For companies in today’s digital economy, there’s an emerging paradox of mainframe disinvestment contrasted by the need for increased mainframe development. As technologies of engagement flourish and access mainframe data millions of times daily, companies are reversing their neglect of the mainframe and working hard to reinstitute the talent and knowledge needed to leverage the platform as the backbone of their success.

As a mainframe software vendor, we can point to many customer case studies following this narrative, where companies have used modernized tools to get their mainframe development back on track. The following story conveys how dangerous mainframe disinvestment is, and how exciting it can be to reinvest.

What Happens When Companies Neglect Mainframe Development?

One of our customers, a large European bank, faced a daunting IT management challenge. As many mainframe-backed enterprises have done over the years, the bank stopped developing new mainframe applications as experts retired. The bank overlooked its mainframe skills shortage and let its mainframe development staff shrink around 30 percent.

Customers more often began accessing data on the bank’s mainframe via distributed, web and mobile applications, increasing the bank’s mainframe development needs. But with a downsized staff, the bank didn’t have the manpower to support a heavier workload.

Additionally, without its previous stock of mainframe expertise, the bank’s smaller development team was less experienced in modifying unfamiliar, poorly-documented COBOL applications. This fanned the flames for developers already struggling to identify coding and performance issues even within more familiar, albeit complex and co-dependent, applications and databases.

Because customers had come to expect shorter time-to-benefit, the bank couldn’t risk being too slow to modify mainframe applications that enhanced customers’ mobile experiences, or too slow to develop new capabilities for its staff. But in test/QA, developers’ lack of familiarity with the bank’s mainframe applications made discerning code-change impacts complicated and tedious. The bank needed its mainframe test/QA to quickly and accurately diagnose, fix and test problematic code.

Rebounding From Mainframe Disinvestment

To leverage the untapped capabilities of its mainframe and remain a top competitor in an aggressive financial services industry, the bank adopted modernized tools that give developers the ability to visualize application relationships, runtime behaviors, problems in programming logic flows and code change impacts—and reducing issue-resolution time from hours to minutes.

A single interface unifying mainframe and non-mainframe development with access to visualization made it easier for developers to transition between mainframe and non-mainframe environments, and enabled Java/x86 developers to understand unfamiliar applications left behind by mainframe veterans.

In one instance, the bank’s developers were able to graphically visualize a mainframe application’s runtime activity in high-level production and “drill down” to a detailed view where they discovered a batch process completing further behind schedule. Unmodified, it would eventually fail to complete before the open of business, which would be detrimental for the bank and its customers. New tools allowed the bank to locate the cause—a sort-program call repeating hundreds of thousands of times each night—and make a simple code fix that reduced that hundred-thousand-call bottleneck to one call.

Modernized Mainframe Tools Are Foundational for Reinvestment

As this large European bank discovered, the mainframe is the most reliable and secure platform for handling data that will continue to be accessed more frequently as technologies of engagement progress. After adopting modernized mainframe development tools, the bank gave us this opinion:

“Invest in new visual mainframe DevOps tools that make it as easy as possible for development and test/QA staff at all skill levels to modify mainframe code as required—quickly and with the highest degree of confidence.”

Re-platforming mainframe applications isn’t an option for solving the riddle of mainframe disinvestment, but investing in modernized tools will make your applications more manageable for a new workforce.

To learn more about the modernized mainframe development tools one of Europe’s largest banks used to recover from mainframe disinvestment and keep its competitive edge, you can read this case study.