How the Right Tools Can Help Exploit the Mainframe
Some organizations are very tempted by the idea of ditching long-established or legacy mainframe applications in favor of new applications on new platforms, often because they want a more modern interface or new features. If your company is facing this situation I urge you to stop and think again, because, with the help of tools such as enterprise content management (ECM), you could enjoy the benefits you are seeking without abandoning the mainframe.
Maybe you want to make your core applications more accessible to more users. Or maybe you feel that switching to a new platform will make it easier to embrace digital channels—after all, most mainframe applications were not built with multichannel access in mind, and many were written even before the widespread adoption of email.
Most likely the original development team for your mainframe applications are no longer around to make the functionality changes you have in mind—and you don’t have in-house developers with the required z/OS training and expertise to do it.
At the same time, you might feel a little stuck; while the idea of moving to a new platform might be tempting, implementing any new application is a major undertaking that involves risk. Your mainframe application has been reliably doing its job for many years; how well will a new application fare in comparison? Other systems may be relying on it, so any outage could have widespread repercussions. You also need to consider whether and how you migrate data to the new application.
Fear not, ECM could be your answer! The more advanced ECM systems can take the existing output from mainframe applications—including spool and data files—and transform it into modern digital formats suitable for Web, email and mobile channels. The content can be hosted within an in-built online portal that allows secure Web and mobile access to an organization’s internal staff, customers and business partners. The upshot is a wide range of potential benefits including improved accessibility, better collaboration and streamlined processes.
The beauty of this approach is that there is no software development required. The underlying mainframe application can continue doing what it has always done so well (such as billing or transaction processing at high volume) with no disruption, while the content is freed up to be used flexibly in all manner of ways that support modern business.
You can Web-enable existing invoices, statements and delivery notes, for example, allowing you to introduce electronic invoicing without having to amend or replace the original mainframe billing application. Or you can improve customer service, by making customer documents accessible online, both to internal staff, and externally to support customer self-service. Business reports and ERP documents can be turned into new digital formats, allowing wider access to enterprise information both to improve collaboration and to help streamline processes.
There is a fair bit of pressure on IT departments today to move off the mainframe. It’s easy to believe that this is the correct long-term answer. However, it’s worth remembering that even if you implement new applications now, it’s possible that in five or 10 years you’re facing a similar situation: technology has moved on again, the platform you have chosen seems to be constricting you and you are contemplating the headache of another new IT implementation.
With this in mind it might be better to stay on the tried and trusted mainframe platform. Tools such as ECM can help you to bring new functionality, while the underlying application ceaselessly continues to do the high performance processing work it has always done. Remember, too, that IBM is continuing to invest large sums in advancing mainframe hardware and software, meaning that it looks set to continue as the most robust, powerful, secure and scalable computing platform for many years to come.
Keith Banham has worked in IT for 35 years and is the R&D manager at Macro 4, responsible for the company's mainframe suite of products. Keith started as an Assembler programmer at a major bank and during his 30 years at Macro 4 has worked on many of the company’s solutions for application lifecycle management, application performance management, document management and session management. One of his recent roles was the modernization of these solutions by building web, Eclipse and mobile interfaces, as well as the modernization of Macro 4’s internal mainframe development environments.