In my career, I’ve witnessed workplace communication evolve with technology, transforming from scribbled messages to voicemail to pagers to email and text. The communication technologies that win are those that make things move faster and retain a history, but also those that improve focus and provide better automation. That’s why today I mainly rely on chat apps to communicate with team members.

We need to be making it easier for the mainframe to leave its “waterfall” and become an Agile-DevOps platform with a delivery schedule that is as frequent as those in distributed systems. Anything that prevents the mainframe from becoming nimbler, including communication tools, is a constraint that must be supplanted with Agile-enabling innovation. Chat apps should be considered essential for mainframe teams to adopt as they work to move the platform into their enterprise’s DevOps toolchain.

Here are the top four reasons chat apps like HipChat, Slack and others will help your mainframe team address issues other communication technologies can’t as it moves from waterfall to Agile-DevOps.

    1. Real-time Dialogues
      DevOps teams must be in constant communication. Anything that inhibits dialogue must be addressed. Email has its place, but chat apps are more Agile in that they enable real-time messaging, cutting out the send-and-receive process of email. You can see if someone is available or away without even initiating a chat. You can send your message now, or wait for the person to be available. You can even see if they’re typing. Chat apps also work on mobile devices so the receiver can elect to be available when they are away from their desk.  Yes, you can be fast with email, but there’s no argument that email is as fast as chat apps.
    2. Organized Conversations
      Part of the success of Agile and DevOps is in the elimination of waste. When tasks are being handed off, there is little time to get up to speed. You need to be organized. Searching for and digging through an email chain is unproductive. Chat apps are inherently more organized than email because they contain the entire history of a conversation in one place. Anyone can join a conversation and see the entire history without needing someone to cc them on a reply or forward the history to give them access to the preceding conversations, as with an email chain. The conversation can be reviewed in order, by all parties.
    3. Forced Concentration
      In a waterfall world, there’s plenty of time to allocate for large tasks with deadlines that are months away. But in an Agile-DevOps environment, there are several tasks that must be completed within two weeks. This demands a higher level of discipline and concentration and chat apps are key.

      Because messages in chat apps are real-time, they more closely resemble actual conversations, and unlike email, you feel obliged to pay attention and respond. Furthermore, chat apps allow you to open channels for your team or a project to promote better focus. When projects span teams, you can establish one place for quick questions, discussions or updates.

      Instead of sending an email to one person who, when they don’t know the answer, sends it on to another, and instead of just blasting it to everyone, forcing both teams to read it over, you post your message in that channel. Team members can set up an alert to new posts or just notice there is something there they have not seen. They can scan and see if the question has been answered, or choose to contribute more. This is superior to flipping through five emails and looking for the most recent, trying to bypass all the headers. It is clear, efficient and immediate.

    4. Increased Automation
      DevOps is all about automating handoffs and breaking down walls. In DevOps, your tools become team members. They handle tasks you may have done manually in the past. These new team members need to communicate. Chat apps are designed to work well with Webhook notifications. If you work with modern advanced software, you can use the APIs to send notifications to your specific Chat channel. Within your chat you can have notifications for activities like deploy or testing status. If there is an error, everyone in that channel will be able to see and react in an orderly manner.

As more and more mainframe sites move from waterfall to Agile, they will see the value in adopting better communication. In fact, it becomes essential when working in a two-week sprint to eliminate as much lag and confusion as possible. Chat apps are another part of the DevOps toolchain that will allow mainframe teams to bring the platform up to speed with the rest of IT.