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Part 1 of this series offered advice on how companies should decide whether to exit the legacy mainframe platform or modernize it. Part 2  further discussed the exit strategy but focused on businesses that opt to modernize, exploring in some detail the process for adapting systems, data and platforms. What follows are our experience-based predictions on where the mainframe is headed and what enterprises must do to prepare.

The digital imperative

We believe digital is and should be an enterprise-wide way of doing things. It’s about the technological and organizational processes that allow an enterprise to be agile and fast. It’s about rethinking how to use new, interconnected capabilities to improve the ways that customers are served. It’s about creating value in previously unimaginable or unachievable ways.

In recent years, many factors (some industry-agnostic, some industry-specific) have impacted the IT environment — including classic enterprise platforms like the mainframe. These factors include mergers; compliance demands; the “consumerization” of corporate IT; the relentless drive to get closer to customers; cost pressures; the billowing cloud; and pressure to provide more intuitive experiences for customers, associates and partners.

Bringing the mainframe up to speed

In most businesses, updating the mainframe to meet the criteria noted above requires a comprehensive upgrade of the platform, application, data and process layers.

To be a component of a digital-first business going forward, any technology platform must meet certain criteria. It must be adaptive; feature intelligent analytics; focus on the customer experience; and be available anytime, anywhere. Security and compliance are prerequisites, as is an industry focus — that is, app services must be tailored to specific industry and functional requirements.

The following depicts the reference architecture of applications systems running on the mainframe platform, along with digital requirements that each application layer must address.


The following mainframe solutions/frameworks and technologies will help businesses address the digital requirements in each layer:

  • Systems of engagement. User interface (UI) decoupling followed by modernization; service enablement (non-UI) for multichannel access; process integration technologies; and responsive web design.
  • Systems of integration (both app-to-app and app-to-data). Legacy APIzation involving application programming interface (API) discovery and enablement; IBM z/OS Connect and Data Virtualization Manager; and OpenLegacy.
  • Systems of differentiation. Application renovation involving rules externalization and componentization; process automation solutions (UI, IT processes and business processes); IBM Operational Decision Manager and WebSphere Compute Grid for z/OS.
  • Systems of intelligence. Big-data analytics processing, IBM Watson Explorer for z/OS and IzODA.
  • Systems of records. Data encapsulation; legacy APIzation involving accelerated API enablement of legacy assets; and OpenLegacy.
  • Systems of security. Digital certificates and data privacy passport.
  • Systems of operations. IBM iZOA and Syncsort Ironstream for Log Analytics.

When implemented with appropriate consideration and planning, these solutions allow enterprises to adapt the longstanding strengths of mainframes to today’s digital-first demands. For example, in part 2 of this series, we helped the world’s largest package delivery company decouple its systems of engagement from its systems of records to add valuable new customer capabilities. The company was more than satisfied with the speed, accuracy and robustness of its mainframe-based systems of records. What it required was greater customer-facing transparency for tracking shipments regardless of device. We assessed the client’s portfolio and created a plan and roadmap to do just that. Other organizations, driven by industry- and strategy-specific needs, may want to make changes to other layers.   

Looking ahead

We believe that in midsized and large enterprises, the mainframe can continue to play a cost-effective role — but the final decision on whether to exit or modernize should come only after the assessment described in part 2. Moreover, companies shouldn’t soldier on with this platform merely because of sunk costs and a sense that, like it or not, the mainframe is forever intertwined with the business. Rather, leaders who choose to retain the mainframe should leverage its strengths — massive compute power, low cost per millions of instructions per second (MIPS) and applications carefully honed through the years — while updating the platform to better meet tomorrow’s needs.

Tomorrow’s mainframe may not be the center of a corporate IT strategy (and certainly cannot be siloed like the mainframes of old), but for many businesses, it will remain a key component of the technology ecosystem. Incrementally moving the mainframe into a more modern IT infrastructure will require the use of microservices, open APIs, etc. for co-existence with the emerging “digitall” stack. Naturally, businesses that exit the mainframe will also be making use of these technologies and processes.    

In many cases, the adaptation will entail a hybrid mainframe/cloud strategy. For example, an enterprise might leverage the platform’s resiliency, adding a new mainframe to handle business-critical applications while turning to cloud to support customer-facing applications. A key part of such a strategy would be modernizing mainframe development tool sets to attract new programmers — and make it easier for them to develop on the platform, while also creating more intuitive experiences that anticipate user needs, wants and behaviors.

Legacy applications can range from being repositories of decades’ worth of business process and compliance evolution to a patchwork of monolithic applications that become hard to maintain. Businesses that opt to retain the platform should appropriately invest in new capabilities that leverage the mainframe systems and still add value in terms of customer experience and increased efficiency in sales, supply chain and innovation. These measures will ensure that for companies that choose to keep it, the mainframe platform remains relevant for the foreseeable future.

This article was authored by Cognizant Application Modernization Architects Niranjan Kulkarni, Pavankumar Murali, and Lakshmi Narasimhan.

To learn more, visit the Digital Strategy section of our website or contact us.