Enterprise Executive Sept-Oct 2015 : Page 18
BEsT OF TImEs, wORsT OF TImEs FOR THE maInFRamE By CHRIs O’maLLEy 18 | E nt e rp r i s e E xe c u t i ve | S eptemb er/O c tob er 2015
BEST OF TIMES, WORST OF TIMES FOR THE MAINFRAME
In many ways, this is the best of times for the mainframe. The platform itself has never been more technically compelling. With the introduction of z13, IBM has once again put the mainframe far ahead of the rest of the world in terms of speeds and feeds. The z13’s design is particularly compelling for use in conjunction with the new mobile workloads that are playing such a central role in the New IT. IBM also continues to do an excellent job of making the mainframe a more appealing platform for technologies that IT increasingly favors, such as Java and Linux.
This technical excellence is in stark contrast to the cracks that are clearly showing in the commodity server platforms that the industry has shown such favor for so long. Stock exchanges and major airlines are suffering chronic outages. Retailers and government agencies can’t protect their data. This is not to say that commodity platforms don’t have their place. They do. They are just demonstrably unable to provide what the mainframe provides: the rock-solid transactional reliability and security required for success in the Digital Economy.
The old canard about the supposedly high cost of mainframes has also now been empirically refuted. Yes, the capital cost of mainframe hardware is relatively high—and that of a commodity server is approaching zero. But that capex pales in comparison to the total opex IT has to throw at monitoring, troubleshooting, patching, securing, virtualizing, scaling and otherwise babysitting its impossibly complex and unstable commodity infrastructure.
In fact, IT spends $6 billion annually on a single company—VMware—just to get commodity servers to something the mainframe does inherently. The total mainframe tools market, on the other hand, is a mere $10 billion. So, commodity computing is obviously doing much more for Silicon Valley than it is for global business.
This reality is underscored by the findings of Rubin Worldwide—which include that 1) costs at server-intensive IT shops have risen 65 percent more than at mainframe-intensive IT shops over the past five years, and 2) mainframe-intensive companies earn 28 percent more per dollar of IT infrastructure than server-intensive companies.
In other words, the mainframe incontrovertibly offers Digital Age enterprises greater performance, scalability, reliability, cost-efficiency and security than the commodity platforms they use today.
Given this reality, one might reasonably expect that enterprises would be hosting an overwhelming majority of their new successcritical workloads on the mainframe. Yet this is not the case. Instead, those net-new workloads continue to gravitate to environments that are increasingly expensive, complex, unreliable and insecure.
Why? What exactly is so bad about the mainframe?
A Culture of Complacency
It turns out that, as Ray Davies of The Kinks once sang, success does indeed walk hand-in-hand with failure.
Because mainframe teams have become so successful over the years at delivering secure, stable systems, a culture of complacency has taken hold. Many mainframe professionals look upon the outages, breaches and opex budget-bloat that commodity infrastructure owners suffer with a certain smugness.
Mainframe teams are also under little, if any, pressure these days to re-platform their existing applications. This combination of technical superiority and unthreatened personal job status can easily lead to organizational inertia—especially in the absence of a sufficiently powerful countervailing force.
The mainframe’s culture of complacency manifests in a variety of concrete ways.
• S-l-o-w-n-e-s-s: Most mainframe teams remain entrenched in the same waterfallstyle processes that have served them so well over the years. This makes them slow—and not especially responsive to the most urgent, immediate needs of the business. Agile development would entail a very dramatic change for mainframe professionals individually and organizationally. And people tend to resist change if they don’t have enough motivation to do so.
• Obsolete Tooling: Because mainframe teams are primarily focused on maintaining existing digital assets, rather than innovating new ones, they are managed as cost centers. This leads to cost-cutting, which leads to tooling that is cheap and “good enough”—rather than aspirational and needful of investment. Unfortunately, it’s not really possible to do forward-looking work in 2015 with tools from 1965.
• A Lack of Ideas: Watch any good team of mobile developers in action, and you will likely witness the exchange of ideas about the app—and the customer experience it engenders—as well as the code itself. That engagement in the activity of business innovation, rather than just the activity of coding, is endemic to the culture of mobile development. This is generally not the case in the mainframe world, where technical staffs view themselves almost exclusively as technical staffs—rather than agents of business change.
