Well-established applications, such as IBM's CICS Transaction Management system, have inadvertently become the poster children of an increasingly important problem for IT departments. Put simply, the staff with the skills needed to make it work well are disappearing to the greener pastures of retirement, and those that follow on come with radically different skills sets.
This is definitely the case with CICS and, in particular, the CICS Toolset used by developers. Traditionally, learning the necessary skills has taken months, if not years. The front line skills needed today are all intuitively oriented, with a strong swing towards the Web, Java and the like. And this also points at the next requirement amongst the user community—building applications that combine the best of established, still-crucial applications like CICS and the functional richness and flexibility of the new Web-based world.
IBM's answer has been to take the CICS Interdependency Analyser it introduced last year and develop it into a full, Eclipse-based development framework called Explorer. This is due to be introduced via webcast in November.
The development work has been carried out in conjunction with IBM's Rational Divison and groups in the CICS Tools portfolio group. According to John Knutson, marketing manager for CICS Tools, one of the key objectives is to allow developers to do more with CICS without the years of training.
There are several strands to this development, not least being that specific issue of staff training and productivity. By tying Explorer closely with the Eclipse Framework, IBM opens up opportunities for Java-trained staff to switch to CICS, not just as a change of job, but as part of an integration process between CICS, the web and Java-based applications and services. By the same token, it allows partners and enterprises to link their own Eclipse-based plug-ins with CICS, opening up potentially significant new opportunities for them, and for CICS.
It may be an over-hyped word, but 'ecosystem' does apply to what IBM has in mind for CICS now. Strong transaction management is now more important than ever, but it no longer exists in back office isolation, so building links for CICS with the Web 2.0 world is important. So the target now is building an online CICS community around both the tools and the Transaction Server. The initial aim will be to show the synergistic value of using Explorer to the Transaction Server, particularly in creating new, Web 2.0 applications and services using reliable transaction management tools capable of managing the complex, often fractured transactions ebusiness operations can produce.
Explorer will become a core part of the next major release of CICS, due to appear next summer. A beta program has been running for while, but there is still time for users and ISVs to join it.