Skip to main content

Innovation and the Mainframe: Let’s Create Some Magic

Kyndryl’s Pat Stanard discusses innovation—what it is, how to do it and why the mainframe is an innovative, modern platform

The topic of innovation runs deep within the mainframe. In fact, the mainframe is one of the most innovative platforms on this planet and it just about singlehandedly drives our world economy. If that isn’t innovation, I don’t know what is. I am in complete agreement with a quote from Alfred Nobel, “If I have a thousand ideas and only one turns out to be good, I am satisfied.” With this in mind, I recently started a new innovation series with my fellow mainframe architects. We started with a complete definition of innovation and discussed ways we could become more innovative as a team. We then began to discuss every idea brought forward in regular calls. No ideas are bad. In fact, they are all good, and as the Nobel quote says, I am good if only one idea gets traction and that leads to innovative, disruptive change and bears fruit. If this happens, it is a complete win and that can grow.

What Is Innovation?

Let’s start with a definition of innovation. Per McKinsey: Innovation is the systematic practice of developing and marketing breakthrough products and services for adoption by customers. Compare that to a business context: Innovation is the ability to conceive, develop, deliver and scale new products, services, processes and business models for customers.

Now, compare that to “Pat’s” context: Disruptive innovation is innovation that creates a brand-new approach and network of value or enters at the bottom of an existing market and eventually displaces established market-leading firms, products and alliances. Disruption is good! I love disruptive technology and I use this as the basis for most everything I pursue. Just to be clear, disruptive technologies have been around for a long time. They include things like the wheel, the light bulb and the cellphone. More recently, they include things like AI—e.g., ChatGPT, Bard, etc.—and robotics, cloud computing, Uber, blockchain and augmented reality. You get the picture.

How to Be Innovative

1. Be open to new ideas: Moving from the IBM software group to IBM GTS taught me to respect and pursue new ideas. The two groups were way different, and in order to succeed, this idea was paramount. The launch of Kyndryl forced us to think differently.

2. Don’t be afraid to fail: My dear mother always taught me to take chances in life. Do things that scare you. You might get knocked down, but always dust yourself off, get back up and continue to success. As Yoda said, “The greatest teacher, failure is.”

3. Be creative: This has always been tough for me…I am that guy that really can’t even draw stick people. But with age, I have found that I can look at things differently with my years of experience and that allows me to be more creative in my approaches.

4. Be collaborative: I fully believe that that 2020, i.e., COVID-19, forced us all to be more collaborative in our approach to work. Being collaborative with distances involved became the norm and, in some respects, changed the way we collaborate.

5. Be patient: This one is tough, especially for the younger mainframers as they want success, promotions and to climb that ladder faster. If you can be patient, topics like innovation seem to happen more naturally, and with that, follow your goals in life. Some additional tips on innovation:

  • Read widely
  • Travel
  • Talk to people who are different from you
  • Take risks
  • Be persistent

The IBM z16 and Innovation

Now how does the topic of innovation relate back to the mainframe? The mainframe, contrary to some beliefs, is a very innovative and modern platform. Let’s look at some examples.

Be open to new ideas: The IBM z16 has the brand-new IBM Telum processor, which was designed to work hand-in-hand with machine learning and AI. This is the industry’s first on-chip integrated artificial intelligence accelerator, allowing users to analyze real-time transactions with their mission critical applications. The Telum chip has a centralized design that is targeted toward AI-specific workloads. When you think about financial organizations’ workload with things like fraud detection, anti-money laundering, credit approvals and risk analysis, this will be a very powerful tool.

Don’t be afraid to fail: The z16 has security and cyber resiliency is at the forefront of the architecture. With the advent of quantum computing, quantum safe cryptography is a pivotal feature of the z16 to protect against cyberattacks from quantum computing. It is an interesting dilemma that hashing algorithms, once considered unhackable, can be hacked in seconds by the power of quantum computing. The concern is that a bad actor could steal encrypted data and then hold on to that data until the quantum computing technology could crack that data and steal valuable information. The quantum safe technology is National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) certified. IBM is the frontrunner with this technology and is already able to protect the mainframe users.

Be creative: With creativity for our customers in mind, AI powered by the new Telum chip allows z16 users to modernize their data and provides a way for users to monetize their data into actionable business opportunities more easily. Utilizing IBM Watson Machine Learning for z/OS, the user can create machine learning models and deploy the models into their application transactions.  This is an efficiency improvement and overall, a cost saver in the long run.

Be collaborative: Kyndryl works with its zSystems mainframe customers to develop strategies for IBM Z transformation and application modernization. This remains one of the top subjects in customer conversations today. Customers are looking for ways to maximize their investments in their mainframes by leveraging the cloud to speed up digital transformation. Kyndryl works directly with its partner and alliance ecosystems to deliver value. The approach of “modernize on,” “integrate with” or “move off” is a very collaborative approach and looks to deliver the path that is best for the customer while taking advantage of the features of the mainframe.

Be patient: With patience in mind, the z16 offers flexible capacity for cyber resiliency. This technology allows the customer to fully swap operations between production and disaster recovery sites. Capacity can be shifted between participating IBM mainframes for up to one year. The move can also be automated by using GDPS. This solution is a true resiliency solution and something that many of my customers have been wanting for a long time now. Versus being locked into the length of a CBU record, this innovation allows for long term swapping and true resiliency between data centers.

The Value of Innovation

Understanding innovation as it relates to technology can impact most everything, Alvin Toffler said, “The great growing engine of change: technology.” Change is always happening, and having the ability to innovate can put you on another level when it comes to value.

I know there is a lot of power in innovation, but too often it is given “lip service.” Focusing on the definition and exactly how to implement the ideas can be game changing. The ability to think innovatively is a critical skill that needs to be developed. Too often, we get stuck in our ways because “it has always been that way.” The key is to jettison that type of thinking and think in a new way. That leads to new ideas and change that is positive and valuable. As Arthur Clarke says, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Let’s get innovative and create some magic!