Part 4: Innovation Blog Series – Future-proofing Your IT Architecture

How does a business adapt its architecture in order to survive in the cut-throat world of IT? This blog explores the dilemmas faced by IT managers and how reusing what works well and replacing what doesn’t could point your business in a sunnier direction.

Introduction
How does a business adapt its architecture in order to survive in the cut-throat world of IT? This blog explores the dilemmas faced by IT managers and how reusing what works well and replacing what doesn’t could point your business in a sunnier direction.

Under pressure
As end users continue to raise their expectations for sleek, glossy functionality, pressure is mounting on core IT systems to deliver innovative solutions while sustaining existing systems that are already stretched thin. IT managers are forced to evaluate existing architectures and consider if what they have today can take them into tomorrow.  For businesses with so-called “legacy IT” systems, this poses even bigger questions: can such systems participate in new IT architecture or will they inevitably get left behind?

An ever-changing world
IT architecture must continually evolve but at the same time, IT systems become more complex with more moving parts, more integration and more demands for a better experience. A tug-of-war breaks out driven by the need to innovate versus the need to improve day-to-day business operations. But with existing systems already stretched to their limits, maintaining business as usual is in itself a fulltime preoccupation for most of the IT department.

For older core IT systems, the situation is often compounded. Consider the technical debt that can arise in a 5 year old business and its IT system and then multiply that for companies and IT systems 30 years or more in the making.

Separating architecture from function
The opportunity or perhaps the excuse, to throw away an inherited system with all its problems and start again can be very appealing. But replacing all the intricately interwoven processes with a new language and architecture would be the stuff of nightmares.

Therein lies an important realisation. Good architecture is merely a mechanism for change; it enables us to get things done quickly and effectively. Bad architecture on the other hand is an inhibitor. It slows us down making progress more costly and harder to achieve. Architecture and functionality are really two distinct pieces. Architecture viewed at any point above the code is often just the means by which to deliver a service. It allows users to interact and trigger events that initiate well defined business processes.

So our realisation is twofold. Firstly, we need the steadfast functionality of core systems. Secondly, we need the adaptability of new architectures. Older core IT systems may suffer from unwieldy architectures today, but the inherent functionality and service they provide is likely to be aligned directly with business need. After all, it would be hard for any IT system to reach legacy status if it didn’t deliver core functionality reliably.

We need to replace the rotting foundations in older systems
Savvy IT managers know that older core IT systems provide core business function, but how to reuse it within a new architecture creates a real dilemma.

These new architectures may dictate a new programming language, such as Java, as well as an app server and object-oriented semantics. Marrying these pre-requisites with what you have today may seem a long way from your desired architecture. But it can be done effectively, without resorting to costly, risky re-engineering projects.

Confronting the challenge
Whatever the architecture, you’ll be tasked with integrating a multitude of new technologies and a host of new data formats that help glue the components of your new system together. The ease of integration defines how quickly you can build them.

By using Unicode and XML support available directly within COBOL for example, you can connect decade-old applications with new components. By moving COBOL data into a relational database and by using ODBC, JDBC or ADO, the entire architecture can adopt an industry standard approach to data access, back up plans, business analytics and more.

Together with Java and C# interoperability with COBOL, you have all the building blocks you need to create a unified architecture. Integration with Visual Studio and Eclipse gives your developers a place to build it, using the best-in-class tooling. This same tooling enables you to have an improved user interface with the aid of Web 2.0, by SOA-enabling your system, building in Cloud components such as SQL Azure, or enabling mobile access for your users.

Reuse what you can
Being able to reuse your existing COBOL applications will pave the way to adopting new architecture and accelerate your results. By reusing proven application logic, you know that what you’re building is based on a sound strategy that has been providing business value for years.

Adopting new architecture is closer than you think
Micro Focus can provide you with a path to your new architecture by enabling you to reuse existing COBOL assets within contemporary deployment systems. Whether that is within a Java app server, ASP.NET or by using SOA principles, our software tools are designed to bring older systems right up to date for 21st century architecture deployment.

