Mainframe in the Era of Digital Transformation

Businesses today have the opportunity to introduce a mix of digital engagement and commerce technologies to transform their organizational activities, processes, competencies and models. At the center of this, the mainframe remains a key player. 

The average corporation may have a z/OS mainframe running its mission-critical applications, explained Donovan Deakin of Micro Focus in a recent SHARE presentation. But that same organization has likely added to its IT estate over the years by bringing in new distributed and cloud-based solutions for a range of use cases, from modern app development and delivery, to improving the customer experience, to delivering mobile experiences.

“As things have evolved, the mainframe has still been there, still rock solid,” Deakin said. This is due to the fact that the mainframe addresses some of the key challenges and risks that many organizations run into during the digital transformation process. These include security protections for sensitive data and high availability, even during periods of experimentation in the IT environment.

“When you try new things, how do you keep the airplane flying while you’re working on the engine?” Deakin asked.

As corporate IT evolves, so too must mainframe IT. Corporations are looking for ways to modernize their systems to reduce cost and risk, achieve benefits like web and mobile access, and align the business to new corporate and digital strategies. In fact, it’s likely that your organization is planning to modernize mainframe applications.

Deakin described several common digital transformation initiatives for the mainframe:

  • UX modernization – This is the simplest and most common transformation, and essentially involves adding modern, user-friendly interfaces to existing mainframe applications. UX modernization can be a bridge to a newer generation of mainframe admin, Deakin said, and it allows mainframers of all skill levels to work in a way that’s faster, easier and more productive.
  • Access modernization – An increasing number of users have direct or indirect access to the mainframe network, said Deakin. That includes employees, partners and external users, some of whom are on unmanaged endpoints. Access modernization involves thinking critically around who has access to the mainframe network, which devices they can access, and what level of privilege they need.
  • Integration modernization – This involves abstracting mainframe applications into reusable services, such as a 3270 interface that has been exposed as a web service or RESTful API. This allows for modern ways of working to be integrated with mainframe applications and data. Deakin offered the example of a municipal government office that allows its workers to conduct field work via an iPad. Through a web-based application, those workers are able to engage with mainframe-based data on the iPad without ever even knowing what a mainframe is.
  • Process modernization – More organizations are looking at embracing DevOps as a way to structure their IT departments, and the mainframe will need to be a part of that, Deakin said. The advantage to this is in creating a culture where organizations can rapidly develop, test and deploy applications, building in security and quality along the way.

Digital transformation is ultimately all about making steady and incremental improvements to the business’s technology and culture so that it can better serve its customers. The mainframe plays an important part not only as a grounding force within the IT environment, but also as a system that’s always evolving to help enable better ways of working.

Watch Donovan Deakin’s full presentation “DevOps: Fueling Digital Transformation - The Value and Role of the Mainframe” to get the full story on the mainframe’s role in digital transformation.

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