Companies with tradition and history often find themselves in a vicious circle with regard to their mainframe applications: Their software has grown over decades and is functionally extensive, but technically it is partly outdated. Experienced developers and users are retiring and their expert knowledge is being lost. There is an increasing lack of transparency and documentation of the process flows. The necessary further development and change of the systems is becoming more complex and error-prone. Companies are threatened with technical standstill in the short term and the loss of customers and markets in the medium to long term.
We want to lift the veil on the myth of the mainframe – and we asked true connoisseurs of the mainframe to do so. In this episode we talk to Heidi Schmidt, Managing Partner of Ravensburger PKS GmbH, on her special topic “application modernization”, which she offers under the slogan “We shape the future” for both mainframe and IBM Power i applications.
Let’s first look at the age mix of the application programs on the mainframe: how would you characterize it? Are there any new developments for the mainframe at all?
The great advantage that IBM made available to mainframe users right from the start is the 100% investment protection for the application programs developed in-house. In other words, the system architecture has always ensured that customers can easily take their software-enabled processes and company values with them from one technology generation to the next.
This was usually not the case in the Windows or Unix environment, for example. So of course we have “old” programs on the host – but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing if the program is mature, stable and error-free. Then it’s no use – apart from additional costs – to rewrite this program again!
And of course there are also new developments on the mainframe – perhaps often no longer in Cobol or PL/1, but in Java. Especially in times of cloud and DevOps, the platform on which your applications run is becoming less and less relevant for developers and users. It’s more about the service, the reliability and the security of the data – all points where the mainframe is superior to all other platforms.
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You say that mainframes support day-to-day operations. Then the application programs used should always be state-of-the-art. Do you actually observe this in reality?
The applications run stably – I can confirm that in any case! But the programs, some of which are more than 40 years old, and the advantage that you could simply “take” the existing code with you to new computer models, have unfortunately often led to the technical debt that accumulates with every system not being cleaned up.
Many of our customers are struggling with exactly this problem today: The technical debts of the past, such as monolithic code structures, missing documentation, etc. must be cleaned up so that the next generation has a chance to benefit from the quality and range of services of the existing ones in the future applications to benefit.
How often are you confronted with the issue of “technical debt” with your mainframe customers?
Always! (laughs) But of course that simply has to do with our company’s purpose. At PKS, we have made it our primary mission to help companies eliminate their technical debt with advice and action. And the demand has only been one thing in recent years: growing. Because technical debt does not go away by itself! Excitingly, they are the key to success both in the further development of the application and in its replacement.