If you’re ready to move to a new architecture, Micro Focus is here to help you take the first step.

Changing Gear?

Read this before you trade in your so-called legacy IT

As we discussed in our previous blog the perception of legacy IT is, like the definition of legacy itself, rather at odds with the reality.

To paraphrase Collins’ dictionary, a legacy should be seen as a beneficial bequest rather than an antique acquired by accident. Our first blog concentrated on this perception/reality issue and – we believe – successfully argued that so-called legacy has enduring value today and into the future.

So, while the dictionaries are ambiguous, and much of the market perceives legacy IT as being a bad thing often because, in our gerontophobic industry it simply isn’t new enough – there is a different perspective that you’re not hearing. You’re not hearing it because it’s not a fashionable view. There’s no angle for a vendor trying to sell you something new. Now that’s a shame because these are people just like you, who work for companies like yours. They’re what’s called ‘satisfied customers’ – organizations happy with what they have and how it performs.

“Legacy code” often differs from its suggested alternative by actually working and scaling. Bjarne Stroustrup

An analogy with wheels

You need some wheels. You have two choices. You could (a) borrow money to mortgage your future on a gleaming new model from the showroom or (b) pick up a traded-in model from the lot outside. One is shiny. The other won’t see 100,000 miles again.

Option (a) may not be the good long-term bet it might appear. No-one knows how this car will perform. Anyone who has ever owned a ‘Friday afternoon car’ will testify that ‘new’ doesn’t always equate to ‘good’. The new car could be riven with niggles and glitches – but you won’t know until you’ve handed over the cash and taken it down the road. It could spend the next 12 months in the workshop with your investment similarly going nowhere. Let’s step outside the showroom.

There are no Friday afternoon cars out here. They don’t make it this far. Everything here is proven technology. It was built to last and has eaten up the miles. It’s still ticking over nicely. It’ll deliver from the minute you turn the key. Okay, the shape is very last year and it won’t turn any heads. It isn’t sexy, or fast. But then it’s purring like a cat while the owners of newer cars are waiting in the rain at the bus stop.

Meanwhile, back in the office …

The corporate world has seen plenty of breakdowns The name ‘RBS’ brings many CIOs out in a cold sweat. The RBS bottom line took a hit that will take a long time to claw back and their reputation sustained damage that will take some time recover from. Their CEO admitted to ‘… a big, mushrooming spend on technology. With hindsight, maybe a bit more of that increase in spend should have been in the core, taken-for-granted systems that work every day’. To compare cars to legacy IT: if reliability is a priority, then think carefully about trading in your existing IT for newer equipment. Gartner says that 90% of IT spend is on maintenance. Do you want to risk an increased maintenance spend?

The stridently-worded blog linked here makes the point that, like any infrastructure, legacy IT is only as good as the investment and support you put into it. If it’s your car, then you get it serviced and look after it. If it is legacy IT, then commit to it, don’t be ashamed of it. Remember that while you’re agonising about future innovation your core systems are ticking over quietly, doing what they’re supposed to do, and not turning your company into RBS 2. We’ll come back to innovation shortly.

This stuff runs big business

Here’s Keith Wild. Keith is the AVP of IT at BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina (BCBSSC), which is one of the plans within a federation of 38 separate health insurance organizations and companies in the States.

Combined, they directly or indirectly provide health insurance to over 99 million Americans. The BCBSSC facility in Columbia, SC, is by some margin the largest claims processor on the planet. If ever a company relied on its core systems and processes to keep delivering, day after day, then this is it. So what cutting-edge technology does Keith rely on to do this for him? A mainframe, running COBOL: the same system that BCBSSC have run for many years. In other words, ‘legacy’ IT.

