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Be choosy, and know what you’re buying – Five mainframe tips

Claire Connor

Claire Connor
Senior Mainframe Solution Architect

Headlines over the last decade have focused heavily on the cloud and its benefits to businesses. But with a track record for security and resilience, mainframes continue to be a vital asset for many enterprises.

Despite this growing adoption of cloud alternatives sales of mainframes are estimated to be worth USD2033.7 million in 20221, a very healthy outlook. And IBM recently launched its IBM z16 an indication of strong continued investment in mainframe technology. The fact is, mainframes offer a proven capability to handle the enormous quantity of data demanded by business-critical applications today.

Because mainframes get on with their work with the bare minimum of fuss, they can be taken for granted, and not considered central to a digital transformation strategy. However, to get the most from the mainframe and maximise its capabilities they should be a core part of your IT strategy. Modernisation is fundamental for optimised performance, and ultimately for delivering true business differentiation.

Senior business and IT leaders have an opportunity to gain a competitive advantage simply by applying a different lens when considering the mainframe and deciding how to enable the mainframe to support their strategy and deliver significant long term value. These five areas will ensure your decision making process delivers tangible future-proof outcomes.

1. Research and strategy matters

When was the last time you did an audit of what your business currently needs including what role the mainframe plays and what it is delivering? Businesses modernise and adapt, so it’s important to have a clear understanding of your business’ needs and desired outcomes.

The first, and most important decision is: Is the mainframe going to be part of the business’ infrastructure going forward?

If the answer is anything but a solid no, then you need to ask the right questions to collect the facts and understand the details. For example:

  • What is the business trying to achieve?
  • Does the mainframe currently deliver value against these objectives? If not, why not?
  • What do you need from your business applications, and therefore, where are they best placed to sit?
  • What are the future opportunities?
  • What are the costs involved in making a change, and what are the risks involved (and, likewise, the risks involved in standing still)?

2. Mainframe or cloud? You don’t have to choose just one but know what you’re buying

As technology advances it makes sense to lean into the specialisms afforded by different solutions. Cloud-based applications offer agile and responsive alternatives for enterprises. But mainframe offers reliable environment for business-critical applications.

It doesn’t have to be an “either/or” decision. A hybrid approach where the mainframe has a lighter load but concentrates heavily on business-critical applications alongside cloud services where agility and faster evolution are a greater priority can be incredibly effective.

We often see regional differences in approach. In the US there is a tendency towards a slightly more unified approach to mainframe modernisation, due to the fact that organisations have historically relied on a smaller number of mainframe software giants which helps reduce some of the complexity of the starting point. In Europe, on the other hand, while the same entities still dominate, smaller, more experimental software houses, were more common so can add to the variety of challenges.

So, it’s important to make sure you build time in to strategize around your company’s specific business goals. Come up with an agreed plan and build from there. If planning is difficult, you can seek help from mainframe experts.

3. Know what mainframe modernisation can offer

Mainframes have been around for a long time, and that means they have seen several iterations and modernisations themselves. They have a lot to offer for the future of enterprise. The mainframe can play a crucial and effective role in the transformation strategy of the business and in achieving goals that are underpinned by technology.

Technology decisions made 10 or 15 years ago may have been exactly the right one at the time, but as time and technology has moved on there are now different pressures on the business. Reassessing those decision now is not a failure, but it shows an ability to adjust with the changing business landscape and customer demands.

Across industries of all kinds there is a skills shortage alongside the Great Resignation. And that applies to mainframe skills, like COBOL, as much as anything. In a Computing IT mainframe survey, 19% of respondents stated their mainframe modernisation plans were motivated by the skills shortage.

Among the many benefits offered by mainframe modernisation it can help to lower the knowledge and skills barrier allowing incoming graduates to get under the bonnet effectively, accessing fresh, modern interfaces, a dynamic way to broaden the available talent pool.

Traditionally, mainframes have been maintained with bespoke code written to fix specific problems. A modernised mainframe presents an opportunity to purge homegrown code, making it far easier to maintain and ensures your long-term strategy enables your organisation to stay agile with changing strategic business needs, market trends and customer requirements.

On top of this modernised mainframes reduce manual processes and offer greater access to automation, which in turn delivers invaluable cost and time savings for the business.

It’s essential to understand:

  • What your mainframe has been doing for your business so far
  • What data it holds
  • How it can be optimised

Of course, after decades of service, the reliability, speed and power of mainframes have secured their place in many businesses’ technology strategies. But even the best equipment can be improved, and when we discuss the ‘modernisation’ of the mainframe, it’s important to state directly what this means: growth, increased productivity, decreased costs, improved customer experience, increased strategic agility moving forward and increased accessibility.

4. Know what a mainframe doesn’t need to do

There is a benefit to taking some business functions away from mainframes as it diversifies the processing load and lowers demand and costs. Financial planning, payroll and human capital management is a great example of how the mainframe and cloud can co-exist in a hybrid environment: having these applications in the cloud streamlines the processing demand on mainframes, making them more efficient for the core functions they’re tasked with.

5. Understand the risks

No transformation within a business is without risks. But risks can be managed by setting realistic, achievable milestones for the transformation project. Not making a transformation, and effectively standing still, carries risks too. Working with experts who have run this process before can add value to your planning process and navigate any potential stumbling blocks along the way.

The business should also take a holistic approach to the modernisation project. Everyone from infrastructure or development teams should be brought along to understand the goal of the changes and how they will be affected.

The people, process, and planning element of mainframe projects is essential as it leads to improved outcomes and helps avoid delayed or disrupted attempts to migrate from or modernise the mainframe.

Final thoughts

As the world continued to readjust in the wake of the global pandemic, digital transformation is at the heart of business strategy. The modernisation of the mainframe should form a central part of this.

No longer “legacy” technology – a modernised mainframe can play a critical role in driving businesses into the next phase of growth, securing vital processes and enabling productivity.

If you are ready to tackle the modernisation of your mainframe you don’t need to do it alone. Expert help is just a click away.

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