Modernization Part 3 – Making modernization a reality

In this series, we have outlined the journey of IT modernization to align the IT estate closer to business needs, while reducing costs and risk. Earlier blogs focused on the key first steps of looking at the entire IT application landscape and determine key metrics around cost, value, complexity and risk. The reason for this is simply because, if the IT department has the ability to understand its current application portfolio, the business can then be confident that the modernization strategy proposed by the IT team is accurate. This prioritizes the applications to be modernized and in what order.

In this blog post we discuss the enabling technology available to help modernize your chosen application subset(s).

The use of technology will be driven by the issues discovered during your application portfolio assessment and the modernization activities proposed, whether that is accomplished by moving development, testing, or application workload off the mainframe.

Taking development off the mainframe and onto Windows, for example, can dramatically expand CPU capacity for each developer, eliminating resource contention and improving delivery times. There may also be concerns over skills for COBOL because it is tricky to attract new staff to an old environment. Common tooling built on best of breed IDE tech such as Eclipse/VS resolves this, brings a new level of collaboration into the teams. It also improves quality and takes non-essential and costly activities off the mainframe

Moving application testing off the mainframe can break down capacity barriers and help developers meet schedules on time and in budget. Capacity and throughput is a challenge and quality is a constant concern – moving application testing makes it possible to complete testing phases faster and with higher quality because test cycles are not constrained by scarce mainframe processing power. In addition, the test environment can be expanded beyond traditional test teams to include business users and developers integrating SOA applications with the mainframe

Redistributing application workload using lower-cost platforms can deliver rapid cost savings in terms of mainframe MIPS or software costs, as well as provide much-needed flexibility for the remainder of the mainframe environment. Price performance of Windows UNIX or Linux coupled with significant investment in mainframe support from Micro Focus makes moving workload off a reality, a reality that is lived by hundreds of clients. Tens of thousands of MIPS are already happily running in production away from the host

Cost savings and improvements in capacity achieved through modernization release time and resources for IT innovations, such as meeting new mobile demands and giving customers or employees the ability to access business applications via the latest smartphone or tablet. By helping organizations re-use what they already have – proven and valuable IT assets – the modernization approach removes the degree of risk caused by IT change and enable improvements in operational efficiency, time to market and business alignment.

In the next and final blog post in this series, we will introduce the necessity to review and revisit modernization priorities in a regular cycle. As elements of the estate change, revisiting the portfolio assessment and re-measuring key metrics will be an important facet of IT’s continuous improvement.

2013 Budget – The Next Chapter

Written by Tod Tompkins

This week the House Budget Committee Chairman released the GOP version of the fiscal year 2013 budget proposal. Serving as a direct response to President Obama’s proposed budget released in February, this version claims to save approximately $368 billion over 10 years. According to a Federal News Radio article, this savings would be a result of “extending the federal pay freeze through 2015, increasing federal retirement contributions and cutting the federal workforce by 10 percent.”

The article goes on to say that the “plan would reduce the federal workforce by 10 percent over the next three years through a ‘gradual, sensible attrition policy.’” And that “the budget proposal also would ask federal employees to make a ‘more equitable contribution to their retirement plans.’”

This forum is meant to spur conversation and generate ideas to help the government save money, no matter where allegiances may lie. The article on Federal News Radio focuses primarily on pay freezes and retirement benefits, but does a good job of presenting views from both sides of the aisle and offers a fair and unbiased look at the issues. I really enjoyed reading it and was able to form my own opinions…how about you?

Is your business ready for the consumerisation of IT?

The consumerisation of IT is a growing phenomenon whereby employees are buying their own devices for personal and work use. While this ‘bring your own device’ approach offers opportunities as well as potential risks, there is a general consensus across the IT industry that this trend is something that most businesses will be unable to prevent and should therefore embrace[1]. Many organisations are already adopting the ‘BYOD’ scheme including retailer John Lewis and the UK Government to name but two. An increasingly popular way of making cost savings, the consumerisation of IT does not need to be an over-complicated process. Businesses are able to easily re-use trusted core back-end applications and have them connect to new mobile device applications, rather than start from scratch, to facilitate this new workplace trend.