Keith recognizes that investing correctly in what he knows works beats speculating on what may work. His clarity on the subject is unquestionable:

“We do not allow our systems to sit still. Our core systems are constantly evolving through ongoing investment. The term legacy – as in old, past, and not evolving – is just wrong. We prefer to use terms such as revitalized, renewed, and revamped. Sure, the original baseline was constructed decades ago, but the system has evolved and renewed itself over the years. The age of its original assembly is not relevant, what is important is the value it brings to us today and tomorrow.

“Our systems are our lifeblood. Everything in IT is considered front-line, and ongoing investment in technology and resources ensures the value of the entire system enterprise is nurtured, evolved and delivered. It’s pretty simple – these systems are our business. We have made some real smart IT decisions and continue to do so. Mainframes and COBOL are at the heart of this. To negatively refer to what we do as legacy in any way is both ignorant and incorrect.”

Keith doesn’t buy the legacy myth. He understands that with targeted investment, the same IT that put BSBSSC where it is, can continue to take it where it wants to be.

How investment fuels innovation

Innovation is appearing on more to-do lists than ever before. It’s the magic vehicle that will drive organizations from the depths of IT debt all the way to the heights of the future-proof systems strategy. McKinsey fret that sometimes innovation replaces investment, restricting potential. They are concerned that the term ‘you can do more with less’ is, too often, an order from the Board rather than a genuine insight into what a company can achieve with their existing IT assets.

To return to our analogy: removing used from ‘used car’ just leaves ‘car’. Similarly, when you delete ‘legacy’ from legacy IT then you’ll just see ‘IT’.  At Micro Focus, we believe that by repurposing so-called legacy equipment you can retain all its positive attributes – tried and tested technology – and improve on them to create great systems that will serve you well into the future. Because with a little retuning a solid, reliable car can be exciting and that IT professionals with their eyes glued on the horizon would benefit from a good look in the rear-view mirror.

Because, going forward, you should be careful about what you leave behind.

Micro Focus can help you re-energise what you used to call your legacy by providing smart technology that enables organizations to modernize their core enterprise applications, resolve critical business challenges today and support future innovation. Shrewd investment today will ensure these systems deliver in the future. But what does this actually look like? The next blog will look at some of the ways Micro Focus enables organizations to reuse and modernize their core systems to great effect.

Co-authored by Helen Withington, Derek Britton and Steve Moore

Part 3: Innovation Blog Series – Embracing Mobile – Your Call

Mobile computing’s prevalence and relevance makes it one of the most talked about and ‘disruptive’ technology advances of the 21st century.

It is altering the landscape of new technology development beyond recognition, as well as consumer and organizational behavior.  Consumer demand for mobile technology is the driving force behind the speedy progression of this market, with innovative companies such as Apple, Samsung, Google, and Microsoft leading the way.

Today, business-to-consumer engagement is often represented in the form of a mobile “app”. For example, a banking organization can allow a consumer to check their balance, deposit funds, and interact with many other banking services.  Mobile provides a platform by which an organization can now gather valuable market and consumer research, test new products and services, as well as extend to new markets, faster than ever before.  The platform holds important business value as it is so widespread – nearly every consumer has a mobile device.

Going mobile

Telecommunications is a frontier for pioneering technology. The introduction of “Voice over Internet Protocol” (VoIP) technology was a minor revolution, enabling people to transmit voice data via Internet, LAN, WAN and wireless networks. Overnight, VoIP changed the telecommunications market forever – creating new leaders, and forcing others out.

Mobile computing unlocks new markets for business while connecting consumer and business together like never before. Juniper Research predicts that next year there will be 200+ million more users of mobile based banking services than today. This is a trend which raises the importance of mobile computing as an IT strategy, making IT organizations wonder how to respond.

To add to this, BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) is also creating significant excitement in the industry. Smart consumers are demanding access to services they can use from their personal mobile devices.  IT organizations are now under immense pressure to work out how these services can be delivered while also adhering to corporate policy and security, and government regulation.

The popularity of tablet based computing has added to this trend.  According to industry analysts, it is expected that tablet device purchases will overtake mobile phone device purchases in the next two to three years.  The mobile computing market and workforce are expanding, which means today’s business organizations need to take notice of the warning signs: ‘If you’re not in mobile, you’ve missed the market’.

