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Bypass the religious battles on your modernization journey


On the surface, information technology (IT) looks like it should be one of the most logic-driven components of a business.  And yet for decades, we have seen “religious battles” ensue around a broad set of topics.  These battles are sometimes driven by personal preference, individual agendas and interest or people’s comfort with a specific technology or approach.  This is considerably different from the logical debate of options with the sole intent of getting to the best modernization approach for the organization via fully informed conversation.

There may be no bigger religious battleground than the mainframe and how to migrate for the sake of modernization. There is good reason for this as the stakes are high for both the organization and individuals.  Regardless of ideology, the benefits driving modernization for most organizations include:

  • Cost savings and optimization
  • Flexibility to enable the velocity of the business
  • Sustainability related to technology and skills availability
  • Risk mitigation and elimination based on aging platforms

Once an organization has reached the decision to modernize, the issues they then wrestle with tend to be similar:

  1. Risk management relative to technology transitions
  2. Funding changes while in pursuit of overall cost savings
  3. Maintaining business functionality and enablement
  4. Approach to migrating from the existing mainframe platform(s) 

The first three issues are critical and are typically able to be viewed through a strict business lens. However, the approach to modernization is where the battles often occur and the approach is a major factor influencing each of the other issues.  Therefore, the modernization approach must be determined first to give appropriate consideration to the other issues.

A key factor in choosing an approach is understanding the value embedded in your applications in the form of business rules. Application business rules are the proprietary differentiators which have been built into business operations.  Are they well understood and documented, are they highly customized or do they exist in a commercial package?  Extracting and re-engineering these rules without impacting the business is a major goal in transformation.  Base lining the maturity of the business rules will define cost, time and ability to select the right approach to successfully modernize your mainframe application.  When underestimated or misunderstood, modernization efforts can be delayed, become costly or completely fail.

There tend to be four major camps relative to the modernization approach:  Re-hosting (Lift and shift); Re-factoring/Automated Code Conversion (ACC); Re-writing; and Re-placing.  Based on the specific workloads and business scenario, each of these approaches has merit and they may not be mutually exclusive.  At a high level, keeping in mind there are a myriad of variants, these approaches can be described as follows:

  • Re-hosting: Move your applications to modern computing infrastructure frameworks. Often called” Lift and Shift”. This option tends to be cost effective with high ROI and low risk.  Re-hosting allows for strategic flexibility relative to applications to subsequently re-write, retire, or replace.  TCO savings will often fund these application investments.
  • Refactoring /ACC: This approach can be especially attractive when critical circumstances such as unplanned attrition / availability of resources arise. This strategy may or may not be faster to market due to testing strategy differences to re-hosting. With this strategy it is very important to consider what intentions exist post conde conversion.  Applications often end-up in a hybrid state where maintainability can be challenging and should be planned for upfront.
  • Re-writing: Create a new application on a new target platform, often combined with or following Re-hosting or ACC. These custom development projects can be costly and risky as they represent nearly green-field efforts with the added challenge of business logic extraction from legacy systems.  Many organizations find it more attractive to Re-write having moved to a modern platform first. An inherent benefit to this combined approach is that the systems continue to execute as before but on a cheaper and more flexible platform.  Often the savings realized from the initial move fund these investments. 
  • Re-Place (Purchase): Application is replaced with a new vendor packaged solution, often as SaaS. Many organizations find it challenging to meet their existing level of functionality and processes with this option, and often require custom development work to fill these gaps. If these issues can be resolved relative to suitable options, replacement can be a strong component of the overall strategy.

It is important we must acknowledge that mainframe modernization carries with it some unique considerations relative to other platforms.  One of the major considerations is the mainframe itself.  This platform’s associated costs, scope of services, unique skillset requirements  will add complexity but these same factors also can provide massive opportunities.  Almost by definition, these environments:

  • Provide the opportunity to map out effective
  • Create cost savings so quickly they can fund or contribute to the transformation fairly rapidly
  • Allow for the creation of stage gates and milestones with value-based deliverables, which drives and maintains support and engagement
  • Based on the scope of services a portfolio view can be applied to best leverage a combination of the aforementioned approaches to produce the best outcomes

These are just a few of the critical points of consideration unique to mainframe infrastructures.  It is easy to dismiss some factors in a paper-based analysis with “perfect world” thinking.  Our team averages more than 24 years of experience and we have yet to see a “perfect world” scenario or a “one size fits all solution.”

The responsibility of decision makers is to dispassionately assess each option to determine the best strategy for your organization.  IT and business leaders cannot align themselves with any one camp.  The leaders’ concern must be achieving the best outcome for the organization.  Which solution(s) provide the optimal cost scenario?  How do we minimize risks?  How do we ensure near term alignment with business functionality while ensuring a scenario that will enable the business flexibility and velocity?

As a partner,  Astadia shares the same responsibility to get to the right strategy with each client. We look closely at business and technology drivers, issues and opportunities to develop and execute on sound strategies.  While we cannot rid the technology landscape of religious battles, we can choose not to participate in them and instead focus on what really matters – the best interest of our clients.

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Scott Kitlinski


Posted on August 09, 2018

Categories: Legacy Modernization