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Mainframe Modernization: A Deep Dive into Real Strategies and Success Stories – Futurum Tech Webcast

Mainframe Modernization: A Deep Dive into Real Strategies and Success Stories - Futurum Tech Webcast

In this episode of the Futurum Tech Webcast, host Steven Dickens welcomes Neil Fowler, SVP, Software Engineering Development at OpenText, to explore the challenges and opportunities in modernizing mainframe systems. They emphasize the importance of flexibility and choice in the modernization journey, catering to an organization’s specific needs and objectives. The conversation touches on the significance of application modernization, the role of skills in this transformation, and the real-world success stories of organizations like AG Insurance. Overall, the paper they discuss provides a comprehensive overview and practical insights for those considering mainframe modernization.

Their discussion covers:

  • The multifaceted journey of Mainframe modernization, with flexibility and choice being crucial factors
  • How application modernization plays a pivotal role in adapting mainframe systems to meet evolving business needs
  • Why addressing the skills gap in mainframe development is essential, and the significant opportunity for the next generation of developers
  • Real-world case studies, such as AG Insurance in Belgium, highlighting the benefits and challenges of modernization, providing valuable insights for organizations embarking on a similar path

For more information, read our latest Research Report on How Mainframe Modernization Begins with Application Modernization.

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Steven Dickens: Hello and welcome to another episode of the Futurum Tech Webcast. I’m your host, Steven Dickens, and I’m joined today by Neil Fowler from OpenText. Hey Neil, welcome to the show.

Neil Fowler: Hi, Steven. Thanks. Nice to be here.

Steven Dickens: So let’s get the listeners and viewers orientated here. Tell me a little bit about your role and what you do for OpenText.

Neil Fowler: Sure. So I’m the Lead Engineer of the Application Modernization and Connectivity product group here at OpenText. So this covers all of the COBOL enterprise, host connectivity, CORBA Mainframe, A DLM technologies, and I’ve been here for several decades now. So fairly comfortable with this topic here.

Steven Dickens: It’s amazing what you can do when you start your career. Age five or six, isn’t it Neil?

Neil Fowler: I was minus 10. It was good.

Steven Dickens: I believe you. I believe you, of course.

Neil Fowler: Yeah. It doesn’t show at all.

Steven Dickens: No. So, really looking forward to this conversation. We’ve been collaborating with the OpenText team recently on a piece of research where you’ve had us chat to your customers, really dig deep with your product management teams, get under the skin of Enterprise Suite and what you’re doing, understand the technology, but also understand some of those customer deployments. What I want to discuss today, is some of those driving forces. What’s driving the topic of migration and modernization? We spent some time together recently at one of your events. I know you chat to customers. So what are you seeing as those driving focuses?

Neil Fowler: Well, I’d say, it’s a good point because over time this has changed, but more recently, we’ve seen a transition away from things like cost being a primary driver. It tends to be now, a combination of both business and technical issues. So some of that might be skilled in terms of operating the platform, but more and more frequently, it is trying to innovate more quickly, bring products to market, make sure that their digital experience of their customers is better. And then, just the innovation that’s available in the public cloud platform, trying to integrate that as part of their digital strategy, their data strategy, maybe even getting access into those core business systems, reusing them, making those APIs available, and even reusing the data as part of an AI or ML strategy as well. So really, map changes from customer to customer, but it really is now around time to market and skills, I think, is the primary drivers we’re seeing.

Steven Dickens: Yeah, I mean one of the customers you had us chat to as part of the report was a Belgian insurance company called AG Insurance. What came through from that story was costs was part of the driver, but the big driver, I thought, was flexibility, being able to almost break apart that application and containerize it and take it to microservices. I know you are the exec sponsor for that project. Maybe just drill that down there ’cause I think that’s a great illustration point of what you were talking about.

Neil Fowler: Yeah, I mean, AG, as you said, it’s a fantastic example, a committed customer really looking towards the future. It started off from a compelling event in terms of where their mainframe was hosted and the need to make some changes. But they didn’t just take what would be seen as the safe choice of just knowing to move that mainframe environment to a new provider because they really wanted to engage their own employees and give them better career prospects, making sure they’re using the latest technologies, but then that would lead into the innovation that they could bring as part of their development cycle because they’re focused on the customer and even though they’re a highly regulated organization, critical part of the infrastructure within Belgium. So the steps they were taking were reasonably cautious down that path, but they absolutely had an eye on the future during that project. As they got more into it, they found their teams actually had a better understanding of the application, the things they could do with it, and they could really see the future options and how they could engage, just with their customers and actually help build better applications in the future to the point they describe themselves as a data-centric organization. And they’ve been much more agile with their development practices. So it was a really great success story, but it has a long process they were going through because they’re just very cautious and really made sure that they could deliver the level of service and better, that they used to have on their existing platform.