What price progress?

Being in the mobile market takes considerable effort. To support a diverse customer base, providers must provide services across an array of mobile platforms. Native apps are device-specific, and development companies will need to develop a separate application for each mobile platform – Microsoft Windows Phone 8, Apple iOS and Google Android to name but three. These duplicate efforts drive up development and maintenance costs. Furthermore, going to mobile expands business demands and will force them to find extra processing capacity to answer the increasing demand. Basically, being in the mobile world is a pricey ongoing pursuit.

Be smart and adapt

Many of today’s core business applications are written in tried and trusted enterprise-class languages, such as COBOL and PL/I.  These applications have served many businesses well for decades.  They are proven, paid for and include much of that core IP in businesses.

However those applications are driven from interfaces that are anything but modern. Adapting how those business services are made available to the new breed of mobile-based consumers is a real technical challenge. There are new paradigms such as JVM and .NET along with new platforms – zEnterprise and Windows 8 – which present challenges requiring functional and performance testing.

The key word here is “adapt”. Adapting will enable businesses to continue successfully, keeping costs down and consumers happy. Everyone’s a winner.

The use of smart technology to make backend services available (for example, using a web service based application deployment model) is essential for modern business-to-consumer engagement. This allows mobile device apps to gain access to critical business services that provide the real value to the consumer.

This also means that the same business function is being provided – whether accessed via a mobile device, a web browser, by phoning up the organization’s call centre or visiting a store.

How Micro Focus can help

Through innovative technologies such as Visual COBOL, Micro Focus allows organizations to tap into these valuable business application services, extending access to the mobile device.  By allowing the same tried-and-true applications to live on in a new paradigm (Web 2.0, Mobile), Micro Focus enables organizations to reduce the new investment required to build a much needed range of mobile services.

Visual COBOL also supports the creation of brand new front-ends to existing core applications, which can then be exported across a variety of platforms, thereby streamlining the process of building out this new delivery channel.

Conclusion

A 21st century organization must have a mobile strategy, not just for internal applications, but also for customers. The demand for mobile hardware and new business services is expanding faster than anyone anticipated. With mobile now acting as another strategic platform, organizations can promptly respond to market change and capitalize on it. This emerging market force is too big to ignore.

It’s time to innovate an effective mobile strategy.  Visual COBOL, through the power of application re-use, delivers your organization a powerful toolset to capitalize on the mobile market.

Are you ready to innovate?

Part 2 – Innovation Blog Series: Head to the Cloud

It’s all change

Disruptive technologies trigger change. Change within IT groups and businesses, across competitive markets and for consumers.  Cloud computing is one of the new generations of disruptive technologies that is helping accelerate the pace of change for providers and consumers alike. Let’s explore the potential, and the steps involved.

From physical to invisible

For years, business organizations maintained significant IT asset investments to deliver core business services to their customers.  These investments – in the form of server farms, mainframes, and data centers – were usually physically present on the business premises, or on the premises of an outsourcer or bureau. As the requirements and complexities of those IT assets have grown over time, so have costs and risks involved in managing those business services. The promise of Cloud Computing is that, by removing the necessity for a “physical presence”, the related costs and risks will not exist as they used to.

The Cloud advantage

The Cloud computing model operates as a kind of self-service facility, allowing you to access software, server and storage resources via the internet. “According to the Intuit UK Online Survey, 38% of the UK small businesses are using cloud computing, in which almost half of them use the technology because documents can be shared with greater ease”: you can maintain and manage these resources from the comfort of your own computer device through a web browser. The software, processing power and storage remain in the Cloud.

Businesses benefit from the convenience of Cloud as they can save on time, expertise and money, which is normally essential in buying, deploying and managing the infrastructure needed. Cloud shelters the user from these complexities. There is no need to use capital to purchase hardware and software. Instead, you can rent what you need on a subscription or pay-as-you-go basis.

