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Politicians and other government officials love to reference the 75/25 statistic—referring to government IT teams devoting 75 percent of their budgets to operations and maintenance (i.e., running), leaving only 25 percent or less for innovation. This statistic helps fuel the argument that any older technologies, including mainframes, are a drain and need to be replaced.

Gartner’s most recent IT Key Metrics Data tell a different story. In this analysis of 22 different industries, government (both federal and state and local) fell right in the middle of the pack with regards to percentage of IT budgets allocated to running, growing and transforming IT. This makes it unfair to criticize government IT managers as a particularly profligate and uneconomical lot. It also weakens the implicit underlying correlation—that heavy reliance on older technology translates to government’s excessive waste.

Technology industry leaders are collaborating to bring greater cost efficiency to mainframe workloads, helping organizations accommodate significant growth in computing loads while eliminating unnecessary overconsumption of resources and keeping costs in check. In addition, studies have shown that mainframe-dependent organizations actually prove to be more cost efficient in the long run than organizations using large, distributed, commodity server-based infrastructures.

Myth #4: Mainframe Talent is Quickly Evaporating

It’s true that the largest mainframe talent pool, the baby boomers, are retiring. But this doesn’t mean it’s time to rip and replace these systems. Rather, mainframe environments simply need to be modernized, making it easier for any developer to work with COBOL—a language easy for developers to add to their programming repertoire. Examples include replacing the antiquated green-screen development environment with a modern, familiar integrated development environment, as well as leveraging Java-like tools and technologies that make updating and maintaining COBOL applications easier and less risky for newer developers.

Mobile applications are often multiplatform in nature, spanning several systems before ultimately landing on a mainframe. Developers working on these applications increasingly must be able to toggle seamlessly across them. Providing government technologists with a multiplatform DevOps environment will enable them to quickly and accurately complete modifications, truly understand the mechanics of how their systems work and ultimately reduce if not eliminate technical debt. In fact, removing unnecessary obstacles around the mainframe will likely get developers excited about the prospect of working on some of the government’s most critical digital initiatives.

Myth #5: Choosing to Stick With the Mainframe Means We Forgo the Benefits of the Cloud.

The cloud offers many benefits, including instant scalability, cost-efficiency and flexibility. Contrary to popular belief, the decision to stay on the mainframe does not mean an organization has to forgo these benefits. Instead, there’s an opportunity to combine the greatest attributes of both platforms. The key is understanding which types of applications are best suited to each environment. Generally, any mission-critical application serving as the lifeblood of an enterprise should stay on-premise on the mainframe, while other less critical applications like human resources and email can benefit from the cost efficiencies of shared cloud resources.

Imagine never having to enter a motor vehicles department to renew a license ever again. Services like this are at the heart of the citizen-first vision, and modernization through the MGT Act and other initiatives will indeed be critical to getting there. But a citizen-first mission also means being the best possible stewards of taxpayer resources, which means we must not apply blanket generalizations to all technologies.

Claire Bailey's original article, as it appeared in GGN, can be read by clicking here.

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