Harness Your Heritage: Building an IT Future on Past Success

(SPONSORED CONTENT) The phrase ‘digital transformation’ is everywhere. While it sounds great in principle, embracing new innovation can mean a digital dilemma.

November 29, 2021

5 Min Read

(SPONSORED CONTENT) Imagine completely changing your home to bring it up to date. Adding rooms, refreshing the decor, and updating appliances where needed. You want it done fast to minimize disturbance. But there’s a right way, and several other ways to do it. It is a domestic dilemma.

The first option is to move out for a while. Rip out everything, summon multiple contractors, and struggle with cost, disruption, and uncertainty hoping things will ultimately be okay. Your second is to stay where you are. Take each room in turn, working to an open-ended timeframe, keeping what you can, while replacing only what you must.

Now, consider the IT organization. Leveraging new capabilities could enable vital innovation, but decades of success have been built using core COBOL applications, often running on mainframes. Digital transformation must feel like a choice between a leap in the dark with massive disruption or sticking with what works and falling behind competitors. It is a digital dilemma.

A “third way” is to run and transform. To maintain business as usual (that’s the “run” piece) while “transforming” (i.e. modernizing) systems, environments and applications. Being able to run and transform at the same time will maximize the benefits of new technologies, without disregarding previous IT investments -- and all while running the day-to-day business.

Start Here: Business Needs

Don’t make change for its own sake. Being new doesn’t make something good, or necessary. While the paint has faded, the wood is sound. Swap out the insulation only if heating bills demand an upgrade. Run your home as normal and transform your house around you. But let’s leave my imaginary house, and talk about your real business.

So, how can IT meet your future business needs? Delivering new functions, more quickly? Improving the user experience? Maybe it’s both, and even more innovation besides. Just as no one commences a domestic transformation with a simple “change everything old” plan, an enterprise won’t define modernization as “get rid of COBOL,” a popular programming language with a fine track record.

With business needs at the top of the transformational agenda, investment and efforts will inevitably focus on the projects that deliver the greatest longer-term value. The business environment is constantly changing, so modernization is ongoing.

Making the Choice: Modernization Options

As company setups and application profiles create a unique situation each time, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for transforming every mainframe and COBOL environment. Sometimes it’s better to rewrite the COBOL, while refactoring is a better option for other organizations.

Just like blueprints and thought-through plans create better living environments, a Modernization Maturity Model is the framework that helps create a future-focused IT profile.

Only when you understand the costs and benefits of various options, will you be able to put them together and plot the route to success that delivers the business results you need. Here’s a quick summary of the many options.

  • Rewrite: The riskiest and most expensive option, an application rewrite only makes sense for small applications that require frequent, extensive changes to deliver business value.

  • Refactor: Less risky, but still labor-intensive, refactoring -- breaking a monolithic application into microservices -- supports a quicker turnaround of smaller, frequent application changes.

  • Enable APIs: If the application needs less frequent changes, but the hosting environment is constantly changing, then add APIs to connect newer services more easily to the application.

  • Re-platform: Put your applications and business services in the environment that makes most business sense. You may, for example, consider moving your mainframe applications to the cloud as part of your transformation strategy.

  • Larger organizations may keep the application running on a mainframe for production but harness the flexibility of the cloud for dev and test. That’s the key to successful transformation -- embracing the new while reusing what has worked well over time. And when you build on foundational IT with innovation without distracting from your business as usual practices, you run and transform at the same time.

The Job Is Never done: Endless Modernization

Just as growing families drive domestic change, a marketplace in constant flux makes corporate transformation inevitable and ongoing. Analyst research proves that successful organizations modernize their core IT systems on an ongoing basis, creating digital environments that quickly match changing demands.

Anyone planning a future that looks different for their home or corporate IT profile has options to implement change. The fastest and safest method is to build on what has served you well when you can, and augment those solutions with game-changing tech, such as AI-driven analytics and cloud-ready platforms that prepare you for constant innovation.

Finally, choose a single vendor, offering multiple solutions that help you today, and what you need to succeed going forward. The organization that offers ongoing help and support to make everything work to maximum effect. Because when you run and transform at the same time, you keep the foundations while taking your business to the next level.


Misty Decker is a product marketing director and mainframe modernization evangelist at Micro Focus. Previously with IBM for nearly 30 years, Misty has worked in a wide variety of mainframe roles including system build, release management, customer satisfaction, HW development manager, and university relations. She is known for tackling big projects requiring significant innovation including the precursor to ServerPac, the first release of z/OS in 64-bit, a cultural transformation and skills vitality project, and most recently a complete overhaul of the Master the Mainframe student competition. Wife and mother of two teenagers, she also sings in a chamber choir, serves as judge at beer competitions, and chairs the Governance Committee for one of the country's largest credit unions.

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