IT Management

People think they know what business agility is and what it can deliver, but they usually don’t. After reviewing some recent data on users’ attempts to deal with a high rate of change in the business environment (e.g., regulatory changes, dangerous recessions, new issues such as carbon footprint), I’ve come to the conclusion there are three prevalent myths about business agility:

Myth # 1: Attempts to seek agility conflict with cost-cutting and revenue maximization. On the contrary, my studies suggest that in the long run, a pure focus on agility can reduce costs better than a cost-cutting strategy and enhance gross margins better than sales-driven, revenue-enhancement strategies.

Myth # 2: It’s about making existing business processes more flexible. Actually, your definition of business agility should include both innovation and improvement, as well as risk management. Initial data suggests that new product development yields the biggest bang for the agility/strategy buck, but increased flexibility of operational or disaster recovery processes also yields bottom-line benefits.

Myth #3: Business and IT agility have little to do with each other. In fact, most of today’s businesses have significant amounts of software in their new products. As a result, like it or not, a more or less agile software development process, outsourced or not, profoundly affects the business.

So, what does this have to do with the mainframe? After all, the mainframe seems to have little to do with business agility—popular stereotypes conjure up images of dinosaurs performing ballet in tutus. However, once we brush the myths aside, it becomes clear that the mainframe has a vital role to play in improving business agility. The mainframe can deliver major agility benefits by:

  • Leveraging existing applications in new product and new process development. The mainframe is the locus of many of today’s existing business- and mission-critical applications. My agile-development studies show that Web-servicizing these apps and then using the simple, standard Web-service provider interface as the basis for new software or new composite processes typically results in much faster development with much more room for flexibility in changing directions or adding features during the development and upgrade processes. As Linux has become popular on the mainframe, all the development tools (Eclipse- or J2EE-based) that have been so popular in the rest of the industry have become available to mainframe users. IBM and others provide extensive Web-servicization and composite application development tools and services. By discarding Myths 2 and 3, mainframe IT can deliver major value-add in a wide array of development tasks.
  • Using the mainframe as a risk-management “hub”—serving as the main site for security and disaster recovery metadata and tools. Now that the mainframe is effectively integrated with Tivoli on other platforms, both security and systems management tools provide a global view of an enterprise “private cloud.” By acting as the main processor of single sign-on and active-active networks, the mainframe can provide its own robustness and security cloud-wide, while affording administrators the flexibility of Web service-based cloud management interfaces. By discarding Myth 2, the mainframe can deliver major security and robustness benefits to the enterprise.
  • Applying the mainframe flexibly to reduce overall costs. By using specialty processors and minimizing license costs, and adding UNIX/Linux tasks to the mainframe’s load (and perhaps Windows ones), users can drive down per-app costs as well as prepare the way to “virtualize” the apps moving to the mainframe, making them easier to move or share dynamically among platforms. Thus, the mainframe serves as a way-station toward increased application portfolio flexibility that allows ongoing improvements in load balancing across platforms. Thus, by discarding Myth 1, the mainframe can deliver IT-wide cost reductions.

So, the bottom line is that the mainframe is a highly effective tool to increase business agility. The action item for mainframe executives is to discard old, worn-out myths about the mainframe and agility and take advantage of the opportunities listed here for long-term business improvement.