Using modern application environments such as Visual Studio or Eclipse, a developer can build a mobile-based application on a variety of technical platforms; calling into tried and tested COBOL systems can facilitate efficient data delivery from the mainframe or server directly to the user on their device of choice.

With modern developments in tooling for mobile applications, developers can now use the best of both worlds – combining modern tooling for rich, interactive interface design and efficient, high performance and secure data delivery with COBOL. A large majority of organisations will already be using COBOL to power their IT infrastructures so the investment has already been made. The benefits of this method mean that organisations can simply extend that investment to deliver data to employees using their own devices.

COBOL based applications are in a unique position today.  Organisations can securely deliver COBOL-driven, business data to an employee’s mobile device, with minimal cost and risk.  By ensuring the valuable core services are accessible to the new BYOD fraternity, it validates the initiative by providing renewed business value through new channels. Ironically, for many existing (and more modern) enterprise applications, the option of connecting service to device is not easily available.


[1] http://www.enterprisecioforum.com/en/blogs/dsnow/how-make-byod-truly-work

IT Dashboard Gets a Makeover

Written by Tod Tompkins

Last week, Federal CIO Steven VanRoekel announced that the IT Dashboard had been updated to include “detailed IT investment information in support of the President’s FY 2013 Budget.” Mr. VanRoekel posted highlights of the new and improved IT Dashboard on the OMBlog. In case you have been hiding under a rock for the past few years, the IT Dashboard was established in 2009 to support President Obama’s open government initiative. Its goal is to provide agencies “the tools needed to reduce duplication in IT spending, strengthen the accountability of agency CIOs, and provide more accurate and detailed information on projects and activities.” Basically, the one-stop-shop for all of your IT project needs.

According to the blog post, the updated version of the IT Dashboard will offer increased transparency to all of these IT investments, as well as better assist CIOs in their ability to “intervene in troubled projects sooner.” The Dashboard makeover includes:

  • Greater accessibility – “…access to individual projects and activities associated with an investment, links investments to funding sources, and includes enhanced visualizations to better track investment performance year-to-year”
  • Duplication identification – “New data on what kind of services each investment provides helps agencies identify and address duplication in their IT portfolios”
  • Data quality improvement – “Improved validations and warnings prevent erroneous data from coming into the system, and new data quality reports help agencies to identify improvements they can make to their existing data”
  • Additional data/tools – “More datasets are now available, and additional tools are in place that enable the public to participate by downloading and building their own applications”

Question is, who is using the IT Dashboard and how is it being used? Is it primarily an inter-governmental tool or are citizens actively engaging? According to Mr. VanRoekel, the use of the IT Dashboard and TechStat sessions (another Administration accountability mechanism) has resulted in taxpayer savings approaching $4 billion…so somebody is using it.

Let us know if/how you access and use the IT Dashboard. Post your responses below in the “comment” section or connect with us at Facebook or Twitter.

2013 Budget – Savings down the Road?

Written by Tod Tompkins

Ah, the 2013 Budget. It’s been a compelling read. I think the lead paragraph in Federal Computer Week’s coverage of the budget announcement pretty much sums it all up – “The Obama administration proposes a slight decrease in federal IT spending in 2013, with many of its funded projects aimed at realizing further savings down the road.”

Further savings down the road? This obviously is in reference to the current focus on future cost savings through mandated initiatives such as cloud computing, virtualization and data center consolidation. These types of programs are important and will eventually result in greater efficiencies and significant cost savings…but when? Three, four, five years “down the road?” I know I might be starting to sound like a broken record, but what about the importance of near-term cost savings – tangible activities that will drive down the deficit this year and next.

One positive aspect to the 2013 budget as called out by Federal Computer Week in that same article is that “…many of the IT projects highlighted in the budget apparently received support because of their potential to improve the efficiency of agency operations by modernizing and enhancing existing systems.” This is a critical component to the budget that has the potential to address those near-term savings concerns. If done properly, modernizing or migrating legacy systems to newer platforms will, undoubtedly, help cut costs in year one or year two – laying the groundwork for the other “down the road” activities to take shape and helping the government to maintain a consistent level of savings for years to come.

