Charting the Journey to Transformation

Key Considerations for Success in a Distributed World

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“Transformation” is a fuzzy term. What does it mean? What does it entail? What does it require? The fact is, the meaning of transformation differs from business to business. What it entails is as unique as each company’s goals and objectives. What it requires varies greatly, depending on everything from resources to markets to operations.

Regardless of how you define transformation, it often involves a diverse set of IT capabilities that can deliver new forms of value to your customers.  Organizations with mainframes are in a unique position to leverage the platform in modern ways that deliver real ROI for your transformation initiatives.

IDC’s recently released report, The Business Value of the Transformative Mainframe”, provides deep insights into what drives and delivers a successful transformation. These insights can help businesses chart their individualized transformation journeys with clarity and confidence.

Transformation: Past and Present

To understand mainframe transformation as it is today, it is important to understand mainframe transformation from yesterday. Over the past several years, large organizations have recognized that technology advances and IT modernization efforts need to include the mainframe platform. Yes, distributed and cloud environments were coming into their own, but the mainframe could not be neglected. The platform was and is the repository of the majority of corporate data. It supplies tremendous processing power and boasts robust security. The mainframe could not -- then or now -- be dispensed with.

IDC’s research as of three years ago noted that mainframe organizations at the forefront of digital transformation invested in initiatives that made use of Java, API connections, mobile applications and web enablement. There was also movement to leverage Linux, and to integrate the mainframe platform into the DevOps process for increased agility.

Now, three years later, these initiatives have become standard practice across the majority of mainframe organizations. But transformation is an ongoing journey, and the mainframe is no exception. IDC’s current report reveals that leading mainframe organizations today are investing in multiple transformation initiatives -- typically from five to 10 at the same time. At the top of the list are investments in new mainframe hardware and/or software and adding modern mainframe tools to developer and administrator toolkits.

The sheer breadth of mainframe transformation initiatives in progress is impressive. The fact that companies are pursuing between five and 10 such initiatives concurrently is incredible. But, despite differences regarding which initiatives organizations consider to be top priority, there are four areas where businesses across all industries tend to be in alignment.

Business Growth from the “Inside-Out”

First, there is agreement that business growth is a major driver for mainframe transformation. However, here is the twist: While growth is always the goal for businesses, today much of that growth is being sought from the “inside-out,” according to PriceWaterhouseCoopers. In both their 22nd and 23rd Global CEO Survey they note executives are favoring internally focused initiatives in areas such as operational efficiency and organic growth over externally focused initiatives such as engaging in mergers and acquisitions or entering new markets.

“Inside-out” growth strategies dovetail perfectly with the mainframe’s capabilities, but transformation is necessary to harness the full growth potential. Such transformations, often including initiatives such as AIOps, may incorporate everything from microservices and containers to artificial intelligence and machine learning. The results are impressive: The IDC paper shows that businesses can achieve 19% lower cost of operations for the mainframe, 30% more efficient mainframe management and 14% lower hardware/ licensing costs. While there is an investment cost associated with modernizing the mainframe, that investment is more than worthwhile: The IDC report calculates that businesses can reap 6.2x more benefits than costs when they engage in mainframe transformation.

Increased Agility in a World of Change

A second commonality is the need for increased agility. With customer expectations and demands changing by the day, market and economy trends shifting with dizzying speed and technology advances moving at the speed of light, agility is absolutely critical for businesses today. The ability to respond quickly and effectively is a “must,” and that means that the mainframe platform has to embody the same agility as its distributed and cloud cousins. This agility is delivered through a variety of means, including modern tooling, full integration into the DevOps pipeline, automation, artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Agility also requires that the mainframe transformation be part of a broader IT transformation that includes implementing a strong hybrid cloud ecosystem. The IDC report affirms that “hybrid cloud— and at a later stage multicloud—is the most logical way to combine deep, valuable and secure assets with fast, dynamic availability of third party resources. This is especially true for organizations whose business depends on very large, high-speed transactional platforms such as the mainframe.”

Achieving agility through mainframe transformation brings a wealth of benefits. For example, the various lines of business (LOBs) within an organization can take on additional workloads, campaigns or initiatives swiftly. Better and faster data aggregation can improve decision-making capabilities and drive corporate strategy. And—of key importance— application development and code releases can get supercharged. The IDC report reveals that organizations engaged in mainframe transformation have 64% more code releases and need 44% less time per code release. Overall, survey participants reported a 27% faster development lifecycle for new applications, and a 52% faster development lifecycle for new features. The resulting impact on business efficiencies and customer satisfaction is staggering.

Skilled Resources for Sustainable Innovation

A third driver for mainframe transformation is concern for skilled resources. Many mainframe developers are approaching retirement, but their younger replacements do not want to step into their shoes … not exactly. The rising generation of developers and administrators are willing to work on the mainframe, but only if they can use the tools they are familiar with from the distributed environment—the mainframe and its traditional green screens are foreign and cumbersome to them.

Fortunately, tools that bridge the gap between the mainframe and the distributed ecosystem are flourishing. Industry-standard tools such as Jenkins, GitHub, Gradle, Python, Ruby and more can now be utilized on the mainframe. Open source projects such as Eclipse Che and the Zowe Project are the latest innovations that have not only revitalized the user interface but also allow teams to develop on the mainframe like any other cloud platform. This facilitates the seamless integration of the mainframe with other platforms from a development, deployment and monitoring perspective.

Delivering a cloudlike experience for mainframe users is a game changer for businesses. As tools expand their functionality beyond the desktop, application delivery teams are better able to make significant progress. Barriers to innovation come down as developers and DevOps architects respond with more agility to customer and business demands. Costs and cycle times decrease through self-service provisioning for mainframe assets. Developer and architect satisfaction and productivity skyrocket.

Robust Security for a Connected World

One final unifying force in mainframe transformation is security, as businesses contend with the ever-present threat of a breach. For example, recently, Capital One headlined as one of the biggest data breaches ever when a hacker exploited a misconfigured web application firewall to gain access to more than 100 million customers’ data. The loss of consumer trust, drop in stock prices and expenses associated with the breach all underscore why security is the top concern among IT with regard to private clouds, hybrid clouds, public clouds and multi clouds, according to the IDC report.

Although the mainframe is the most secure platform available, it is imperative that mainframe transformation initiatives include security since the platform is no longer isolated from the rest of the enterprise. Fortunately, recent advancements are mitigating the threats inherent in today’s hybrid IT/hybrid cloud world.

For instance, businesses can use artificial intelligence and machine learning to enhance monitoring and analytics capabilities. They can also implement a mainframe resource intelligence solution to protect against insider threats and other security risks by scanning traditional mainframe security and access platforms and comparing them against security best practices.

Charting the Course Forward

Ultimately, every organization’s mainframe transformation journey will be unique and individual. But it is a certainty that business growth, increased agility, skilled resources and strengthened security will be important milestones along the way. For more data and insights to help map out an effective and efficient course forward, read the full IDC report: “The Business Value of the Transformative Mainframe.”

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