Customer challenges

So if the attraction of Cloud computing is so compelling, why doesn’t everyone adopt Cloud? Simply, IT shops have heavy investments in core applications and infrastructure, but little budget or incumbent skills to adopt new technology or change operating models. And for some, the prospect of removing perfectly good assets from the building, for them to be replaced by an undefined external ‘service’, remains somewhat counter-intuitive. The barriers to adoption are therefore partly technological, and perhaps partly emotional.

Elevating to the Cloud

Instead of considering this as a technology strategy or a subjective decision, Cloud is seen as a business decision, and then the justifications become clearer.

If your organization is looking to move IT infrastructure into Amazon or Azure using their IaaS offering, an enterprise looking to SaaS as a means of rapidly provisioning your solution to new markets and new customers, or an architect looking to build a more flexible application architecture incorporating PaaS technology such as SQLAzure.

Deciding on the best model will be shaped by a number of factors including budget, skills, IT maturity and business strategy. Often, organizations will want to protect their most prized IT assets, typically their core applications and customer data. For these organizations, the fact that many such applications could be hosted in the Cloud – either by them or for them – create unprecedented opportunities for flexibility and cost reduction.

As well as the change in technology, your IT staff will need to consider new and updated skill sets to support the Cloud based operating model. With the ever growing IT skills crisis, a Cloud strategy could be the best answer, as organizations which embrace it will be more attractive for prospective IT staff, particularly new graduates, while potentially being able to forego the need for harder-to-find, niche skills.

Micro Focus and the Cloud

Industry analysts predict Cloud computing expenditures as a percentage of total IT budget to increase to over 35% in the coming three to five years. There are significant benefits for those who embrace Cloud – lower cost IT, greater business agility, a highly competitive IT workforce, and new levels of customer and community engagement.

Micro Focus is empowering this innovation today, with unique technologies such as Visual COBOL.  Enabling organizations to re-use their core business assets (services) repurposing them for new market and new technology environments such as the Cloud.   With Visual COBOL, an organization can take their existing COBOL based applications assets and deploy them to a Cloud infrastructure of their choice – IaaS, PaaS, or SaaS.

The Micro Focus Visual COBOL development and deployment products will run within an IaaS environment today, with no change to your existing application code.  Additionally, our Visual COBOL for Azure product provides direct access and capability to Microsoft PaaS tools and technologies, including integration with our COBOL deployment platform.  These technologies make it possible to bring many of today’s enterprise applications originally designed for single user access into an elastic, multi-tenanted model, enabling an enterprise to bring SaaS delivery to its customers.

Focus on what matters

Visual COBOL offers developers a means by which to take existing applications to Cloud architectures today. Reusing existing core applications enables development teams to focus on new inventive capabilities and user enhancements, rather than core business service design and development.  The result and savings to the business is reduced risk, lower cost, and faster time to market.  Visual COBOL makes the leap to the Cloud a simple step forward.

Are you ready to elevate towards innovation?

IT – Bank on Investment

Emerging drivers shaping IT change in financial services

Introduction

“A revolution may be required to help institutions become both more efficient and flexible for their customers”. Strong words, softly spoken. In his recent Daily Telegraph article, ‘Bleak Future for the Banks of Tomorrow’, Harry Wilson asserted that straitened economic conditions and growing industry regulations will squeeze the banking business more than ever. So how are these adverse external factors impacting the financial services industry’s IT organizations – and what are their CIOs going to do about it?

The Diversion of Disruptive Forces

‘Disruptive technologies’ and ‘disruptive innovation’ represent the next generation of challenges for IT and commerce. A new wave of technology – and a new generation of technically savvy end-users – has driven social media, Cloud computing, big data and mobile to the forefront of IT computing.

