking questions about AI because all RPG shops are still trying to get rid of green screens and monolithic RPG programs [laughs]? Yes, there are still shops that are trying to do that, yes, but there are a lot of shops that have moved beyond that at this point—

Paul: Yeah.

Brian: But what’s really crazy about it and you know even with Profound API, we have the ability to consume APIs, and then that’s actually a program call within RPG in order to actually go out and consume an API. I can do that in a green screen app. There’s nothing that says I have to have a modern user interface in order to be able to integrate with APIs, and therefore AI. I mean I’d make the argument you need to be moving away from the green screen, but that’s a different conversation, right?

Paul: Right yeah.

Brian: There’s nothing that says I can’t use AI from green screen. They’re two completely separate subjects and I think a lot of companies think because they’re behind in other areas that they can’t start looking at APIs and AI and those types of things, and that’s just not true.

Paul: Yeah. It’s interesting you say that. I mean many years ago, the first article I did on Watson, the example I gave was doing language translation on a green screen—on a 5250 screen. You know I did make it clear: This is not what you should be doing [laughs], but it was to differentiate you know that the difference between what an API is and that it is not browser based was really the point with it. But yeah, I mean there are fascinating things going on there, Brian. I know there’s an IBM quote, that example of the company in Japan where they have all of those—it’s not pharmaceuticals but portions, lotions, creams, all of that—

Brian: Right.

Paul: And this enormous chain, but they are linked to an API that’s linked to the Weather Channel. So suddenly when there’s a heat wave coming, their system is pre-ordering stuff for the stores in that area where the heat wave is going to be so they don’t run out of stock.

Brian: Right.

Paul: There’s all these areas where you can do comparisons of your business against trends—you know, and you’re about to move into a new state or a new country. Now you can measure against the trends in that and what do you have to do to change your business. It’s going to be a whole new scary world, I think.

Brian: Yeah. There are some things about it that can be a little scary, absolutely.

Paul: Yeah, yeah.

Brian: But yeah, and on top of that you mentioned weather. Also, you know the AI can take in trends and things like transportation. Are you going to have supply chain issues, right?

Paul: Yeah.

Brian: We’ve had lots of those over the past few years, and being able to predict are we going to have those again—I mean those are all things that AI can reach out and pull data points in from all over the world and identify trends that are maybe too large for our human eyes to be able to take in all at once.

Paul: Yeah, yeah, the way it can just summarize. Yeah, do a synopsis for us. So this brave new world that we’re heading into then Brian with this, so how easy is it to get started with it then with Profound API?

Brian: It’s pretty darn simple [laughs]. Again, that’s been our goal from the beginning. So if you wanted to get started with Profound API, you have to have Node.js on your system. So that’s step one. If you’re running it on IBM i, that means you have to have Yum and you have to use the package managers to load Node.js. That’s the way it is. I have no control over that and you’re just going to have to go and do it, but you should do it anyway because you should be using open-source things on your system.

Paul: Yeah.

Brian: But once you’re over that hurdle, it’s a simple install. We actually have a brand new installer that we just released that will go out and take care of pulling in all the NPM packages and everything for you, and getting it all set up. Just point and click and walk your way through it. Then once it’s installed, you log into the IDE and get started. If you wanted to—let’s just say you wanted to build a new API layer on top of a Db2 table. Let’s just say, simple task—let’s say we’re trying to get away from ODBC and JDBC, and we’d like to have an API layer, which is a good thing to do from a security standpoint by the way. So we want to get rid of outside database access, so we right-click on the table. We choose build API, and it builds the whole thing for us. We click save and now it’s published on our test server. It’s a JSON file. We move that to our production server, and we’re done. It’s that simple. So you can actually have a simple database API layer, plus a crude layer on top of a database. You can have that in minutes. If you needed to do something a little more complex—let’s say you want to reach out and consume an API—that can be done in hours. Once you understand the API that you need to call, that’s the key. Then you can reach out and just do that. What’s great is—let’s say you need to call that from RPG. I don’t care what kind of RPG it is. It can be a green screen, whatever.