These and other symptoms of cultural complacency have largely left the mainframe out of the innovation discussion. That’s unfortunate for several reasons. From a technical perspective, the mainframe’s low profile has resulted in the misdirection of workloads to platforms that are suboptimal when it comes to performance, security, scalability, etc. From a financial perspective, it is forcing enterprises to wastefully allocate more and more of their budgets to infrastructure that comes with a huge “TCO tax.”
And from a business performance perspective, the mainframe’s absence from the strategic innovation discussion has led to a chronic failure to fully leverage some of the enterprise’s most potentially valuable IP— which lives on the mainframe in the form of systems of record.
Simply put, no business can perform to its full potential unless it transforms its mainframe from dead weight to an engine of high-value, high-speed innovation.
So, how can enterprises transform their mainframe culture? And how can they ensure that such cultural change materially impacts top- and bottom-line business outcomes?
The Leadership Imperative
The solution, as it so often does, comes down to leadership. Leaders change culture. IT leaders thus have the power to transform their mainframe culture in order to improve the technical and economic performance of their organizations—and, more important, to optimally impact the short- and long-term performance of the business.
Based on my personal experience, leadership need to drive the mainframe’s culture in four key ways:
Understand and Commit: IT leaders can’t just vaguely assent to the notion that mainframe culture has to change. They have to clearly understand both why the culture is complacent and why there is so much to be gained by a transformation.
Also, leaders who view mainframe transformation as a “nice to have” rather than as an existential issue probably won’t succeed. Full commitment is essential. Otherwise, there will always be a hatch through which those who resist change will always be able to escape. And priorities viewed as more urgent will back-burner the hard, essential work of transformation.
Communicate and Inspire: In a highly technical engineering-centric discipline like IT, there can be a temptation to undervalue human realities. This is a mistake. People need to be motivated, and that motivation almost universally requires a clearly articulated vision of the goals for which they are being asked to devote their time and energies.
Motivation also requires passionate leadership. Passion puts power behind words, ideas, incentives and programs. Leaders must therefore genuinely care about transformation and be genuinely excited about the outcomes that transformation will enable.
Integrate and Cross-Pollinate: Many IT leaders have fallen into the trap of allowing the mainframe to continue operating as a badly segregated silo within IT. This isolation has exacerbated the mainframe’s cultural dysfunction.
IT leaders should aggressively tear down the walls separating the mainframe from the rest of the organization. After all, highvalue business applications increasingly deliver value to customers and internal constituencies by leveraging existing code and data across multiple tiers. That can’t happen in an IT organization that remains overly territorial. Mainframe teams could also stand a little exposure to fast-moving, innovation-obsessed mobile/cloud teams.
Re-invest and Re-tool: Any business activity that promises an attractive upside requires investment. Getting higher returns on mainframe assets is no different. As noted above, no mainframe team can be expected to do new, innovative tricks with ancient, change-averse toolkits. That’s why IT leaders need to think less about shaving a few points off their mainframe budgets and more about how they need to re-equip their mainframes for a Digital Economy that demands agility.
These leadership suggestions are not mere theory. They have been proved in practice. At Compuware, for example, we have applied these leadership principles so that we can now deliver new and upgraded product on a quarterly basis. Even more remarkably, we can now be “shovel-ready” to write code for new applications within weeks of having someone come to us with a compelling new idea.
And, yes, we are doing that on the mainframe.
So, while many mainframe shops suffer from a complacent culture, it doesn’t have to be that way. With the right leadership and the right strategy, enterprises can reap unprecedented value from the mainframe platform. It may not be easy to pull off this kind of transformation—but it’s very, very worthwhile.
Chris o’Malley is CEO of Compuware. With nearly 30 years of IT experience, he is deeply committed to leading Compuware’s transformation into the “mainframe software company for the next 50 years.” His past positions include CEO of VelociData, CEO of Nimsoft, EVP of CA’s Cloud Products & Solutions and EVP/GM of CA’s Mainframe business unit, where he led the successful transformation of that division. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org