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Are you ready to break it off with your Mainframe?

A recent survey of IT decision makers indicates that an astounding 94 percent of organizations would consider moving off the mainframe, and 77 percent say their organization should have already started the mainframe migration/modernization process to avoid being at risk.

Organizations are targeting the mainframe as an opportunity to not only reduce IT costs, but to improve agility and ready their business for digital transformation.  Rapid, low-risk mainframe migrations to distributed environments are increasingly common in well-run IT departments, and thousands of MIPS are being moved to Windows, UNIX, and Linux — both on premises and in the cloud.

However, like any migration, moving off the mainframe comes with some risk, and selecting the right solution and solution provider is just the beginning.

Leveraging our 35 years of experience in complex mainframe migrations, here are some tips to consider when you finally decide you are ready to break it off with your mainframe:

Know what you’ve got.

It is critical to establish ownership for delivery of each of the following components as well as obtain firm delivery schedule commitments. Depending on your environment, there could certainly be more components to consider, but here are some of the obvious ones:

  • Primary programming languages (l COBOL, CA Gen, Natural)
  • Secondary programming languages (Easytrieve and Assembler)
  • Data infrastructure and data stored in files and relational databases
  • Batch application infrastructure (including JCL, Supporting Utilities, and Job Scheduler)
  • Online application infrastructure (including TP System and User Interface Screens)
  • Application and system level security (RACF, TopSecret, and ACF2)
  • Output, content and report management (CA-View//Deliver, ASG-Mobius, and IBM FileNet)
  • Development, test, and QA infrastructure
  • Production, failover, and disaster recovery infrastructure
  • Application modernization architecture and tooling

Know where you’re going.

The first step in this process – and this applies to anything on or off the mainframe, by the way — is a Legacy Assessment.  In this critical phase, experts apply advice to technical solution design, with a primary deliverable being a documented solution design that will ensure the right fit for your unique business requirements and target environment.  Key questions to ask yourself in this phase: Will you achieve the desired performance levels in a virtualized environment? Can it work in the cloud? Do you have the necessary resources available to manage it?

Don’t minimize the value of strong project management and solution architect support for your project. Typically, these projects focus on applications that, for many years, have been core to the business. The two biggest drivers of added time and cost to mainframe migration projects are confirming technical inventory and gathering test and use case data. To avoid this, make sure your experts are available and actively vested in the project.

Gain executive sponsorship.

Without executive sponsorship, finding the resources needed to properly execute can be a challenge. This was a key part of  successful mainframe migration for Desjardins General Insurance Group. The management approach relied on the accountability of those responsible, the accountability of IT resources and the involvement of managers and upper management, which ultimately ensured the mobilization of resources throughout the project.

Be sure to address problems early and fast (toward the end of the Build phase going into the Test phase).

Avoid wasted time in post-migration testing and production support. Implement and use the right tools and train a core technical team in problem resolution processes and procedures before going into production. Understand your vendor’s resolution and bug tracking process. Above all, be sure their process is in alignment with yours, as this is important for reducing the time it takes to understand and resolve issues.

Do not underestimate testing as part of the project.

We’ve found that testing accounts for more than half of the effort of these projects. It’s wise to begin preparing test cases early and in parallel with your project.

Avoid wasted time in post-migration testing and production support. Thoroughly prepare test data and scripts, leveraging your existing testing assets and processes, if possible. In many cases, documentation around test cases is rare. As a result, organizations should dedicate the resources necessary to ensure proper documentation of all test cases relevant to the mainframe migration.

Make sure you align incident tracking tooling.

Adopt and use an internal incident-tracking solution from the very beginning. Using a help desk incident-tracking solution as a central repository:

  • Renders the process immediately efficient
  • Ensures visible accountability and reportability
  • Avoids “lost issues”
  • Makes valuable issue resolution approaches and solutions available on a searchable and reportable basis

Do not neglect to see the big picture, including operations and infrastructure.

Include internal stakeholders for support processes and other operational considerations during project planning and solution design. Their input can be invaluable from the outset, helping further define scope and avoid costly Project Change Requests. In many cases, the application team running a project lacks experience with infrastructure projects and related procurement/support processes in the target environment. It’s vital for the delivery team(s) to understand the internal processes, lead times, change windows, lock-down schedules, and other constraints.

Adopt a philosophy that, not everything will or should be modernized.

Segregate “input files” from other file types and gather all associated record layouts. Only input files (VSAM, QSAM, etc.) require conversion. Therefore, it’s important to identify which are the input files vs. temporary files vs. output files. Data migration can be a significant part of the project, so putting in effort up front saves on budget and schedule.

Calculate your potential ROI and track its progress.

Gain the expected value from your solution. Implement strong leadership and teaming approaches in your production environment with the mandate and accountability to measure and deliver on the ROI that was agreed upon when the solution was procured. Quantify your ROI opportunity and measure results.

In the end, the potential breakup with your mainframe can have significant positive results for your department and the health of your overall organization.

If you get it right, you’ll be better positioned for the future and these business improvement metrics could be yours:

  • 40 percent IT cost reduction
  • Up to 70 percent scope reduction
  • 25 percent development productivity improvement
  • 30 percent system performance improvement
  • 15percent application quality improvement
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