Modernisation – it’s a matter of maintaining customer choice

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Some time ago, I blogged about the place of women, and COBOL, in IT. I’ve now had a chance to talk directly to Misty Decker, Mainframe and COBOL Modernization Evangelist at OpenText, which has now acquired Micro Focus, a major player in mainframe and COBOL modernisation. As Misty says:

We certainly have competition, but our differentiator is that we are the only company in the mainframe space that is fully agnostic. We do not just advocate for a single path but suggest considering all options, whether it be modernising in place or moving off premises to the cloud.”

I think that this is exactly right, maintaining customer choice is fundamental. Personally, I think the power and utility of Mainframe 3.0 is often overlooked; but at the same time, many organisations are finding that moving workloads onto the Cloud makes commercial sense. One should be agnostic about hardware platforms and run workloads on the most appropriate platform – and what platform is most appropriate may change with changes in the business (for example, one might offload on-premises work to the cloud in the run-up to Xmas) Independence from the underlying hardware is exactly what cloud is all about.

Misty and I had an animated conversation around the implications of this for the business – the sort of conversation, presenting and contrasting different POVs, that I feel practitioners would really benefit from listening into – and even participating in.

Misty tells me that she would have liked such discussions in the recent OpenText Mainframe Modernisation Summit but that it is just too difficult to get practitioners to engage in such events in public – there is probably a trust issue here, in that saying what one really thinks can be career-limiting, if management disagrees. There are, I think, ways around this (perhaps semi-public events with an invited audience, under Chatham House rules) but that is for another day.

Misty points out that the summit did have a technical panel discussion with contrasting points-of view but in the end the group agreed much more often than it disagreed.  I sympathise – I’ve been there myself. Even so, the whole summit was designed to present differing points of view, a good range of perspectives, and I think it succeeded in this. What Misty couldn’t do was to get anyone to engage in a structured, college-style debate – mostly, I think because of the pressure this would place on people to come up with arguments and counter-arguments, on the fly and in public.

Our recent conversation was more around the choices currently available and changing perceptions of modernisation. We both agree that modernisation is a matter of achieving business outcomes, not just technical perfection. Misty points out that many businesses today are willing to accept lower processing rates if this means that they don’t have to manage their own data centre. It’s all about making a holistic assessment of the costs and benefits of modernisation, not just focusing on one easy-to-measure metric. Perhaps we differed on just how many workloads might remain on the mainframe after such a holistic analysis – but that doesn’t matter, because if businesses do their own analysis properly, they’ll end up with the most effective solution for their own circumstances.

My view is that outsourcing the overheads of your own data centre (which is what Cloud often means) makes a lot of sense – but always remember that you can outsource execution but not responsibility/accountability. If you are a regulated business (and, with data privacy regulations, most businesses today effectively are), you’ll have to change your risk assessments appropriately if you move workloads to the cloud. If, for example, your cloud provider has a major data breach and loses the personally identifiable information of your customers, the regulators will come after your cloud provider – but they’ll also come after you, for choosing the wrong cloud provider or setting up the wrong service- and experience-level agreements.

I think modernisation should flourish with OpenText after the MicroFocus acquisition – Misty seems very happy that what Micro Focus brings is being used by its new partner. I think that Micro Focus complements Open Text (now much more than just an enterprise document management company) by filling in gaps in its modernisation story, with technology that can bring important heritage systems to the party.