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Designing IBM Z to Meet Client Needs

IBM Z community members highlight the platform's agility through the pandemic and beyond

Pictured left to right, starting from top left: Tyler King, Keelia Estrada Moeller, Phil Allison and Theresa Hans,

As businesses continually react to changing customer and operational needs, the IBM Z® platform offers the security, reliability and resiliency needed to quickly respond to new requirements and processes. To hear firsthand how the IBM Z platform provides agility through the pandemic and beyond, we talked with two members from the design and client sides of the IBM Z community: Tyler King, design lead, IBM Z Resiliency and System Recovery Boost, and Phil Allison, enterprise architect, Black Knight Inc.

Q: Tell us about your journey to your current career. When did you first realize you wanted to go into technology?

Tyler King (TK): My job is to work with users like Phil to make sure we’re building features into IBM Z that help our clients, not simply creating features that we think are interesting and cool. After getting my master’s degree in marketing, I applied for a marketing job at IBM and the hiring manager recommended that I apply for a job as a designer. I really wanted to go into technology, but I wasn’t sure what route to take because I wasn’t technologically inclined enough for a job like a programmer. While I can code in Visual Basic, my strengths really lie in the human connections and finding patterns in human behavior. I work to help my engineers build our products with empathy, because without empathy, we can’t build products that help our users. 

Phil Allison (PA): When I was an undergraduate for accounting, I didn’t enjoy it and I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do with my career. While interning at Computer
Associates in the software distribution department, I saw the enormity of data processing taking place on the mainframe. I realized that a desire to dig deeper into the underpinning technology made me really good at building “things.” 

After finishing my degree in programming (instead of accounting), I worked on Wall Street for several banks as an application programmer. Eventually, I had the opportunity to work with the system programmers upstairs on an IBM CICS® storage violation dump and I was really intrigued by their work and their deep knowledge. To me, these were the company’s best and brightest. I eventually moved into systems programming and then architecture, where I have spent most of my career, and I enjoy the work immensely. I am now responsible for mainframe server, network and storage architecture at Black Knight, and am also proud to be an IBM Z Champion. 

Q: How did you hear about the mainframe specifically, and what inspired you to go into a career working on IBM Z?

TK: While everyone, including myself, has heard of mainframes, I didn’t really know what one was and what they did until my second week at IBM when they told me I would be working on mainframes. I learned firsthand from my teammates and sponsor users, who are real users, like Phil, who help co-create solutions with the IBM team. I went from planning to work at IBM for two or three years to falling in love with these cool pieces of hardware that run the world’s economy. Now, I’m working on planning my entire career path at IBM. 

PA: When I got into the computer field, all of the heavy lifting was done on the mainframe, so my focus was to learn programming in COBOL and then later Assembler in order to flourish on the mainframe. Throughout my career, I’ve worked on both the application and system sides, but the mainframe has really been a never-ending avenue of opportunity for me. Beginning in 1989, I had to learn to support 3890 check sorters, IBM 3780 protocol and spent my days and nights with manuals in my lap, learning and growing. The mainframe has been a source of gratification ever since. It’s not just my job or a hobby, but an adventure.

Q: Phil, as an IBM Z Champion, you’re very involved in the mainframe community. Can you tell us about the virtual lunch-and-learns you hold at Black Knight? 

PA: Because I’m not getting any younger, I want to make sure that I leave something behind for those just starting out. Also, because many of our employees are siloed, they don’t get to see what other people do to support the business, and they may not realize that although they are content in their current role, they might prefer another role. I created a monthly mainframe overview that lasts about 90 minutes, where anyone who wants to listen can come and learn about the different technologies we in mainframe support. We talk about the history of the mainframe, Black Knight’s technology investment, how new releases and capabilities apply to the business and more. The goal is to broaden the exposure so that people can really appreciate what their co-workers bring to the table and help grow people in the mainframe space. 

“When you match a great organizational culture with a technology that helps to grow the business over the course of decades, good things are sure to happen.”
Phil Allison, enterprise architect, Black Knight Inc.

Q: Why are you proponents of the Z platform? 

