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A never-ending story: Adopting a mainframe growth mindset

(Image credit: Image Credit: IBM)

Most large enterprises have had the mainframe sit at the heart of their digital business for over five decades, and the relevance of the platform shows no sign of waning. Not only do 47 percent of organizations say the mainframe is running more of their business-critical applications today than ever before, in its first full quarter of z15 sales (IBM’s newest mainframe), IBM’s mainframe segment was up by 62 percent, showing the market continues to grow.

These systems play an increasingly crucial role for businesses, and so it stands to reason that leaders should be looking at prioritizing innovation on the mainframe. This will enable them to make the most of its strengths in reliability, scalability, performance, and security – as well as the vital insights it contains. Yet, while mainframe importance is rising, the number of skilled specialists in the workforce is dwindling. Traditional tools and processes used to interact with mainframe applications are outdated and difficult for less-experienced developers to work with. To overcome these challenges and enable much-needed innovation, mainframe-powered organizations must adopt a growth mindset. Relinquishing old tools and processes, and adopting a mainframe growth mindset will ensure the platform can continue to provide crucial support for customer-facing and revenue-driving services for the next fifty years.

How does a growth mindset help mainframe innovation?

Shifting from a ‘fixed’ mindset to a ‘growth’ mindset will enable organizations to maximize the benefits the mainframe brings. With a fixed mindset, business leaders regard the mainframe as outdated technology, a bottleneck to software delivery and unable to change. Embracing a growth mindset reflects the opposite – being open to, and enthusiastic about, bringing new ways of working to the mainframe. Importantly, adoption of a growth mindset is not limited to executives and managers – in fact, every individual within the organization should adopt this outlook.

The mainframe growth mindset recognizes how the platform is tried and tested in powering the global economy – the IBM Z mainframes support 85 percent of all credit card transactions, 29 billion ATM transactions and 12 billion passenger flight bookings each year. To fully embrace a growth mindset, IT leaders must look at how they can modernize mainframe practices and remove the platform from its traditional silos. This will enable development teams across the business to work more quickly and more collaboratively, improving the quality, velocity and efficiency of mainframe software development and delivery.

Having all the gear is the right idea

A key component of shifting to a mainframe growth mindset and driving innovation on the platform is embracing new tools, processes and methodologies. Most of the developers that work with web, mobile and distributed systems have already adopted an Agile approach to development and harness automation and the principles of CI/CD and DevOps. It is imperative to also bring these modern practices to the mainframe. By making development on the mainframe more familiar, organizations will be able to not only attract new recruits, but also enhance productivity and accelerate application delivery. 

To start, the mainframe development environment must be modernized by adopting an intuitive IDE to replace antiquated green-screens. It may be an initial shock to more experienced mainframe developers, who have been used to their traditional practices for decades; but with time and a growth mindset, even the most experienced developers will be able to see and benefit from significant increases in efficiency. The mainframe is growing in relevancy, and so enterprises must ensure that developers are able to innovate on the platform for years to come – regardless of whether they are COBOL masters or relative newcomers. Creating a modern mainframe development environment can help with this, as it mimics those already in use by developers elsewhere in the business, bringing the mainframe into the mainstream fold.

Measurement towards ongoing success

While Agile and DevOps are pivotal to identifying new capabilities customers would like and bringing them to market quickly, companies can’t simply implement modern tooling and expect it to be a silver bullet. The cultural change that is essential to success only happens after the business puts new processes and structures in place to tackle the inevitable challenges. Nurturing this shift can be a challenge for businesses, but is certainly achievable with the right approach and clear communication on the benefits the change can offer.

For example, IT leaders can help to bring everyone along on this journey by hosting sessions where mainframe developers can collaborate on idea generation, gain fast feedback on what’s working and not, or provide colleagues with tips and tricks on adapting to the ‘new normal’. This helps to make everyone feel more involved in the process and encourages the changes being introduced to spread organically throughout the team.

Crucial to success, IT leaders must measure aggregated developer performance data to assess how successful they’ve been at encouraging adoption of the changes needed to drive the mainframe forward and identify areas where they need to focus their efforts to continue that momentum. These insights also help teams see how the changes in mainframe practices have positively impacted their performance at work; in particular, improvements in software delivery quality, velocity and efficiency. This all helps establish a culture whereby developers work together to supercharge innovation, championing a customer-centric, fail-fast environment with a growth-mindset at its heart.

No sign of slowing

Proving all of its naysayers wrong, the mainframe continues to dominate enterprise IT – understandably so, given the IBM z15 is capable of running a trillion encrypted web transactions a day with almost 100 percent uptime! However, despite its longevity, mainframe-powered organizations cannot rest on their laurels; it is crucial they adopt a mainframe growth mindset and embrace modern development practices to ensure it continues to create maximum value for the business. For those looking to break out of the mainframe status quo, it is also essential for them to provide developers with the modern tools and intuitive environment they need, so that they can be more productive, collaborative, ultimately drive innovation on the platform and accelerate growth for the business.

Stuart Ashby, DevOps Specialist, Compuware