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Expert opinion: Harnessing the mainframe for Digital Transformation

Expert opinion: Harnessing the mainframe for Digital Transformation

Elizabeth Maxwell, EMEA Mainframe Technical Director at Compuware, offers an insight for businesses on the best ways to update tools and cultural processes to incorporate the mainframe into their digital future. Digital Transformation should be harnessed to best benefit a business in this modern technology era.

Digital Transformation is at the top of the agenda for enterprises, so much so that 89% of companies have plans to adopt, or have already adopted, a digital-first business strategy. Many of these organisations have had the mainframe at the heart of their organisation for more than 50 years but are yet to fully harness the platform as part of their Digital Transformation journey. Many businesses still largely regard legacy technology as a barrier to achieving their digital goals, as opposed to a tool to help inform the process.

What these companies are failing to recognise is that the mainframe is only a constraint if you let it be. In fact, not taking advantage of all the mainframe has to offer can leave businesses at a disadvantage. The platform has immense power and valuable insights gathered over decades; characteristics that can prove vital when deciding on and implementing Digital Transformation plans. Enterprises must change how they see the mainframe, putting to use the wealth of data residing on it to make the most of mainframe benefits such as reliability, performance and security.

Taking advantage of the mainframe’s proven prowess

Adopting cloud or new hardware isn’t the only way to embark on a Digital Transformation journey, despite what people may think. Incorporating the mainframe into digitisation strategies is not only possible, but preferable. The mainframe’s longevity and consistently high-functioning nature offers reliability and security to enterprises – a benefit especially crucial in an era of endless outages and security breaches. The mainframe is scalable and can process millions of transactions between devices within an enterprise’s IT ecosystem; any disruption to these processes can result in huge disruption, with potentially catastrophic effects on the customer experience.

As well as being secure and reliable, the mainframe is also rich with insights, in most cases accumulated over decades. These invaluable customer insights can help businesses to both inform future digitisation strategies and compete with digital-native disrupters by tailoring offerings to the customer. The insights established businesses can glean from mainframe data are far more detailed and span a longer period of time than anything captured by new disrupters. Enterprises with a mainframe are sitting on a goldmine of data and must take advantage of this asset to supercharge their customer offerings and experience.

So, while the temptation might be to move away from mainframe to newer platforms to enable Digital Transformation, doing so creates risk. Instead, business should be looking to innovate on the platform, so that they do not lose these vital insights and business benefits.

So, how can this be achieved?

While this all sounds well and good, the tools and processes used to interact with mainframe applications have been in use for decades and have become outdated and difficult for less-experienced developers to work with. Antiquated green-screen development environments need to be replaced with a modern, familiar IDE that helps new-to-the-mainframe developers get to grips with the platform faster, enabling them to interact with it just as they would with any other code. However, this modernisation of tools and processes requires long-time mainframe developers to change their long-established ways of working and it can be difficult to convince them of the benefits.

The best approach to achieve this is implementing cultural changes like DevOps that will help to make the modernisation process possible through improved collaboration. Adopting a DevOps culture helps to make all developers feel like they are striving towards a shared goal – with the unity ultimately enabling the mainframe and its applications and data, to be part of faster development cycles. This enables a continuous delivery process of software updates, boosting output and accelerating the digitalisation of a business. Implementing DevOps practices will help to modernise tools and processes, making it possible for developers of all experience levels to interact with the mainframe. This means enterprises can rest easy that the platform is able to adapt to new tools and is compatible with new technologies as they develop, such as AI and Machine Learning.

Taking these steps will enable the incorporation of the mainframe into enterprises’ digital futures, meaning companies don’t have to sacrifice all the benefits the platform brings in their Digital Transformation quests.

Improvement not impediment

Instead of investing huge amounts of time and budget into migrating endless data and applications from the mainframe to another platform, companies must recognise the benefits they would lose. The platform is not a barrier to Digital Transformation; businesses that incorporate the mainframe into their digital maturity strategy will find themselves gaining a serious advantage thanks to the rich data and increased stability it can offer the company. The drive to improve levels of digital maturity should not mean assets accumulated over decades are simply cast aside. Improving and modernising mainframe software delivery systems is possible through the adoption of modern tooling and methodologies such as Agile Development and DevOps, meaning core information that can inform future actions of the business is preserved.

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