Paul: Yup.

Brian: We’re going to give you the code to call it. You can literally copy that code directly into your RPG program, and you have it. So it’s going to have all the definitions and the actual call itself. We can’t do everything for you but we’ll go ahead and do the call and we’ll put it inside of a monitor block—just you know the things you should do that we can do for you ahead of time—and then you can just drop it in and use it. I have a demo program that we use during product demos that consume a weather API. That’s just a simple common demo and it took me a minute to remember how to write a green screen, but I did and it’s just a simple green screen program that I type in a ZIP code and it goes and it retrieves weather information and drops it on my screen. I have one that also uses a service called Zippopotamus, which is another one I like to do. It’s just you drop in a ZIP code and it goes out and gets latitude, longitude, city name, county, state or province in Canada or anywhere in the U.S.—or anywhere in the world honestly, but it just gives you info about that city—and yeah, we can do that with just a few lines of code. I copy in what the tool gave me and I added maybe six lines of code just to actually move some variables around and display the green screen and of course the good old do while loop to keep it running. Sorry everyone: I didn’t use a cycle program, but I mean it really is simple though. Anyone can do it and the great part is you don’t even need to know Javascript to do it because we’ve built it with a low code tool. So anyone that can think logically—which, we’re programmers, we can do that, I hope. We can go out and we can just come up with a workflow, just a couple of steps or have it generated for us, and then copy some code into our program, and we now can consume an API. It really is that simple, and the other direction is just as easy. If you have an RPG program that you want to expose as an API, you can copy the prototype from the RPG program into the Profound API tool, and it will build out the call. All you have to do then is just okay, here’s my parameter list. You know, this is my input for this one; I’m expecting output on these. What I do with the parameters, we’ve done as much as we can feasibly do. Now maybe one day the AI will be so great that we can just have it think for you, but we’re not quite there yet. You still have to give it a little bit of input, but we’ve narrowed it down as much as we can.

Paul: Cool. So, listen Brian, just to finish up I want to sort of come full circle. So back in the start we talked about a title change, but you did have to go through another title change recently, didn’t you?

Brian: Yeah, I guess. We’ll call it recently. So apparently there is this old guy that has a great name but he plays guitar, and he’s you know an astrophysicist or something and yeah, yeah, apparently, he has the same name as me. Who knew? So yeah, they made a movie about him. Maybe you guys saw the Bohemian Rhapsody movie—of course, Brian May of Queen. And when that movie came out, I got this huge influx of followers. Now we all love followers on Twitter, but I got this huge influx of followers and they were obviously not interested in anything to do with application development, APIs, or IBM i. So eventually I did have to change my Twitter handle, and so for those of you that would like to follow me—it’s always good to plug your social media, right?—my Twitter handle is now @NotThatBrianMay [laughs]. It’s worked, actually. I don’t get nearly as many requests, and for that very reason, I haven’t gone through the process of getting a blue check mark because that will just add to the confusion. So yeah, that was a change. I had to change of course, and you’d think changing your Twitter handle is just something you do, but when you’re in business and you’re on social media for business, suddenly I had to go and change signatures everywhere and bylines anywhere I was writing for, and everything had to change. It actually took a few weeks to find all the references to the old Twitter handle but yeah, I did have to change that. Sorry, everyone: I do play guitar but no, I’m not that Brian May [laughs].

Paul: And I think that’s an excellent line to leave it on, Brian. So we’re going to subtitle this iTalk as Not That Brian May.

Brian: I’m down with that.

Paul: Oh okay. So, listen Brian, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me today. So everyone, that’s it for this iTalk Business with Tuohy. Please remember to tune into TechChannel to get more. That’s it for now everyone, thanks for tuning in. Bye.

Interested in learning more? We highly recommend checking out Profound Logic’s website.