Modernization Part 2 – Plan for change

Having decided that the best way to plan for Modernization is to have a robust understanding of your current situation, the second part of our Modernization blog series introduces how best to approach the activity of detailed planning, avoiding common pitfalls along the way.

In the first blog article we discussed the inevitability of change across business and IT. Change means the world today is a very different place from when your core business applications were originally devised. Businesses diversify, customers evolve, technology shifts, application requirements change and the people who work on these systems have themselves changed, moved on, up, retired.

The first and fundamental activity on your modernization journey is getting a clear view of your enterprise applications ecosystem. Before thinking about how to plan your Modernization project, you should consider the decision you are trying to reach… and why. A large-scale internal IT change program typically supports a business imperative. This could be a cost-driven issue like a system consolidation, platform retirement or replacement. Or new business initiatives like new application provision, or reaching out to clients through new interfaces or devices. The spark could come from compliance or risk-management activities such as upgrades, process improvement, and security activities. While there may be assorted reasons behind the major change, it’s always the case that such change is accompanied by a hypothesis – a view of “what ought to happen” – that has been factored into the original plan.

For the plan to be sound and the risk of IT failure mitigated, the hypothesis needs to be tested against factual information.

What do you need to know? What factors influence your decision? Let’s look at the major attributes – Cost, Value, and Risk – and consider the important information needed

Cost. It’s important to consider all the associated IT and operational costs together. This includes the cost of the application platform, supporting software, including maintenance; the cost of wages and attributed overhead costs (e.g. data centre expense). There are also downstream costs of current systems, e.g. likely system upgrades, leasing renewals, support staff contracts etc. Additionally, any ‘new’ system costs need to have been evaluated for comparison, along the same lines. Usually there is a new hardware CapEx element as well as the purchase of new system software. Additionally, re-training on any new system has to be considered and incorporated.

Value. You need to know how much your incumbent or outgoing systems return. Equally important are the projected new revenues – from a business case rather than from any internal reporting system. “Revenue” is an aggregate of a number of variables – geography, time, product line, etc. However value isn’t restricted to revenue, it includes customer experience – customer satisfaction, measurable through a range of means, is as important in the decision making process.

Risk / Operational Metrics. Typically plotting “cost” against “value” will give you a pretty decent measure of any system from a business perspective. However there are dangers in ignoring the readily-available and valuable operational data points:

  • Rate of Change – number of issues “solved” by the system on average. This gives a good view of the flexibility of any system
  • Number of defects – an overall measure of outstanding issues may indicate a level of robustness
  • Rates of change – the amount of recorded change made is an important factor
  • Application Complexity – a number of scientific measurements can be undertaken against applications to deduce ‘complexity’
  • Customer / User views –customer opinion can be determined through help desk systems or surveys
  • Strategic Fit – systems conform to an internal architectural blueprint to a lesser or a greater extent and this information is typically recorded in a way that means it can be rated

So, if an application appears to be costly to maintain with modest revenues, at first glance it might seem a good candidate for replacement. Taking into account all the variables above, i.e. learning that the strategic fit is an exact match, and that the application (and supporting skills) is highly flexible, and that the number of defects is low, the idea that the application is deficient turns out to be incorrect.

Understanding the levels of detail required is a laborious exercise to undertake manually. The information collected would, in any case, be a subjective view of information (factual data is difficult to ascertain by purely visual inspection) and prone to error. Also the task of manually-collecting, storing, assessing and reporting on this data is obviously extremely costly.

A smarter move is to exploit enabling technology – Application Portfolio Management (APM) – to inspect data that covers the IT landscape. Being able to interrogate the systems that house this information directly means information can be pulled, stored, assessed and reported on instantaneously. Computer programs, SCM systems, defect systems, help desk systems, financial systems, can feed into a meta-repository to be used as the basis for detailed analysis. For information that is recorded and held outside of systems, such as customer surveys, APM technology can be used to created questionnaires and measure results.

What this leads to is a review of applications on a Business Value versus Operational Cost chart. This is a simplified view as the amount of analysis will vary according to the hypothesis you are trying to test. Reviewing the factual information through the different views APM technology provides you, enables you to prioritize which applications should be modernized according to the key criteria you are considering.

