Mention the word “mainframe,” and you’re apt to conjure up images of monolithic systems humming along reliably and dependably in the background of modern data centers. These days, you don’t hear nearly as much about mainframes as newer, sexier technologies like the iPhone or the iPad. But the vast proliferation of mobile devices and the subsequent surge in mobile Web access is actually making mainframes more relevant than ever, in this new world of “anytime, anywhere” computing where self-service reigns supreme.
According to research firm Gartner, mobile phones will overtake PCs as the most common Web-access device worldwide by 2013. This past holiday season was huge for mobile shopping:
- According to a recent survey conducted on behalf of PayPal, almost half of all consumers surveyed, 46 percent, reported plans to make holiday purchases with a mobile device this year.
- Similarly, Nuance Communications, Inc., reported that almost half, 47 percent, of consumers prefer to check their account balances via mobile devices for companies they do business with, including phone, utilities and credit cards.
- Finally, mobile banking has witnessed a sharp uptick over the past several years, as more consumers use their devices on the go (often in tandem with mobile shopping) to check account balances, pay bills and transfer money.
The Heart of the Self-Service Revolution
Today, more mainframe processing is occurring in real time than ever before in the form of transaction processing via the CICS transaction server (CTS). Mainframes power the top retailers, banks, insurance companies, telecommunications and manufacturing companies worldwide. As Figure 1 illustrates, the mainframe lies squarely at the intersection of various paths needed to fully complete a mobile e-commerce transaction.
The fulfillment of a mobile order involves a series of B2B processes commonly driven from the mainframe, starting with the cell phone accessing a cell tower, followed by inventory check, confirmation of authorization from the customer’s credit card company or bank, invoice generation and shipment instructions through a delivery service. The rise of self-service applications enabled through the mobile Web is dramatically increasing the number of these processes, making the scalability and reliability of the mainframe more important than ever.
As the mobile Web emerges as a key way for businesses to interact with consumers, customer-facing technologies like Web servers and instant scalability enablers, like the cloud, often receive the lion’s share of attention. However, the high-performance and efficiency of mainframes running on the backend shouldn’t be taken for granted. You need to ensure that your mainframe applications receive exceptional care and feeding from only the most well-tooled, well-trained professionals.
Concerns Over Skills Void
The results of a new independent research study commissioned by Compuware and conducted by Vanson Bourne into mainframe use in the enterprise revealed that 71 percent of CIOs worldwide are concerned the anticipated mainframe skills void will hurt their business.
Seventy-nine percent of CIOs confirm that mainframe application outages pose a significant business risk, yet 78 percent say these applications will remain a key business asset over the next decade. One minute of a mainframe application outage can cost a business nearly $14,000 in lost revenue, and 70 percent of CIOs agree that mainframe-related cost cuts will expose more risks than rewards.
Empowering Developers to Meet the Mobile Challenge
Experienced developers are mission-critical assets and it’s vital to continually invest in them as well as translate their knowledge to the newer generation of developers. One way to do this is to provide newer, less experienced mainframe developers with the technologies and tooling they need to bypass the steep learning curve and hit the ground running. For example, by moving to a more modern GUI, based on industry standard platforms like the open source Eclipse IDE, newer mainframe developers and programmers can better and more quickly learn the mainframe environment by leveraging graphical, Windows-like interfaces to which they are much more accustomed. This might include using drag-and-drop versus panel-to-panel navigation in order to manage files. This intuitive look-and-feel is familiar and comfortable to the larger population of non-mainframe programmers, and so it reduces the learning curve, helping to eliminate errors and ultimately lost revenue through application outages.
Modernized user interfaces for mature mainframe tools can exist within a common framework, side by side and perhaps with other non-mainframe tooling, so developers can flow easily from task to task while working on a complex mix of applications. By integrating these interfaces within an open development framework, a portfolio of feature-rich tooling is available within a single, easily navigated environment, helping to maximize new developer productivity.
Experienced developers who tend to leverage more traditional interfaces can also benefit from this tightly integrated workflow. In addition to greater productivity and efficiency, another equally important result is improved collaboration and problem solving between otherwise disparate workforces. This results in a smoother transfer of knowledge.
Don’t Overlook the Mainframe
2011 was a banner year for holiday shopping, with Cyber Monday revenues jumping 18 percent above 2010’s record high of $1 billion, according to IBM. The rise of mobile, and particularly mobile shopping, makes mainframe investments more important than ever. Consider that financial institutions process thousands of transactions every minute that need to be reflected in real-time.
Now is not the time to undercut, but rather, increase strategic investments in mainframe systems, particularly in tooling and technologies that will empower both newer generations of mainframe developers and veteran developers. This will drive a more seamless knowledge hand-off while helping both generations, and their businesses, to maximize the value of mainframe investments while meeting the challenge and opportunities of the mobile Web.
Dennis O’Flynn is product management director at Compuware.