Two of Gartner’s top 10 innovations most likely to change the face of business, and two of the three critical trends for 2013 cited by Gartner VP David Cappuccio at the recent ITXpo event (Orlando, October 2012), were Mobile and Cloud[1]. Forrester’s 2012 conference season emphasized the theme of ‘digital disruption’ and queried whether CIOs were ‘disruptive enough’. This new pace of change needs to be supported by the industry, and meet the emerging and diverging demands of stakeholders, business leaders, shareholders and a new breed of smart, vocal users. Mobile computing, social media, Cloud, big data, BYOD and other dynamic drivers are not going away and must be embraced.

The Shadow of ‘IT Debt’

Meanwhile, some IT organizations sit on top of a large heap of unfulfilled business requests as their time-served resources, systems and processes struggle to support the throughput of ‘business as usual’ change requests. The number of unmet requirements in the IT backlog is often referred to as ‘technical debt’. Gartner believes that IT debt – the failure to keep up with even normal business change – will exceed a staggering $1Tr by 2015. Worryingly, 46% of IT decision-makers admit they don’t know the value of their own IT Debt[2], and 57% of the same respondents confess to having no clear picture of their application portfolio. Gartner and Forrester both reference alarming additional stats: 48% of senior leaders believe they have the policies to meet the challenges of digital disruption versus the 24% of their staff. There are many like this.

Regulations continue to bite

Recent high-profile compliance failures in the financial industry are leading to stricter regulations with more rigid authorizations. Earlier this year the Financial Services Authority (FSA) demanded details of how major banks plan to prevent a repeat of the Royal Bank of Scotland’s mainframe blackout. This hasn’t escaped the notice of Harry Wilson, whose article highlights the banking scandals that have prompted calls for tougher regulation: “Libor-rigging … payment protection insurance … money-laundering probes”, but believes that “politicians and regulators have no shortage of excuses to launch a new clampdown”. The increased emphasis on compliance and control means FS organizations need to implement ever-more robust internal governance and reporting systems, making IT more expensive and complicated to manage.

Chartered Institute of Internal Auditors (CIIA) research reveals that 60% of FSA fines in 2011 were due to weaknesses in the risk management systems of financial services organizations. Managing these changes manually is very difficult and Thomson Reuters suggests the number of regulations needing attention is growing. Viewed in the context of Wilson’s article, the concerns raised by the ongoing disputes in the USA with Wells Fargo and JPMorgan and continued pressure points in the global economy suggests that these controls will become even more intense.

A proactive response

This tells us that CIOs face three sets of pressures – three equally daunting IT challenges, all demanding the attention of the same resources and core IT systems. Encouragingly, a recent Computer Weekly survey of CIOs, ’Finance CIOs reveal plans to recover from recession outlined a wide-ranging, proactive investment program that would enable IT to support critical business change: 55 bank CIOs revealed how they are investing in IT to help them emerge stronger from the recession. Significantly, when asked for their top three IT priorities for the next three years, 27% nominated upgrading IT systems, 22% improving customer experience, 20% mobile banking and 18% said moving to the Cloud. One banking organization reportedly plans an £80m overhaul of its core systems[3].

It should be seen as positive how ’new business‘ investment has been prioritized, even though half of those surveyed were still aiming to save money – perhaps even the cost-conscious recognize the opportunity to innovate their way out of trouble, through a number of means, with a laser-focus on return on investment on their projects?

As they consider strategies for emerging from recession, financial services organizations need to ensure that any fresh IT investments they make are low-risk, cost-efficient and provide the rapid route to innovation and improved customer service they badly need.

As such, there will be a growing reliance on technology solutions that maximize existing investments, minimize upheaval and unnecessary change while helping to streamline and accelerate business services. Boston Consulting, a financial services consulting group reported in September 2012 that ’New products that function immediately and quick cycle times are more necessary than ever‘.

The future-savvy financial organization includes a solid financial commitment to internal IT in their portfolio. The time for smart IT investment is now.

www.microfocus.com


[1] http://www.pcadvisor.co.uk/news/mobile-phone/3406753/gartners-top-10-tech-trends-for-2013/

[2] Source: Vanson Bourne, 2012

[3] Sunday Telegraph, 21OCT12