One would be hard-pressed to imagine that a punk rock group of the ’70s and ’80s and today’s IT staff would have much in common. The Clash introduced in a song in 1980 the challenge for many mainframe shops today: “Should I Stay or Should I Go.” This isn’t an easy decision, nor is it a forgone conclusion! There are challenges and opportunities if you stay, and challenges and opportunities if you go. The struggle to make this decision and then to implement it is fraught with choices that have a domino effect on related technology or infrastructure. Modernization is not a euphemism for mainframe migration. IBM offers a wide variety of on-platform modernization technologies, but even these options have ripple effects across IT.
Gartner defines IT modernization as a focused approach to improving the overall IT environment from applications to infrastructure to facilities. An organization’s modernization strategy should clearly understand the cascade effects implied by an individual IT project. These effects should be measured against the overall IT strategy and ensure that no hidden surprises will impact the infrastructure in the future. OK, but why now? Gartner identifies four contributing factors:
1. Lack of agility of It systems and services in responding to business requests for change. As the IT environment becomes more crowded and more complex, it simultaneously becomes less able to respond in a timely manner to business demand for change. Every CIO struggles with this backlog of demand, which can’t be addressed simply by working harder with the artifacts that constitute the IT environment.
2. Increasing integration among portfolios. Integration is capable of delivering real value to the business; however, there’s increased complexity in managing service delivery and maintaining the portfolios of assets needed to support the integrated organization.
3. Increased obsolescence of deployed assets. The recession in 2000 and 2001 caused many enterprises to take a hiatus for a year or two from investing in IT. IT teams learned the disciplines of placing systems on life support, squeezing the last possible value from sunk costs. Although IT management teams may well be able to keep systems on life support for some time, there’s a finite limit to the willingness of business users to keep on using solutions that fail to deliver modern standards of functionality and agility.
4. Skills shift. Enterprises worldwide are operating under circumstances in which a significant portion of the people who understand their mission-critical systems are eligible to retire during the next five to 10 years. Organizations shouldn’t be surprised to find that 25 to 30 percent of their employees with legacy skills will be eligible to retire in the next three years. Nor should they be surprised that the expectations of IT by digital natives, the newest entry into the workforce, are very different from those of their predecessors.
Recognizing these trends, mainframe shops need to develop a strategy for addressing these challenges. Gartner accepts this does not dictate migration. Small mainframe shops might make this move; large mainframe shops may streamline their portfolio, invest in a workforce plan that addresses the skills shift, create an industrial strength Java run-time environment on the mainframe, and leverage Linux on System z as appropriate. Regardless of the modernization decision made, IT organizations must recognize the complex nature of this decision and develop a more strategic IT plan. Don’t just react to the latest technology offerings! The market forces show no signs of abating, and waiting in no way makes the path easier to traverse.
Why modernize an application portfolio that works fine right now? To quote John Maynard Keynes, the great British economist of the 20th century who responded to criticism that he had changed his position on economic policy, “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?” The facts of IT have changed. What’s your response?