Bringing a mainframe database into the modern era of reporting

Johannesburg, 07 May 2019
Read time 4min 30sec
Sam Selmer-Olsen, MD, Bateleur Software.
Sam Selmer-Olsen, MD, Bateleur Software.

The IT department of one of South Africa's leading universities had run into a problem all too many technologists encounter. The staff at the university had many reports to produce, often at ad hoc notice, but couldn't do so without the direct intervention of the IT staff.

Insights had to be drawn from across a wide variety of databases, spanning several generations. Oracle, Microsoft SQL and MySQL platforms sit side-by-side, each also splintered into many instances. Unifying the data on these is critical for future reporting ease.

At the core sits an ADABAS database, a reliable workhorse that the university depends on. This system is too stoic for the modern world of integration and on-demand reporting. To have the relevant data pulled required the hands of several IT staff, as well as overnight batch jobs. Despite ADABAS's reliability, its differences with modern database systems and ad hoc reporting requirements had created friction that needed addressing.

As the university embarked on expanding and improving its business intelligence functions, the lack of harmony between ADABAS and its younger contemporaries was placing pressure on IT staff. Specialist resources were always in demand to maintain the reporting ability of the system, limiting the ability to attract new talent for the newer platforms. A balance had to be struck between the valuable ADABAS resource and the new additions to the university's technology investments.

"ADABAS remains a key part of many major database systems," says Sam Selmer-Olsen, managing director of Bateleur Software. "But, since technology moves so fast, a gap has formed between many of these well-established systems and new ones. Many companies then ignore it, thinking that their only choice is to rip-and-replace. But that is not true at all."

Seeking a conduit

Microsoft SQL was chosen as the database from which reporting could be orchestrated, particularly as it connects easily to SharePoint, which serves as the reporting interface layer. Data for reporting would be sent there, allowing university staff to produce reports with little to no help from IT.

Several of the university's databases needed to feed data into this reporting layer, including ADABAS. Yet, staff still had to manually cube and mark data for the reports. Thus they set out to find an elegant and cost-effective solution, both in price and resource requirements, to bridge the gap.

Extensive consultations led to Treehouse's tcVision. This solution focuses on changed data capture when transferring information between mainframe data sources and LUW databases and applications. Its support for different combinations is staggering, while the integration and skills required are not burdensome. A POC further confirmed that tcVision was the right fit to resolve the university's database impasse. With the help of Bateleur, Treehouse's South African partner, tcVision could be positioned to bring the ADABAS data closer to the coalface of the university users.

DIY reporting

When one hears talk around IT spending a lot of time on operational tasks, reporting is a perfect example. There is no direct benefit for IT to be involved in the reporting of other departments, hence doing so is operational in nature. Reducing those types of encumbrances is key to a successful technology strategy that grows the parent entity, in this case, the university.

The introduction of tcVision had that impact. Staff dedicated to ADABAS data transfers reduced by at least a third and by some metrics to a sixth. Better yet, much more of the reporting can now be done by university staff through a visual client, reducing even more reliance on IT to usher the process along. Demands for ad hoc reports happen less often, which frees IT resources and stops disrupting other projects.

"This project has been a great demonstration for us, showing that older and newer systems don't need to be at odds. No business likes having its back against the wall, but often, technology decisions make it feel like that. What the university implemented shows there is a better way around these challenges."

The university's BI strategy is on much firmer rails. The IT team can now look at merging more data into the reporting layer, such as bridging the Oracle and MySQL databases in the institution. Overall, the IT department at the university can take a more confident view around integration and modernising its technology. This will help attract new talent to its staff, eager to implement new technologies.

The takeaways from this case study are simple yet revolutionary. It is obvious that reducing the operational burden on an IT department depends on two areas: empowering users to do it themselves, and modernising relationships between stalwart and new systems. Through the deft application of tcVision, both were accomplished. It's not the end of the journey, yet certainly a major milestone and the beginning of a new era.

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