Steven Dickens: The thing that came across for me was not only the 6,000 MIP migration to 50 servers on-prem, and this is an area I want to understand more from you. That’s kind of phase one re-platformed using your software. Phase two is what’s interesting for me, as you mentioned, that kind of decomposition and driving the agility. Can you also talk to where their plans are a little, going forward, as they look to move from on-prem and those 50 servers that they’ve deployed on-prem into and out towards a public cloud environment is the kind of target state? Yeah,

Neil Fowler: That is a good, good question because the approach that they took was essentially, replatforming as the first instance. Because it’s a very well established application, actually delivered very well against most of the business requirements. So they didn’t have to start from scratch. So they could basically build on their existing, well proven, tested technology. The first stage you said is to move on-prem, but moving forward, eventually, it’ll be moving these applications into the public cloud. And as we discussed a few weeks ago, one of the things you have to look at when you’re doing one of these projects is, you’re not just trying to replicate your existing environment on a new system because that doesn’t necessarily deliver all the benefits. It doesn’t take advantage of all the technologies. So as part of that infrastructure modernization that they did in the first place by moving that platform, it enabled their process in modernization, improvements to Agile, taking advantage of quicker CICD pipelines, application understanding, which then allows them to move the application forward, which is the final part, which is that application modernization. And they can identify core business logic that they can reuse and then build into new services as a leapfrog into the next generation of those applications. And I say that, just working with the team over the project, you could just see the team getting more and more engaged and realizing the benefits as they went through. So they were really excited about the next steps they could take as part of that journey as they moved to the next phase.

Steven Dickens: Yeah, I mean, I think the key thing for me is, and you mentioned it there and maybe I’ll paraphrase it, is moving one monolithic application from one platform to another doesn’t get you to that end game. It’s then being able to, what can you do to break apart that monolithic application into microservices so that you can take advantage of Agile, you can take advantage of innovations in the CICD pipeline, rev that code faster, make incremental changes, rather than the waterfall changes from a monolithic, is that what you’re seeing?

Neil Fowler: No, exactly. And they said the combination of the tool sets they get is, once they’re on the new platform to start with from things like our Enterprise Analyzer product, allows them to do sort of static code analysis, identify these core business functions that they want to expose in new capabilities. But in AG’s case, they were using Visual Studio, but we can work with BS code and Eclipse, but I mean, once you’re in that platform, you can actually take that to the next level with the best tooling with the understanding, and start building those APIs for consumption in other models.

Steven Dickens: So we’ve obviously talked about a case there of moving off and using the enterprise suite as an example to move off. I know from some of our conversations and the ongoing dialogue I have with OpenText, in your teams, you don’t want to be just painted as a move off player. There’s a more nuanced view. Maybe you can just talk through a little bit about the strategy and how that works. Depending on what your clients are wanting to do, they can use your technology set to achieve those objectives. I think that nuanced view doesn’t often come through in the discussion around your tools.

Neil Fowler: Yeah. And one of the things that we have, especially within the AMC approach is, it’s not a prescriptive process or outcome. It really just focuses on what the customer is trying to achieve. I mean, we talked about the beginning of this in terms of what the various drivers are, but every application in the portfolio might have a different outcome. We often work with lots of customers who are really trying to, they’re happy with the platform, generally happy with the application, would like to be able to move it a bit quicker. So what they do is more of an offload development and test solution where because they can have access to all of these tools to help close some of the skills gaps and the productivity requirements, they move the development processes off onto a distributed platform, but they still deploy back to the mainframe. And then the other phase of that one is, and we’ve had other customers that, sometimes provisioning a new LPAR for their testing workload takes a long time. The ability to just spin up, comparting source and deploying new infrastructure in a matter of hours, rather than requiring weeks of careful configuration, really accelerates that process. So the evolution of that is, if they just want better development practices and tools and agility and skills, they have access to the tools, they can then take it to that next level, do a continuous integration, continuous testing model, maybe even still deploy back to the mainframe or a blended approach of all three. It really does make a difference in terms of what they’re trying to achieve and how comfortable they are with all the different technologies and platforms they’re working with.

Steven Dickens: So I can see that feeding into the high level application modernization. Organizations are wanting to drive app modernization. They’re looking at that going, “I’ve got this huge monolithic COBOL application. I don’t know where to start.” Maybe talk through, and I know you’ve got some thoughts around how you can help people sort of compartmentalize that journey. How’s the best way to start to think of some of those steps to think through that process?

