CIO Zone

Mainframe: Antiquated work horse or evolving war horse?

Read time 4min 20sec
Gerard King is CA Southern Africa mainframe pre-sales and support engineer.
Gerard King is CA Southern Africa mainframe pre-sales and support engineer.

Much like Oscar Wilde, who said “the rumours of my death have been greatly exaggerated”, the death of the mainframe has been predicted widely by both media and technology pundits.

Fortunately for the many large businesses reliant on mainframe, it is alive and well, and according to one Forrester report, is leveraged by 92 of the top 100 banks worldwide, 23 of the top 25 US retailers, all 10 of the world’s largest insurers and 23 of the planet’s 25 largest airlines.

But the mainframe is not as remote as the everyday user of technology, which is all of us, might think. The next time you draw cash at an ATM, you can remind yourself that you have just used a mainframe. 

Far from being an almost distinct dinosaur, today it plays a central role in the daily operations of most of the world's largest corporations. The Forrester stats bear testament to the fact that mainframe computers play a mission-critical role in banking, finance, healthcare, insurance, utilities, government, and a multitude of other public and private enterprises. 

In short, it continues to be the foundation of many modern businesses as it handles the data processing needs of large enterprises and runs complex programs.

While some companies talk of their mainframe-based applications as assets, others view them as liabilities that impede the ability to innovate. Old applications embody calcified processes that prevent organisations from responding to market opportunities with new products and services.

Despite its decades-long heritage, thinking of mainframe as out-dated is a mistake. The mainframe is a tool and how it is used ultimately determines its relevance in the business technology arena.

Further, the design strengths of the mainframe – including reliability and stability – are just some of the factors that have contributed to its longevity. Many IT organisations host their most important applications on mainframe computers, including customer order processing, financial transactions, production and inventory control, payroll and various other tasks. 

So the mainframe continues to be very much a part of the digital business ecosystem and the question is certainly not its imminent demise but rather ensuring its vital role in a multi-cloud world.

While some companies talk of their mainframe-based applications as assets, others view them as liabilities that impede the ability to innovate.

The customer is king in the age of the application economy and digital transformation. The drive for speed to counter competitors and deliver new and agile solutions has never been greater. However, successful digital businesses have found the secret to unleashing the data and business processes within their mainframe-based applications by adopting a more customer-centric operational model.

Big data and analytics have brought big opportunities to better serve customers. Consistent, quality, personalised customer service experiences are key to success and are regarded as competitive differentiators in crowded industries. Both of these technologies will drive organisations to the cloud to leverage their valuable mainframe data and turn it into actionable insights.

However, Forrester notes some organisations tend to deprioritise the mainframe when approaching new customer experience initiatives. This is counterintuitive: the mainframe, which houses most, if not all, of a company’s customer and transactional data, must be prioritised.

So, what must IT departments do to ensure they are getting the most from their mainframe investments and resolve issues across the entire IT landscape? Further, how can the mainframe be leveraged to grow revenue, and attract and retain top talent to support their mainframe initiatives? 

The trick here is to maximise value through an integrated and agile platform in a multi-cloud world where not everyone is aware of the vital role the mainframe can play. 

Fortunately, by taking strategic action, companies can get more value from their mainframes and become more customer-focused, ultimately boosting the bottom line. Integration, modernisation, and moving toward a self-driven data centre are all on the menu, but so is being able to advocate for the mainframe.

Furthermore, despite heavy cloud adoption by organisations around the globe, the mainframe remains an essential, growing platform in this changing IT landscape. 

For example, the Open Mainframe Project reports that 86% of organisations believe mainframes are either extremely or very integral to their ability to remain competitive. Additionally, 79% of businesses surveyed felt mainframes are more secure and 74% believe they deliver more benefits than cloud solutions.

While mainframes still serve as the IT backbone of many organisations, multi-cloud is quickly becoming a reality, even for the staunchest mainframe defenders.

The RightScale 2019 State Of The Cloud Report from Flexera found that 84% of respondents are using more than four cloud platforms. While the mainframe will act as the hub for business-critical applications for over half of organisations, companies are looking at ways to extend its capabilities.

In my next Industry Insight I will highlight some of the challenges that surround mainframe and expand on the benefits of implementing strategic action – a mainframe call to arms.

Gerard King

CA Southern Africa mainframe pre-sales and support engineer

Gerard King, CA Southern Africa mainframe pre-sales and support engineer, commenced his career in mainframe operations in the financial sector in 1982. In a career that has spanned almost 40 years, he completed training in mainframe assembler programming and moved from operations to systems programming.

King has spent the past 32 years as a z/OS systems programmer working at major financial and insurance corporations. He joined CA Southern Africa over a decade ago and is responsible for mainframe support and pre-sales.

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