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From ”green screen” to green: Implementing sustainable IT initiatives through modernization

(Image credit: Image Credit: Moon Light PhotoStudio / Shutterstock)

In the age of Covid-19, companies are searching for ways to cut operational costs, increase efficiency and maintain business excellence with far leaner resources than ever before. However, as these organizations work toward finding their ideal solutions, this shift in business goals can have environmental benefits. For many organizations, sustainability is on the agenda for 2020 and beyond. What’s more, greener initiatives are no longer “nice to have” – rather, consumers have demanded sustainable efforts from companies across a variety of industries, and potential employees are prioritizing employers and organizations with positive track records that show support for these efforts. These priorities can also serve as positive marketing for corporations. In fact, earlier this year, major corporations like BlackRock have publicly pledged to implement more sustainable practices into their company, and other corporations aren’t far behind.

While Covid-19 has had a direct impact on critical business functions for many organizations, those who remain shackled to mainframes have been hit particularly hard – such as New Jersey’s employment system and the IRS’ system for processing tax returns. However, despite these disasters, many organizations choose to spend a majority of their IT budgets on maintaining these systems rather than modernizing them to maximize agility while meeting the needs of today’s business environment. What’s more, these legacy systems contribute to a negative environmental impact – so how can one convince the C-Suite to make incremental and measurable changes that will carry a significant impact on both business and sustainability?

Legacy systems are not sustainable

The fact of the matter is that legacy systems are not an ideal fit for sustainability initiatives, and not only in a business sense. IT departments are often targeted as a cost center for organizations – and as mainframes are typically housed in dedicated, private data centers equipped with racks, lights, power, AC, staff, and more – these functions can be costly. Many companies dedicate 40-60 percent of their IT budgets on simply maintaining existing systems, and these associated data centers currently use 3 percent of the global electricity supply. These same systems account for 2 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, producing the same size carbon footprint as the aviation industry. As a result, for any organization setting their sights on sustainability efforts, the modernization of their legacy systems is the ideal starting point.

By focusing on alternative data storage solutions such as cloud environments, which abstract and virtualize the circumstances to model a “dedicated” environment while existing on shared resources in facilities with aggregated infrastructure whose power consumption is tightly optimized by the cloud providers, organizations will be better positioned to drive efforts that are sustainable for both the environment and their long-term budgets.

Making an impact

Modernization is of utmost importance for any organization that is running on outdated mainframes. These mainframes can have a significant impact on the carbon footprint of the company, and are especially costly for organization in industries like financial services as the vertical scale of procedural, monolithic mainframe applications tends to be more demanding on compute power than the horizontal scale of modern, modularized applications running in cloud environments. In addition, their overall technical maintenance requirements make them especially challenging to maintain. Luckily, organizations that have pursue modernization efforts have already seen significant benefit.

For example, the Bank of New Zealand upgraded their systems and ultimately reduced its overall power consumption by 38 percent – but these types of results aren’t exclusive to the financial services industry. Rather, Etsy completed its Google Cloud migration in only two years, allowing the organization to scale both up and down as needed based on the cycles of its e-commerce business. This transition enabled Etsy to be more cost-effective and set the organization up to reduce its overall energy use by a whopping 25 percent by 2025. For companies looking to follow in similar footsteps, there are a variety of factors to consider before choosing their ideal sustainable modernization strategy.

Key considerations for modernization

While the above companies found success, there is no one-size-fits all approach to modernization – but there are a variety of factors that businesses must consider before choosing the strategy that’s right for them. The top considerations for sustainable modernization include:

  • While the above companies found success, there is no one-size-fits all approach to modernization – but there are a variety of factors that businesses must consider before choosing the strategy that’s right for them. The top considerations for sustainable modernization include:
  • Timeline: Modernization programs are robust and all encompassing, and they won’t be completed overnight. Organizations must consider what a realistic timeline for their efforts looks like, and should select a strategy that’s in line with their unique needs and challenges. However, as many of these legacy systems were developed as many as 60 years ago, organizations should also prioritize timelines that can expedite this process as much as possible to bring their critical business functions into the digital age. If working with a qualified vendor, companies can achieve this by introducing automation into the modernization process. From an estate assessment and refactoring perspective, this approach can significantly impact the overall timelines of these projects without hurting the maintainability of their systems.
  • Business Goals: If your organization is implementing sustainability as a focal point in its business strategy, it’s important to focus most of your efforts on the specific goals you are aiming to achieve. In addition to reducing their carbon footprint, businesses can utilize these efforts to attract new customers. What’s more, by bringing these systems into the business environment of today, having the latest tech on hand can help to attract top talent as it enters the workforce.
  • Strategy: Contrary to popular belief, updating legacy systems doesn’t always require a full rewrite or override. While initial gut reactions may take businesses down the path of planning a rewrite, these rewrites are rarely successful – and leaning on automation and expertise in the modernization domain can pay big dividends over the brute force approach. In fact, there are a variety of alternative solutions to modernization – and based upon the unique goals of organizations – businesses should consider one of the following:
  • Refactoring through Automated Conversion: This approach allows organizations to retain key legacy knowledge while setting themselves up for success in today’s environment. By translating legacy systems into modern code like C# or Java, this software-based approach offers a low cost modernization strategy that can be completed in incremental steps – thus ensuring minimal interruptions to business as usual.
  • Replicating Data: This approach enables organizations to keep legacy systems fully intact – but replicate the mainframe on a relational model. This allows these systems to continue business as usual, while the new model copies and converts the data, ultimately providing greater flexibility and visibility for organizations.
  • Batch Offloading: Ideal for organizations with limited budget to spend on their modernization efforts, this process selects pieces of batch process applications and converts them to modern programming languages, ensuring the heftiest applications are moved off of the mainframe and reducing operational costs while laying the foundation for a broader modernization effort.

By focusing on these three facets of their business, organizations are better positioned to identify and pursue the modernization strategy that is most in line with their goals.

Where the grass is greener

Sustainability in business is here to stay – and are essential to any organization looking to remain competitive, maintain a strong customer base and drive revenue. By placing green initiatives at the forefront of their business objectives, organizations can drive efficiency, reduce operational costs and significantly cut down their carbon footprint. What is your company waiting for?

Cameron Jenkins, EVP, App Modernization, Modern Systems, an Advanced Company