Neil Fowler: One of the things that we’ve built up, and this is based off of the thousands of successful projects we’ve done over decades. So we have something we refer to as a modernization maturity model. So it really starts talking about where you have to plot your As is and To be states. So it really is, where are you? Where do you want to get to? And then there’s a series of interim steps, whether that be, moving from just an off-prem distributed application, whether it be cloud ready for example, that you could just deploy anywhere. And then moving on to the latest stages, as and when necessary, of a cloud optimized, taking advantage of the platform as a service capabilities, through to the extension to cloud native. But from each of those approaches, with the rapid assessment we help customers with, because you have to look at both the functional equivalents, but you also have to look at the non-functional requirements. What are they trying to achieve? What’s the scale? What’s the availability? What’s the different parameters that really needs to govern where the application runs? So you need to look at it in the whole. And then there’s a nice model which we go through, where the maturity model talks around application process infrastructure, but also thinks about the other more intangible aspects in terms of the company culture and the management systems that go around it. Because if you neglect any one of those, it can just cause more challenges and impact on the project. So it’s a holistic view, trying to understand both the functionality, the non-functional and where you want to get to as a future state. Because of that, we’ve just got a nice set of clear steps or processes you can go through to be able to decide what outcome you want, which makes sense for your business at that time.

Steven Dickens: So Neil, as we start to wrap up here, what should people be doing first? It’s a daunting landscape. They’ve got a big huge monolithic COBOL application. The business is putting pressure on them to innovate faster. They’re looking to get potentially moved to the cloud. Maybe there’s some data center location or skills challenges in play, lots of big pieces to move around the chessboard. Where would you suggest customers start?

Neil Fowler: So sometimes when you look, as you say, you look at this whole thing, it can be a bit daunting because you might come into it with preconceptions of the only way you can go forward. So understanding what the art of the possible is, and how you can deliver incremental value during a modernization journey, as you may take one piece at a time from the development skills and operations, maybe move some workloads and take advantage of those technologies. And working through the stages of the maturity model, but really remembering to focus on what those business objectives are that you started with because you can deliver that incremental value and actually understand more, which de-risks the next stage of the project. And it also makes you realize that you don’t have to take a big rip and replace rewrite project to be able to get there, and you can actually get there in those stages, that actually then, opens up the possibilities of what’s next. And that means that journey will continue into the future because most of these projects are not a one stop, they’re continuous modernization projects to meet the needs of the business.

Steven Dickens: So Neil, I think that’s a fantastic place for us to wrap. I think we’ve painted the picture of where OpenText can add some value. We’ve talked about examples with AG insurance of where customers have got to the end state and made a significant move in their journey to get into the cloud. And we’ve talked about some of the good places to start. So I think, fantastic discussion. Always a pleasure to chat and have you on the show. Thank you very much for joining us.

Neil Fowler: Thanks. It’s been great being here.

Steven Dickens: So you’ve been listening to the Futurum Tech Webcast. Please check out the paper that we’ve written with OpenText. We’ll put that in the show notes below, and we’ll see you next time. Thank you very much for watching.

Other insights from The Futurum Group:

OpenText Uses its OpenText World EMEA Event to Break Cover

OpenText Reports Strong Q4 and FY 2023 Earnings, Driven by Cloud and ARR Growth

Evaluating OpenText Aviator, Part 2: Leading AI Use Cases

Evaluating OpenText Aviator: The Emergence of Enterprise AI Platforms

Author Information

Regarded as a luminary at the intersection of technology and business transformation, Steven Dickens is the Vice President and Practice Leader for Hybrid Cloud, Infrastructure, and Operations at The Futurum Group. With a distinguished track record as a Forbes contributor and a ranking among the Top 10 Analysts by ARInsights, Steven's unique vantage point enables him to chart the nexus between emergent technologies and disruptive innovation, offering unparalleled insights for global enterprises.

Steven's expertise spans a broad spectrum of technologies that drive modern enterprises. Notable among these are open source, hybrid cloud, mission-critical infrastructure, cryptocurrencies, blockchain, and FinTech innovation. His work is foundational in aligning the strategic imperatives of C-suite executives with the practical needs of end users and technology practitioners, serving as a catalyst for optimizing the return on technology investments.

Over the years, Steven has been an integral part of industry behemoths including Broadcom, Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), and IBM. His exceptional ability to pioneer multi-hundred-million-dollar products and to lead global sales teams with revenues in the same echelon has consistently demonstrated his capability for high-impact leadership.

Steven serves as a thought leader in various technology consortiums. He was a founding board member and former Chairperson of the Open Mainframe Project, under the aegis of the Linux Foundation. His role as a Board Advisor continues to shape the advocacy for open source implementations of mainframe technologies.


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