Digital transformation: What about the mainframe?

30 August, 2019
Kevin Jackson

Digital transformation infuses digital technology into all areas of an organization’s business or mission. Its fundamental purpose is to create and deliver innovative and industry-changing digital products and services to a global customer base. By doing this, an enterprise gains an ability to quickly act and react to changing data, operational conditions and competitive strategies in a manner that supports rapid attainment of the organization’s goals.

A survey of 2,000 executives conducted by Cognizant in 2016 identified the top five ways digital transformation generates value:

  • Accelerating speed to market
  • Strengthening competitive positioning
  • Boosting revenue growth
  • Raising employee productivity; and
  • Expanding the ability to acquire, engage and retain customers

Digital transformation also changes the enterprise IT environment from exclusive data centers to one that also includes managed services and cloud computing. One of the key challenges with this, however, is the question: where does the mainframe fit? Many also have questions about changes to mainframe culture in today’s age of digital transformation.

The first question about fit is relatively easy to answer. Mainframes fit EVERYWHERE!

  • Banks process enormous volumes of transactions on mainframe computers. Investment banks prioritize high-frequency trading and need to react instantaneously to changes in financial markets. In both cases, mainframes deliver the scale that commodity servers just can’t.
  • Insurance companies use data to assess risk, set prices, and guide their investments. Mainframes are the only effective tool for handling the required data flows.
  • In healthcare, mainframe computers ensure regulatory compliant and highly available data storage and high-volume transactions.
  • Government agencies depend on the data management capabilities of mainframes. The analysis of this data on mainframe applications is used to drive national and international policies.
  • Airlines, government regulators and aircraft manufacturers are dependent on mainframes to ensure aviation safety and efficiency.
  • Retailers use mainframes to process large volumes of transactions. This capability is in even more in demand as the retailing industry transition from brick and mortar to online.

the ibm mainframe in the data centerAs for the culture question, humans are creatures of habit. If they aren’t forced to change, they will remain complacent within the familiar bounds of constraints. Mainframers, being human, are no different. This trait means that the generally closed world they operate in needs to open up to new opportunities and collaborations. The mainframe culture must embrace new directions for continuous improvement across heterogeneous IT environments that include and interact with the mainframe serving as an integral workflow component. Culture change will also require modern application development tools that make the analysis, editing and building of complex programs easier. Enterprises must invest in mainframe automation and integrated management across this ever-evolving IT environment.

So if you were thinking of throwing away the IBM Z for a brand new shiny IBM Cloud, think again. Mainframes are still foundational to your business, so your organization’s digital transformation must also include the mainframe. Digitally transforming your mainframe will mean:

  • Continuing to ensure exceptionally high levels of data protection and privacy while meeting business requirements to move data in and out of the mainframe environment at will;
  • Integrating mainframe processes with cloud-based systems and processes through centralized management and orchestration across a hybrid environment that includes cloud and mainframe
  • Implementing modern workloads like artificial intelligence and blockchain into current mainframe applications
  • Meeting the high levels of cloud-based redundancy with even higher levels of mainframe-based resiliency for delivering business continuity to mission-critical workloads without incurring unexpected and unplanned additional cost; and
  • Squeezing even more data into your current mainframe shoebox while simultaneously reducing the cost of managing that same data.

All of these operational requirements should be part of your future strategy. As you contemplate your organization’s next digital transformation move, don’t forget the mainframe!

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