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Mainframe Modernization: Tips to Ease the Transition

By Destination Z posted Mon December 23, 2019 03:32 PM

Some of us in the mainframe world may be shaking our heads when we hear the term mainframe modernization. We have a bright, new, shiny and ultrafast mainframe in our data center. What’s there to modernize?

Well, mainframe hardware isn’t the issue. The latest mainframes are powerful and provide tremendous throughput. The modernization concern emanates from legacy applications with unstructured and/or non-normalized data. The dilemma is where to start. Mainframe shops have met with various successes and failures in modernization. What can tilt the pendulum more toward the successes?

While there’s no magic potion for mainframe modernization, some of the following tips will definitely help with the effort.


Without senior management commitment from IT and business units, a modernization effort is doomed from the start. Management needs to recognize that this commitment is longterm. This endeavor isn’t a sprint but more like a marathon. To obtain this level of commitment, clear objectives and benefits need to be communicated.


Building a strong modernization team starts by selecting a dynamic and energetic project lead. This person should have strong knowledge of the overall business processes. The project team should consist of core team and transitional team members. The core team members are permanent and work on the project as it moves from one business area to another. The core team members should include a data architect, business analysts, infrastructure engineers, development specialists and security analysts.

The transitional team members are staff that has the particular business unit knowledge. Their involvement would be needed during the project phase related to their area. These team members may consist of subject matter experts for the business area, database analysts, developers and system engineers.

Business Processes

A modernization project can maximize overall effectiveness by enhancing business processes. This requires a clear understanding of business processes and the way it affects other business area processes. Making application code more efficient and enhancing database structures will have minimal benefit to the organization unless the underlying business processes are also changed or enhanced.

Data, Data, Data

A thorough understanding of organization’s data is a must for any successful modernization effort. All data used in the project should be well documented. Then, the new data structure can be developed. Simplifying legacy code starts with normalizing unstructured legacy data.


Several key tools need to be acquired to optimize the effort and improve timelines. Top on the list are data replication and synchronization tools. While new data structures are being design, a data synchronization tool can provide frequent refreshes of data and allow more production-like testing. Data cleansing and masking tools will also be helpful to straightened out and protect sensitive information. On the administrative side, a strong collaborative tool will allow multiple staff members to work on the same document simultaneously. A document collaboration site provides a central repository for all project documents which are well organized and accessible by all team members. Cloud resources should also be considered for rapid provisioning of testing and quality assurance infrastructure.


Mainframe modernization should be viewed as a continual process improvement that works to add value. Legacy code and data designs were developed over many years so the process to make improvements should be gradual. High transactional and batch systems should be left for the tail end of the project. Systems where the data is much more static should be tackled first. Select a large component to work on and break it down to segments that can be completed in a three to four month timeframe. Establishing incremental successes is vital for morale and momentum on the overall effort.

Communication Plan

A strong communication plan starts with internal marketing of the project to both IT and business areas. Early communication should list planned improvements and benefits. The ongoing message should highlight the significance of input from all IT and business staff. Since a good mainframe modernization project incorporates business process changes and enhancement, the business area needs to be updated regularly on changes and milestone successes.

Finally, do we have the correct title for the effort? Does mainframe modernization have the right connotation? Most organizations have a modern mainframe but run legacy systems. Would it be better to call the effort something like Flexible Advancement of System Technology (F.A.S.T.)? A naming contest may be another possible option that can draw upon staff’s creativity. Mainframe modernization is not a stop and start program. It’s a longterm commitment to make changes that add value to the organization and meet the customers evolving needs.

Greg Blatnik has worked at Medical Mutual for 17 years managing various aspects of infrastructure include IBM mainframe, iSeries/pSeries, Virtualization (VMWare), enterprise email, enterprise work at home environment and server farm.
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