In the next blog we will describe how you can determine the appropriate supporting technology to modernize your chosen application subset(s). Once again, the use of enabling technology will be driven by the issues discovered during your application portfolio assessment and the Modernization activities proposed.

How to Future-proof IT Systems, Making 2012 the Year of Re-Use

Standish Group[i] has recently issued a report describing the risk of failure of major IT projects, citing the dangers of rewriting core business applications or replacing them with generic packages. In 2011, there were well-documented ERP and other software project horror stories, including the RIM and Amazon outages, highlighting the challenges and business-critical nature of having the right IT infrastructure in place.

As 2012 progresses and the ramifications of the new economic world in 2012 become clear, it is important to look back and learn from the mistakes made in 2011.  Gartner predicts in its recent Forecast Alert[ii] that IT spend will decline to 3.7 percent in 2012, the challenge for CIOs remains to implement software projects that demonstrate value, return on investment and provide guarantees of future success. Micro Focus (LSE:MCRO.L), the leading provider of enterprise application modernization, testing and management solutions, argues that modernization is the key, assessing existing IT infrastructure and re-using as much as possible as you modernize applications and systems.

“2012 is the year of modernization and re-use for core business systems technology,” said Kevin Brearley, director of product management at Micro Focus.  “Grand plans to totally overhaul IT operations using major ERP implementations or massive system rewrites come with significant risk. Improving overall operational efficiency and supporting new business initiatives is really IT’s raison d’etre. But businesses need to be careful not to introduce risk or unknown cost into the operation.  There has never been a worse time to take uncalculated business risks – major organizations are guarding against unnecessary risk-taking.  Modernization is paramount.”

By helping organizations re-use what they already have – proven and valuable IT assets – the modernization approach removes risk from IT change, enabling improvements in operational efficiency, time to market and business alignment.  With over 35 years’ experience helping customers optimize their technology, Micro Focus offers CIOs four practical tips on how to approach this:

  1. Look at the entire IT application landscape and determine key metrics around cost, value, complexity and risk. If the IT department has the ability to understand its current application portfolio, the business can be confident the strategy for modernization proposed by the IT team is accurate.
  2. Once the application portfolio has been mapped, review which applications can be exploited to provide additional future value. All applications should be plotted onto a Business Value versus Operational Cost chart.   This will prioritize which applications should be modernized.  The applications with the highest business value and highest cost have the highest impact and could provide the best business cases.  These applications should be first to be modernized because the cost of these applications must be reduced.
  3. Determine the appropriate supporting technology to modernize your chosen application subset(s). The use of technology will be driven by the issues discovered during your application portfolio assessment and the modernization activities proposed.
    1. Taking development off the mainframe and onto Windows, for example, can dramatically expand CPU capacity for each developer, eliminating resource contention and improving delivery times.
    2. Moving application testing off the mainframe can break down capacity barriers, helping developers meet schedules on time and in budget.
    3. Moving application workload deployment off the mainframe onto a lower-cost platform can provide very rapid cost savings in terms of mainframe MIPS or software costs, as well as provide much-needed flexibility for the remainder of the mainframe environment.
  4. Review and revisit your list of modernization priorities in a regular cycle. As you change elements of your estate, revisiting the portfolio assessment and re-measuring key metrics will be an important facet of IT’s continuous improvement.

Cost savings and improvements in capacity through modernization will free up time and resources for IT innovations, such as meeting new mobile demands and giving customers or employees the ability to access business applications via the latest smartphone or tablet consumer device. Ultimately, modernizing IT systems are helping many businesses worldwide, including household names like Bentley and Tesco, maintain their competitive edge.

About Micro Focus
Micro Focus, a member of the FTSE 250, provides innovative software that allows companies to dramatically improve the business value of their enterprise applications. Micro Focus Enterprise Application Modernization, Testing and Management software enables customers’ business applications to respond rapidly to market changes and embrace modern architectures with reduced cost and risk. For additional information please visit www.microfocus.com.

[i] The CHAOS Manifesto, The Standish Group, 2011

[ii] Forecast Alert: IT Spending, Worldwide, 2008-2015, 4Q11 Update, January 2012

Further information (external website)