So it’s not just us, then? As this press release explains, Compuware recently surveyed 350 CIOs to assess CIOs’ perception of their most valuable IT asset and discovered that the mainframe retains the confidence of those whose success depends on it.
We were pleased, but not the least surprised, at the findings. The results of our own 2014 survey of 590 CIOs, through Vanson Bourne, were in line with Compuware’s findings. Namely that CIOs recognise the value of the IP invested in their mainframe infrastructures – and the risks associated with rewrites and the ‘lift and shift’ approach to application modernization.
The contents of the subsequent Micro Focus whitepaper, The State of Enterprise IT – Re-examining Attitudes to Core IT systems, reads like a CIO to-do list; issues covered included managing enterprise ‘IT Debt’, the burden of compliance and outsourcing. If that sounds like you, then download it here.
Back to Compuware; their whitepaper notes that “It is clear that CIOs fully recognize the power and value of the mainframe … 88% of respondents indicated that they believe it will remain a key business asset for at least the next 10 years”.
Unfortunately, there is an image issue to overcome. Mainframe longevity means that many CIOs are probably subconsciously referencing archaic tech. But to remain relevant, anything or anyone must evolve over time; both mainframes and Minis have been around 50 years – and have you seen these? Mainframes have evolved. The new z13 is the most powerful unit that IBM has ever produced. And they wouldn’t commit all that R&D money to anything not destined to be a massive commercial success. So, it makes sense to work with mainframes rather than booking a skip, clearing out the server room and hoping for the best.
This clunking, wheezing machinery – yeah, right – is often omitted from the dialogue around the contemporary issues dominating the CIOs’ inbox. But with the support of the right tooling, pressing issues such as Big Data, the move to Mobile and the Cloud can all be handled by the big beasts of Big Blue.
Some CIOs already see this potential – certainly, 81% of Compuware’s respondents recognise that the mainframe can deliver greater Big Data throughput than commodity hardware alone, with 61% already doing just that. There’s more; 78% see the mainframe as a “key enabler of innovation”. And why shouldn’t they? No CIO wants to be without the customer insight that effective data analysis can deliver, or be able to follow their rivals by taking their applications to the Cloud, Mobile, or their customers’ preferred platform.
Another challenge is losing the development skills required to maintain older mainframe applications in an apparent explosion of retirement parties and ‘We’ll Miss You!’ cards. Compuware summarise their concerns thus: “Unfortunately, a ticking time-bomb seriously threatens the ability of companies to preserve and advance their mainframe IP. The Baby Boomers who created the code … will soon pass the reins to a new generation that lacks mainframe skills and experience. This is not going to be an easy transition.”
Indeed. As this press release explains, 55% of the IT leaders surveyed by Vanson Bourne believe it is “highly likely” or “certain” that the original knowledge of their mainframe applications and supporting data structure has left the organization. Similarly, 73% confirm that their organization’s documentation is incomplete. Innovation isn’t easy when no-one is sure how the thing works.
Back to Compuware; “The mainframe environment is complex and decades-old code often lacks adequate documentation. It behooves [IT leaders] to be more aggressive about successfully transitioning stewardship of [their] mainframe intellectual property to the next generation of IT professionals—who do not currently have the mainframe-related capabilities that companies will require over the next decade.”
There’s a plan for that
A lack of documentation is unhelpful, but may not be the apocalyptic scenario Compuware suggest. Our skills campaign is a battle fought on three fronts – namely increased productivity from COBOL developers, cross-training developers working in other languages and enlisting the help of academic partners – that will enable organisations to maintain their mainframes, take their COBOL applications into the future and enable the future innovation that creates or maintains a market advantage. All it needs is the right strategy and market-leading tooling.
Clearly, there are challenges. But equally there are options to resolve them. Practical suggestions in another Micro Focus whitepaper, Reducing the IT Backlog, One Bottleneck at a Time, include a 40% cost reduction and 25% development efficiency improvement that will make serious inroads into any enterprise IT backlogs.
So, what have we learned? From the CIO perspective, that Big Iron can – and will – play a significant role in their future IT strategy. The Micro Focus view is that our mainframe solution can enable these powerful business machines to handle many current CIO challenges. If ‘doing more with what you already have’ is a maxim that you must now live by, start living – book a value profile service. It is an important first step on the journey to enterprise application modernization.