Before this new reality, many businesses were already looking at the mainframe as incompatible with agile practices and a bottleneck to delivering customer capability. For some, it’s created a false dichotomy—either tolerating what has traditionally been their slowest-moving part or completely transitioning away from it.
For those who opted to take the latter path, we’ve seen cases where millions of dollars and precious R&D time was squandered, only for many teams to conclude that the performance, reliability, security and scalability of the mainframe can’t be matched. For those who chose the former “toleration mode,” there’s no time to waste, which is why it’s so crucial to start building the right foundations now.
As we look toward economic recovery and beyond, there will be little room for similar false starts or the status quo—modernising mainframe software development and delivery was already an existential business need, and it’s only become more urgent. To help with that journey, here are some of the most successful approaches we’ve seen across a variety of organisations, both in modernising the mainframe and making it more appealing to its next generation of keepers.
Bringing the mainframe up to speed
Make sure there’s a growth mindset. What we’ve seen is that the most common impediment to modernisation is neither cost nor capacity—it’s a lack of understanding of what’s possible on the mainframe and a cultural will to support change. As a first step, organisations need to ensure they’ve explored the full capability and availability of tools and processes that can allow them to modernise the mainframe. But there also needs to be a rapid cultural shift toward continuous improvement and learning—part of what we call a “growth mindset”—by putting in place the right structures, processes and KPIs. These can help precipitate the culture necessary for further change, a culture that actively seeks challenge and sees failure as a learning opportunity.
Walk before you run. Just because you need to move fast doesn’t mean you need to move recklessly. Some of the most successful outcomes we’ve seen have started with a Value Stream Mapping exercise—mapping out the entire development process from an idea right through to delivery of code—in order to pinpoint your most significant time delays. Find a narrow focus with the deepest impact on time and cost. For many, automating testing processes can offer the quickest wins, but a more structured look is necessary to know for sure.
Use small successes to convert your biggest sceptics into influencers. Piggybacking on the last point, a quick win will help make the case to your biggest cynics. Particularly for those with long histories and experience with the mainframe, you might run into pessimism about what can work. But these people also tend to enjoy some of the highest regard and influence within that part of the organisation. You can dramatically accelerate the change process by proving value to these influencers-in-waiting.
Focusing on these quick wins can also help cultivate a “fail fast” mentality, where influencers start to champion rapid iteration and adjustment, further bending your organisational culture toward one that will support—and even seek out—change.
Ensuring the mainframe has a new generation of keepers
Prioritise new talent and update old myths. We’re already starting to see the attrition of longer-serving, traditional custodians of the mainframe. This means people with 40, 50 years of knowledge are exiting the market entirely, making the need for succession planning more urgent than ever.
Fortunately, modernising your mainframe processes and tools tends to go hand-in-glove with speaking to newer talent, while a growth mindset can create an environment that appeals to pioneering graduates eager for fresh challenges. But this means businesses need to be vocal about modernisation and make a concerted effort to reach graduates and developers earlier in their careers. A lot of our own development team members are recent graduates, and this was at least partially the result of going out of our way to draw parallels to what they had learned in university. When paired with more modern developer experiences, powerful servers that run huge portions of the world’s activities can become a lot more enticing.
Make sure the tools are there. Of course, that means you’ll need to back up your outreach with a genuinely more modern developer experience. There are a variety of ways to achieve this—for instance, look at IDEs. Green screens and shortcut keys don’t resonate with developers who’ve been learning with modern graphical user interfaces. Prioritise options that marry mainframe code development with tools graduates will recognise, ones that are fully user-interactive with options to cut and paste or drag and drop.
Even before the urgencies of an economic downturn, businesses faced competitors and disruptors ready to eat their lunch by using more nimble, iterative practices.
These are the concrete steps you can take today in order to transform the mainframe, attract a new pool of talent and ensure your business’s place in a faster, more customer-centric world.
Ken Martin recently joined Compuware as the Regional Director APAC, based out of Sydney. Ken has held a variety of senior sales leadership roles in companies that include HP, Oracle and CA Technologies. With more than 25 years’ experience in the IT industry Ken has proven a versatile and knowledgeable leader, and trusted adviser to his clients.