Hidden figures: how mainframe and IT heroes are winning the digital race

Why organizations tapping the business value of hidden mainframes are winning in the digital transformation era.

Based on a true story, the film Hidden Figures follows three brilliant African-American women working at NASA who served as the brains behind one of the greatest space operations in history that galvanized the world in the early 1960s – the launch of astronaut John Glenn into orbit.



Similar to the women behind the scenes in putting astronaut John Glenn into space, the mainframe is the hidden engine and the mainframe IT folks the hidden figures that power the world’s mission essential business transactions. Consequently, the mainframe is quickly becoming a source of revenue growth and innovation for forward-thinking companies.

The first mainframes were instrumental in the launch of space flight and programs like Social Security. Fast-forward to the present, the z13 can process 2.5 billion transactions per day (or the equivalent to 100 Cyber Mondays every day, according to IBM). Today’s mainframes are mission-essential to businesses around the globe, including 44 of the top 50 banks and 90 percent of airlines, serving a very different economy. The mainframe is now the chosen platform for Blockchain and machine learning, transforming from a revenue-supporting machine into a revenue-generating engine, increasingly playing a central role in organizations’ digital transformation journeys.

Hidden irony

This was the conclusion of a recent CA and IBM sponsored study with IDC to examine mainframe trends and value to organizations. The hidden irony is that like the women’s unrecognized mathematical skills in the movie, the study found that CIOs and IT leaders were unaware that the mainframe is the secret engine within the data center or even the cloud.

For example, a healthcare organization noted that it is moving to the next step with IoT and Big Data: “We have partnered with vendors around remote devices, diabetes devices. We’re positioning for IoT and Big Data that are tied to our mainframe development.”

Value generation

According to IDC, adopters of a connected mainframe strategy can achieve more than 300 percent ROI over five years and generate almost $200 million in additional revenue per year while improving business and IT staff productivity and cutting operational costs.

As part of a study on the value generation from the connected mainframe, IDC interviewed executives at nine organizations that have historically run significant mainframe operations. It found that connected mainframe adopters achieved over 50 percent of the benefit value from productivity gains, realized from higher transaction volumes, new services and/or business expansion. Furthermore, these organizations would experience 47 percent lower cost of operations over five years than if they had migrated off the mainframe to a distributed infrastructure.

Behind the scenes

The women’s mathematical skills went largely unrecognized because of their gender and race. Despite the negative forces working against them, these skills were instrumental in the launch of the first Apollo mission, which NASA got credit for, while their story was hidden for so long.

Similar to the women who were breaking ground by tearing down stereotypes, so too are the connected mainframe adopters of today (albeit in a different context): they are breaking new ground by tearing down old silos across IT, cloud and APIs as well as adopting new methodologies such as Agile and DevOps to build bridges with mobile and web teams that ultimately is changing the culture of their organization.

Don’t make mainframe different

The mainframe is no longer viewed as separate – instead, like the women’s role in the success of the space launch, it is just another service with a mission critical role to play in digital transformation. On the integration side of the connected mainframe, there are many exciting things happening.

First is the use of internal and external APIs – think of the mainframe as one piece of the business ecosystem with public APIs opening up a plethora of revenue generating opportunities. In fact, Mainframe-as-a-Service, while still in early days, will offer cloud-like service benefits and that is only possible via API enablement. Secondly, with mobile enablement comes the ease of exposing mainframe services, which eliminates the need to rebuild a payment application or something similar. For example, a healthcare firm almost tripled their enrollment at zero incremental cost by simply extending and reusing what they had.

Lastly, mainframe DevOps is gaining traction – those, for example, that are doing mainframe DevOps are showing they can deliver as fast as the rest of the organization. In fact, one participant mentioned above noted that what used to take months, now takes about one to two weeks to build for a new service.

As I’ve pointed out in this post, the mainframe and people behind the amazing services and experiences we have, are hidden. Mainframers have always been a quiet, focused community – they don’t go out seeking laurels.

But the study shows that it’s time we all acknowledge tremendous value generated by the connected mainframe. The conversation is gradually changing from cost and transactional support to value and agility, and that’s a big deal. For more information, download the study here.

If you are attending SHARE in San Jose, I hope you’ll join me and my colleagues from IDC and IBM for the keynote on Tuesday for additional insights from this important study on the business value of the connected mainframe for digital transformation. Also, check out a great article on the study here.

As I watched the Oscars, if I had a vote, my vote would have gone to the Hidden Figures!

Ashok is General Manager of Mainframe at CA Technologies where he's responsible for the P&L,…



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