Thought Leadership: GT Software's Dusty Rivers Says the Mainframe Is Far From Running Dry

A man as accomplished as Dusty Rivers, principal technical architect for GT Software, has every right to toot his own horn. Reflecting on his career in a recent phone interview, he acknowledged that there are two things he is most proud of from a professional standpoint. First and foremost is his longevity in the technology industry. "I have been in the IT industry for 38 years," he declared. "I'm what is known as an 'old-timer.’"

Indeed, he began his career in June 1977 as an engineer for BellSouth, sticking with the company for nearly two decades. In the spring of 1997, he became a senior engineer and consultant at IONA Technologies. Seven years later, he joined GT Software, a leader in helping enterprise organizations align their mainframe infrastructure and information with business strategy.

The second thing he is most proud of? "I'm an IBM Champion for six years running now," he said, "and I am very proud to be recognized as that!" An official designation by Big Blue, IBM Champions are recognized on an annual basis for their knowledge of and passion for IBM's technology. They include everyone from programmers to developers to educators.

Rivers is among the most experienced of the IBM Champions, having had a long and rich history in global mainframe systems integration at GT Software. "The funny thing about being around for as long as I have is that when I started, the mainframe was pretty much the only computing platform available," he said. "But most of what was there then, is still there now — the security, the scalability, the dependability. You can put systems on the mainframe as big as you need. The mainframe is reliable because it doesn't go down, and it doesn't lose data."

Rivers maintains that the mainframe is still a key component in corporate infrastructures. Over the years, he has worked with many global companies, such as large banking, manufacturing and insurance companies, to allow their mainframe business logic and data to be used in newly distributed applications. He has also worked with large enterprise organizations helping them to integrate their mainframes with new application infrastructures. These applications include mobile, cloud, business analytics (BA) and other distributed applications.

When asked to rank the most important improvement he has seen over the past four decades with regards to the mainframe, Rivers was quick to answer "connectivity." He noted that the mainframe’s strengths — security, scalability and dependability— can sometimes be perceived as weaknesses, especially when talking about security. "Sometimes, the mainframe is perceived as hard to get to, hard to use and hard to interface with," he said. But he acknowledges that more companies have changed their ideas about the mainframe. "Its adaptability is impressive. I am working with a company now, and their systems were written in the 1970s, way before any of this new technology. But their mainframe is being integrated into the new mobile applications without any issues."

Nevertheless, Rivers concedes that there are still some strides that need to be made to improve the mainframe's reputation and status, especially in the eyes of young IT professionals and those controlling their companies' purse strings. "One of the things I would like to take off the table is that the mainframe is a bad word," he said. "Some of the perceptions of the mainframe being old and expensive are changing. If you really do the math, in some instances, the mainframe is actually a lot cheaper than some of the new solutions." Rivers believes the perception that the mainframe is old and hard to use is holding the technology back. However, he said, there are new academic initiatives geared towards the mainframe, which spells good news for younger generations. "There is a skills gap with a lot of us older guys who are going to be retiring in the next few years. There's a huge opportunity for younger people to jump into these jobs," he said.

Moving forward, Rivers sees a huge opportunity to continue sharing his knowledge with the technology community. He has been a presenter and a featured speaker at various IBM conferences in the United States, South Africa and throughout Europe. One of his more recent speaking engagements was in August at SHARE in Orlando, where he delivered a presentation describing why IBM's Information Management System (IMS) still matters and how to leverage it with such modern technologies as business intelligence and business analytics.

So, what is it that continues to drive him? "More than anything, I love solving problems," Rivers replied. "I love it when someone says to me, 'Hey, I never knew you could do that,'" he said."On the other hand, it's tough when you tell someone, 'You can do this,' and there is still that uncertainty and doubt. The hardest part for me is knowing that customers can be successful, but, because of fear, they won’t take the next step."

In particular, Rivers sees more customers looking for solutions that do not include complex integration setups and cumbersome support requirements. "I often talk about what I call the ‘app mentality,'” he said. "If I go to a customer and they have the app mentality, they typically go to the app store and get an application in five seconds, download it and test it. If they don't like it, they throw it away and go get another one. Well, then they go into a group and someone says, 'It's going to take six weeks for me to give you this function.' They're going to ask, "Why?' So, yes, I think they are definitely looking for simpler solutions."

Looking ahead to 2016, Rivers is excited and hopeful for the future. On a personal level, he is eager to help GT Software expand its clientele, which currently includes more than 2,500 organizations worldwide that depend on the firm's solutions to enhance their operational efficiency and customer service. Overall, he believes mainframe technology still presents a lot of opportunities for both newer and more experienced IT professionals. "There will be opportunities in the cloud, analytics, mobile and even opportunities in the mainframe."

- Information Inc.

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