Covid-19's ongoing disruptive effect on businesses around the world has prompted organisations across all sectors to seek out digital transformation and application modernisation services in 2021. But whilst executives' top priorities today are clearly agility and advancing business growth, the reality is that there is still a persistent and pervasive disconnect between this innovative future and one of the most fundamental pieces of enterprise foundations: mainframes. In fact, 220 billion lines of 50-year-old COBOL code are still in use today, and according to IBM, 45 of the top 50 banks, four of the top five airlines, and seven of the top ten global retailers are still reliant on the mainframe.
Amidst a greater emphasis on IT success, 2022 will therefore serve as a pivotal year for the enterprise to step further into the modern age and reap the benefits of modernisation. Building on our 35+ years of experience leading these types of projects for global enterprises, we break down the following six principles to guide you along your legacy modernization journey:
1. Gain executive sponsorship
Without executive sponsorship, finding the resources needed to properly execute a modernisation project will be a challenge. It’s critical to gain sponsorship early on and continue to include executives throughout the project as it develops. A few of the responsibilities executive sponsors should assume include the following:
- Keeping projects regulated with the organization’s direction
- Managing project risks
- Working with sponsors
- Providing feedback and assurance
2. Know what you have and who owns it
Establish ownership of each of the following components as part of your modernisation project. There may be more, depending on your environment, but these are the staples:
- Primary programming languages (such as COBOL, PL/I, CA Gen, and Natural)
- Secondary programming languages (Easytrieve, REXX and Assembler)
- Data infrastructure and data stored in files and relational databases
- Infrastructure for batch applications (including JCL, supporting utilities, and Job Scheduler)
- Online application infrastructure (including TP System and User Interface screens)
- Application and system-level security (like RACF, Top Secret, and ACF2)
- Output, content and report management (like CA-View/Deliver, ASG-Mobius, and IBM FileNet)
- Development, testing, and QA infrastructure
- Production, failover, and disaster recovery infrastructure
- Application modernisation architecture and tooling
3. Know where you are going
Always begin a modernisation project with an analysis or assessment. During the assessment phase, make sure you have a technology partner who can provide a detailed analysis of your unique environment, walk you through specific requirements and recommend various target environments for different applications. Pay extra attention to performance. For example, will you achieve desired performance levels in a virtualised environment? Can it work in the Cloud? What is the support ecosystem for the target environment?
4. Understand the bigger picture and include the broader mainframe ecosystem: operations and infrastructure
By understanding the role of operations and infrastructure, you can minimise rework and unexpected delays during the project initiation phase of your project. You should include internal stakeholders for support processes and other operational considerations during project planning and solution design. In many cases, the application team running a project lacks experience with infrastructure projects and related procurement and support processes in the target environment.
5. Prepare for testing early and execute in parallel with the project
Testing is a hugely important part of all modernisation projects, and in most cases, testing accounts for more than half of the overall effort of the project. Be sure to avoid wasted time in post-migration testing by thoroughly preparing test-related artefacts such as test scripts, data and test plans, leveraging existing testing assets and processes wherever possible. In many cases, documentation around test cases is rare. Dedicate the resources necessary to ensure proper documentation of all test cases relevant to the mainframe migration. In general, know that you need to begin the testing process early. Don’t underestimate the required effort level to ensure comprehensive and proper testing.
6. Be selective about what you modernise
Finally, remember that not everything has to be converted, nor would you want to convert everything just for the sake of doing so. Be careful to segregate "master input files" from other intermediate file types and gather all associated record layouts. Determine a strategy for your archived data (often stored on tape storage) and be prepared to complete a thorough “housekeeping” exercise. What is the nature of the data? Who is the owner? What is the legal requirement to keep it? What are the business reasons for keeping it? How long does the data need to be retained? Is the retention of this data a revenue generator? The answers to these questions will aid in determining what needs to be converted as part of the project or retained and converted at a later date on demand. Taking on a modernisation project might seem overwhelming, but when done correctly, it can have incredible business outcomes, including operating cost reduction, increased application elasticity, Cloud-enabled states, digital transformation benefits, and improved security.