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Leveraging IBM Z for Digital Transformation

Why you should make the mainframe part of your digital transformation, and how to do it successfully

Gold, green and red lines and grids against a blue background

Some observers might doubt whether the mainframe can make any meaningful contribution to digital transformation. They might even view the mainframe as part of the problem, rather than the solution: an overly complex platform running decades-old applications. But that is a gross oversimplification. While it’s true that many of the applications running on the mainframe require modernization, there are very good reasons to incorporate IBM Z into your modernization strategy.

A Transaction Processing Workhorse

For workloads such as high-volume transaction processing, IBM Z can’t be beat when it comes to power and speed—which is why mission-critical enterprise systems in some of the biggest organizations, from banks to airlines and government departments, are still hosted on mainframes.

A Key Component of a Hybrid Cloud Strategy

Far from standing still, IBM is constantly evolving the mainframe to ensure it keeps pace with needs of the modern enterprise. The new z15 systems deliver security, privacy and resiliency at scale as part of an enterprise-wide cloud infrastructure. They can drive transformation to a robust cloud ecosystem with open standards and multiple languages with a combination of low risk and high reward, especially for mission-critical applications with huge processing volumes and strict SLAs.

Leveraging Your Investment in IBM Z

If the mainframe is already a core part of your IT infrastructure, then you will already have made significant investments into the platform over the years. You will understand its strengths, and the risks and effort involved in moving away from it. It makes little sense to isolate it from the transformational initiatives you may be planning. So, what are the do’s and don’ts for making IBM Z an integral part of your digital transformation? 
 
1. Acknowledge bias for or against the mainframe 

From the outset, it’s important to accept that there are going to be strong opinions about the mainframe—both in support of it and against it. There may be people in the organization who are fervently pro-mainframe, who have been weaned on the platform and see it as central to their careers over many years. On the other side will be those who are closed off to the mainframe, seeing it as a legacy platform with no place in a modern IT setup. Senior stakeholders may have limited experience with or understanding of the mainframe and see it as a source of risk. You need to cut through any skewed thinking and approach your digital transformation with a clear, impartial process.
 
The start point should be a detailed assessment of your current position and your vision for the future. Where do you want to be as an organization in two, five, 10 years’ time? Consider how existing systems and platforms contribute to the efficient running of your organization today, and what must change to help you realize your business goals. How are you planning to grow as a business? How will you interact with customers? Start at a high level and work down into the detail. This allows you to analyze metrics from your IT environment, such as transaction volumes, database growth and SLAs for customer-facing apps, with clear business and technical requirements in mind. These metrics can be mapped on to the desired future state to understand the impact on resources, and identify any gaps.   
 
2. Compare ROI across platforms—especially for high-volume transaction processing

It’s true that the majority of new development happens on distributed systems rather than the mainframe. However, it’s also important to remember that many of the new customer-facing digital applications will significantly drive up mobile and web transactions, which can have a knock-on effect on transaction processing at the back end. You should be doing an ROI comparison to assess which platform is most efficient for processing those transactions. In many cases it will be the mainframe.
 
When looking at ROI, you need to consider the total cost of ownership, which could be lower for the mainframe when you factor in indirect costs, such as networking, security and physical infrastructure management. According to IBM, indirect costs add 40-50% to the total cost of running distributed systems, compared with 10-15% on IBM Z.
 
New pricing options such as IBM’s Tailored Fit Pricing can make capacity planning and forecasting easier for unpredictable new workloads. It’s simpler to work out, more cost effective and closer to the cloud/SaaS consumption model, which means it’s easier to make like-for-like comparisons between running applications on the mainframe and on other platforms such as Windows and UNIX. 
 
3. Engage all stakeholders 

A common barrier to successful transformation is failing to engage with all business stakeholders. Stakeholder participation is essential to ensure that you take account of differing priorities and risks and learn how decisions made at the organizational level will impact individual departments. You need to bring that diversity of opinions together and turn it into data that you can work with—and that everyone can see. Especially for large organizations with many dispersed departments and stakeholders this engagement has to be baked in to the process, using the right technology to enable transparency and consensus building. 
 
Portfolio management and survey tools can help by supporting collaboration to ensure there’s an accurate picture of every element and decision relating to the digital transformation project, including priorities and risks—rated by all stakeholders, with feedback at every stage of the transformation journey. You can also gauge the success of a transformation project in qualitative terms by analyzing stakeholder sentiment based on pre- and post-transformation feedback.

4. Modernize operational intelligence 

The mainframe, with its unique subsystems and terminology, can be misunderstood by those who have had little exposure to it. Today’s CIOs and business executives may struggle to understand what is happening on the platform because reporting is at too technical a level, and the data cannot be interpreted without specialist mainframe knowledge. This reinforces the perception of IBM Z as an outdated and overly complex technology which poses a risk to the business. 

To break down these barriers, operational intelligence must be improved. Technical mainframe data needs to be turned into meaningful information that everybody can understand. For example, modern dashboard technologies allow you to offer personalized, role-based views of the enterprise IT landscape, with metrics and key performance indicators matched to the needs and interests of the individual. Mainframe data can also be passed to analytics and AI platforms such as Splunk and Watson to generate actionable insights for IT leaders. 

5. Make the mainframe more accessible to today’s IT technicians 

To address the challenges of mainframe skills transfer and succession management, any digital transformation program must incorporate plans to improve knowledge acquisition for the new generation of IT technicians. For example, the lack of graphical UIs and the traditional command line interface on older mainframe systems in particular can seem cumbersome and difficult to work with. So, look into modernization technologies that provide interfaces to those traditional systems with a more intuitive modern user experience—delivering web and mobile access and integration with modern development frameworks, as well as using chatbots to train and impart knowledge. 
 
In fact, a wide range of technical innovations on IBM Z, such as containerization, Java/COBOL interoperability and LinuxONE are making the mainframe easier for non-specialists to use in hybrid environments. Minimizing the need for platform expertise reduces the pressure on mainframe skills and provides greater scope for incorporating IBM Z into a multi-platform transformation strategy. 

IBM Z Enables Digital Transformation

While it’s popular in some circles to deny that the mainframe can ever be an enabler for digital transformation, it’s important to evaluate its role with an open mind. In truth, the future will almost certainly be a hybrid one, with most transformations involving a mix of platforms. The key is to create an objective process which examines which platform is the best fit for each of your business processes and applications, based on a shared vision of your organizational goals. In this, don’t allow ignorance or a lack of understanding about the mainframe’s capabilities to get in the way. Take steps to collate the opinions of all key stakeholders, ensuring that they are part of the transformation process and feel able to contribute to its success.
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