The drive towards mainframe modernisation has never been louder

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Mainframes are challenging to CIOs, and that’s a trend that’s only going to grow over time. While the mainframe approach to computing delivered enterprises with powerful and reliable horsepower for core and critical business applications, maintaining and adapting them to modern conditions is becoming more challenging.

Consider the example of Cobol. A programming language that was integral to mainframe computing, Cobol has been effective for 61 years, but computer science programs aren’t even teaching it, and the pool of talent that can manage Cobol is shrinking. It got so severe that in the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, American government agencies were asking Cobol programmers to come out of retirement just to maintain the unemployment systems.

“The time is now,” Al Auda, Accenture Managing Director, said in an exclusive interview with IDG. “Now is the time to look into what needs to be done, assess the platform, get the buy-in, get the budget and embark on this journey.”

Mitigating risk

According to Auda, there are three particular risks with maintaining a mainframe environment into the future that is keeping CIOs up at night.

  • The cost of environments is escalating. As organisations add new applications based on business demand, the IT environment eats into their licenses, so the cost of operations and maintaining the environment scales every year.
  • Skills are in short supply. As highlighted in the example above, mainframe environments typically feature legacy coding and technologies, and finding people that can manage that becomes more of a headache every year. As early as 2011 the looming skills shortage was a talking point, but it has got to the point that the government has been handing out free degrees and guaranteed employment as a way of trying to stem the tide.
  • The monolithic nature of mainframes hurts competitiveness. Making changes to and updating applications within a mainframe environment can be a process that takes weeks, if not months. With modern business being focused on agility and flexibility, the rigidity of mainframes is a disconnect that can potentially lead to a disadvantageous position.

“We recently conducted an analysis on the challenges and risks clients in the space in this space, and almost two thirds out of the 100 people that we talked to agree that high cost of operations and maintaining the solutions year in and year out is becoming very expensive,” Auda said.

The most challenging transformation

The flip side of the coin is that transforming from these monolithic mainframe environments is a major project and challenge in its own right. “Mainframe modernisation programmes are fairly complex and is typically run via a programme that spans a three, five, or even 10- or 12-years project,” Auda said.

Meanwhile, only around one in three transformation projects deliver on their expected value. Given the criticality of the applications that are housed on the mainframe, enterprises can’t afford for these solutions to fail to deliver, and so building the right strategy to approach mainframe modernisation is important to the very health of the business.

As Auda said, the approach that CIOs need to take is strategic, and focused on the whole-of-business outcomes.

“Securing the funds for this kind of project is very important,” Auda said. “I would firstly advise CIOs to ensure that they have done that before embarking on this journey.

“In terms of securing the funds, what I've seen in clients is that they have to complement that with a justifiable business case. So, I advise the people who are sponsoring these kind of programmes, to go spend some cycles and look into what the business case looks like. That way, they can realise the value across three, five, or ten years.

“It's also worth it to look into partners that have done this work and have the scars, as it would help clients accelerate the programme from the get-go,” Auda added. “By partnering with a global SI, they don't have to struggle with resourcing or skill sets that can help them complete this journey and integrate it into your digital and cloud transformation agendas.”

For any mainframe modernisation effort, the shift to the cloud needs to be embraced across all lines of business and will require a change management program across the whole of business. Once that shift has happened, however, enterprises can expect a more dynamic and competitive IT environment, with hybrid clouds delivering agility, scalability and flexibility while maintaining a high security profile.

For more information on mainframe optimisation solutions at Accenture, click here.

Read the first article of this series “How SD-WAN is delivering future-proof IT platforms to Australian enterprises” here.

Read the second article of this series "How successful integration solutions maximise the value of data" here.

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