Are You Prepared for Digital Transformation? Your Legacy Infrastructure Isn't
Continued reliance on legacy mainframes can hold back a company that wants to modernize
By Paul Bobak
Spurred by a host of new technologies, applications and services, business processes continue to evolve and industry pundits have coined a term to describe this era: digital transformation.
Digital transformation encompasses the use of technologies that empower all employees - not just those in IT - to improve business performance, transparency, efficiency, speed and agility. These technologies bring together previously siloed departments, allowing a highly collaborative environment and creating a more seamless, efficient workplace.
At the highest level, digital transformation is an extended process of reinvention where new technology and business processes enable an ongoing evolution that, in turn, drives continued growth. Its main concepts are twofold: automating certain critical business processes, and being able to extract and analyze important data from those business processes.
Digital transformation initiatives can create a number of benefits for organizations. Standard business processes will become less expensive over the long term because the total cost of ownership decreases due to automation, lowering IT spending. Financial savings from less expensive standard critical business processes can instead be allocated toward innovation and new products. Automation will allow employees to dedicate more time to higher-level work, and data analytics will make data actionable and useful, creating more visibility into the business and monetization opportunities.
There are challenges to overcome before enterprises can get closer to these benefits, however, and one of those is continued reliance on legacy infrastructure.
Out with the Old
Every enterprise in every industry requires certain core businesses processes to keep the lights on, such as HR-related and enterprise resource planning applications, and these systems need to be bulletproof because the business relies on them.
The issue is that these critical systems often reside in legacy mainframes, and sooner or later, legacy investments in technology become a liability. Conversion costs rise as competitors with newer tech eat away at your markets. Qualified support personnel may retire or move on, and old vendors may no longer be available. Businesses that failed to adapt are left without the needed support for their big iron and COBOL or PS/1 applications. The IT department is flooded with complaints from lack of agility of the mainframe, while upgrade costs grow out of line with available budget. Additionally, the cost of third-party software to support mainframe applications continues to escalate.
At some point, change is no longer simply an option, but an imperative. Maintaining the status quo means accepting mediocre technology, which in turn means business performance is driven by outdated and unsupported mainframe infrastructures - placing the company in a risky position that will only get worse over time, and impeding its progress toward digital transformation.
Enterprises have one of two options. They can rewrite these business-critical processes in a newer 3GL or 4GL language or move to a packaged application, which is complicated, very expensive and usually fails. Or they can keep what they have and change only what they need over time - no need to scrap legacy infrastructure on the road to modernization.
The "Lift-and-Shift" Approach
Legacy mainframes and systems are functional and well run, but also are limited, allowing for no expansion. The rest of the industry is moving toward a more open paradigm, but these core business processes generally are not.
While mainframes lock a customer into a limited and tightly coupled system, the loosely coupled architecture of an open system offers dynamic scalability, workload management and agility. Enterprises can decouple from high-cost legacy infrastructure and move to an open architecture that allows cost savings and integration with the myriad new systems, processes and apps that are constantly being developed - but they don't need to abandon critical business processes or legacy languages that still have value.
That is where the "lift-and-shift" approach comes in.
Mainframe rehosting lifts existing mainframe assets and shifts them to the cloud, quickly and with minimal risk. This helps a business save on costly mainframe contracts and more effectively leverage critical data, while gaining a more flexible and transparent environment.
Applications (COBOL, PL/I, Assembler), datasets (flat files, GDGs and VSAM), databases (IMS, DB2, IDMS, Oracle), online systems (CICS) and batch systems (JES, JCL) work as is, on open systems components such as Linux. This means enterprises need not throw out the baby with the bathwater - instead, they can keep what they have and simply refresh it within an open, modern system.
With an open architecture, new commodity hardware like x86 servers integrate with a business's legacy applications much more easily, allowing an enterprise to keep all its business processes and its "secret sauce" without keeping all the baggage that is constraining growth and preventing it from innovating.
Additionally, there is an explosion of data being created by critical systems, and it can be challenging to find a way to process and leverage it in a cost-efficient manner. With the lift-and-shift approach, enterprises have access to new applications that allow them to mine large volumes of daily data more efficiently, at a lower per-transaction cost. Infrastructure and operating costs also are reduced overall.
These funds then can be invested into new apps and services that enable digital transformation, allowing businesses to focus more on their differentiators instead of their standard business processes. It's like having an additional windfall, quarter after quarter, that can be applied toward innovation.
Are You Ready?
A company looking to enable true digital transformation and wondering what to do with its legacy applications should ask itself the following questions:
- What is the true cost of running our legacy business processes?
- How well can we connect with modern open systems?
- How much are we investing right now in innovating? Is it enough?
- Are we constrained by legacy systems?
- Is our vendor dictating our digital strategy because of their limiting licensing policy?
- What is the cost of leveraging our multiple terabytes of data on regular basis? Can we afford that?
Taking a good look at innovation efforts and challenges, access to critical data and its costs, and the total cost of legacy ownership will help guide a company on the path to modernization - and that doesn't necessarily entail scrapping everything and starting from scratch.
With the "lift-and-shift" approach, businesses can keep the good and get rid of the bad, sort the diamonds from the mound of coal, and extract as much value as possible from legacy systems. It allows an enterprise to maximize the applications it has while gaining the performance necessary to be ready for digital transformation, ensuring future success in the new digital economy.
Paul Bobak is vice president of global technical field services at TmaxSoft. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.