Founded in 1964, Davis Vision serves nearly 55 million people and is one of the nation’s leading managed vision and eye care providers. Davis Vision, which has been an IBM mainframe shop since 1989, uses an IBM System z9 BC Model X01 mainframe, and has a total of 58 employees in corporate IT.
“The System z is our heritage and hosts our core business application, the CompuVision benefits management system,” says Mike Thibdeau, Davis Vision CIO. “This core system is used by both internal employees and nationwide subscribers.”
Like many organizations, Davis Vision saw a need to bring these mainframe-based transactions to the Web for both internal and external use—and without risk of losing the business intelligence that had been built into mainframe applications for more than 20 years.
“The task was to link the core transaction processing engines of the System z to our new Web-based applications, which are customer-facing,” says Thibdeau. “These applications served three key areas: our membership and participating doctors; an IVR (Interactive Voice Response) system that processes member service inquiries; and a suite of customer service applications for member support, which is utilized by our customer service employees in both the Windows desktop and 3270 environments.”
To Web-enable its applications, Davis Vision IT pursued a Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) approach to software development—splitting programs into modularized Web services and front-ending transactions for employees and customers in a Web-based presentation. The application front-end was then integrated with the VSAM file structure and CICS transactions on the System z on the back-end.
Defining the Roadmap for New Applications
No one was sure that SOA in a heterogeneous environment of open systems and mainframe computing would be Davis Vision’s future direction when Mike Thibdeau first joined Davis Vision as CIO more than 10 years ago.
“My background was in open systems, and part of the reason I was able to secure the position was because the company thought it might want to transition to an IT environment that was entirely open systems,” says Thibdeau. “The popular press at that time was urging everyone to go to an open systems client/server architecture.”
The first thing Thibdeau did was review Davis Vision IT’s current operating environment. “Open systems was a world I was comfortable in,” says Thibdeau. “But when I made an assessment of the existing computing environment and saw the workload the System z was carrying, I had to honestly ask myself, ‘Why should we replace it?’ ”
Still, being a z/VSE shop was a major concern. Thibdeau and his managers had some hard questions they wanted to pose to IBM. “We didn’t have a compelling reason to consider a migration to z/OS, and we were concerned about IBM’s future commitment to the z/VSE operating environment,” says Thibdeau. “So we met with IBM, and they affirmed their future commitment to z/VSE. This made us feel at ease.”
With the future of the operating system resolved, momentum built for Thibdeau’s original assessment that the System z was performing reliably and effectively in delivering mission-critical applications to the business. “With an open systems background, I understood the disadvantages as well as the benefits of open systems,” says Thibdeau. “In open systems, there were a lot of runaway applications with high resource utilization and a general lack of management tools. I knew going in that open systems was no ‘silver bullet’—and that many of the industrial-strength application management tools we needed were those we already had on the System z.”