TK: I love IBM Z. No, I’m obsessed with it. When I first started working at IBM, I would go home and watch YouTube videos to learn more about mainframes. When I speak at UX design conferences, I share with other designers how we apply design thinking at every level of the Z platform, from hardware all the way up to software, and they’re always surprised and intrigued.  

When people ask me what I do, I tell them that so many of the things they do every day (swiping credit cards, booking flights) go back to a mainframe. I love sharing that the work I do every day really touches their everyday life. It makes me really proud to know I can support people with getting their critical workloads running as often as possible. Not only do I get to help people like Phil, who are our clients, but I also help people like myself be able to go to the ATM and get money. 

PA: I agree with everything that Tyler said. I want to add that by working in mainframe, we’re tightly coupled with other roles, such as security, architecture, storage, OS, application development and more. I really value the relationships I’ve developed over the years in mainframe, and I don’t see that as much in other roles. We’re in the trenches together working as a team with many of my peers for well over a decade. We may not always agree on everything, but we have an amazing amount of mutual respect for each other. Of course, this also says a lot about the organization I’m a part of and our company’s leadership. When you match a great organizational culture with a technology that helps to grow the business over the course of decades, good things are sure to happen. 

“I went from planning to work at IBM for two or three years to falling in love with these cool pieces of hardware that run the world’s economy. Now, I'm working on planning my entire career path at IBM.”
Tyler King, design lead, IBM Z Resiliency and System Recovery Boost

Q: What features of IBM Z are most beneficial, and why is it important to spread awareness about them? 

TK: Because I’m on the resiliency team, of course I’m going to say resiliency. But honestly, that’s what really sets IBM Z apart. Resiliency and security are key. You want your business-critical workloads to be available as much as possible and able to withstand whatever life throws your way. We often hear stories about squirrels in power lines causing disruptions in services, which means that literally, the world’s economy must be able to defend itself against squirrels. The first step to having a super-resilient enterprise is to set up a cluster of mainframes using Parallel Sysplex.

PA: While, of course, resiliency and security stand out, and it’s what Black Knight and other users count on from IBM Z, I’m going to step back a bit and say that maturity—in the people, our process and in the technology—significantly benefits the business. I’m not just referring to Black Knight employees, but people at IBM, Broadcom and all of the other vendors that have been in the industry a long time. We aren’t just talking about a server running a single application supporting a line of business, but a machine that can support the entire line of business or bring it to a screeching halt if not managed properly.

Q: What business benefits have you seen from agility? How did the IBM Z platform provide you the agility needed throughout the pandemic and in the near future?

TK: The IBM z/OS® continuous delivery model allows clients to use the latest z/OS technology in their own agile transformations. We recently released the System Recovery Boost feature, which can help users install updates faster so administrators can focus on other tasks, providing business value. We’re speeding this up by making our users’ IPLs faster. Think about restarting your laptop to install some new update, but with mainframes, this is happening on a partition-by-partition basis. So by speeding up your IPLs, we’re helping shorten the time needed to install that upgrade, and hopefully increase productivity for clients.

PA: We’re really good at using temporary capacity on demand, which means purchasing the ability to use dark resources when the business demands it. In at least one case, we were able to avoid impacting a

major project by using the agility provided by capacity on demand. Recently, we had an issue on a TS4500 tape library and learned that we could just install the microcode ourselves when the fix came out on the next version. Microcode updates are also moving across the product lines toward remote upgrades, which has been very helpful for enabling a remote workforce. We’ve been able to have the latest updates without our administrators having to physically go to the building. 

Q: Let’s talk about design thinking. Can you share what it is and the business benefits? 

TK: Design and design thinking are relatively new to the mainframe space. We’ve just started using the process methodically for the past five or six years, with IBM z14® being our first big design thinking effort. On the IBM z15™ release, we had many designers working over 300 hours with our users to listen to their needs. Our goal is to deliver products people want to use and, most importantly, can actually use. IBM really values design thinking from a business perspective, even hiring a design director to drive IBM Z technology’s budding design practice. 


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