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Will the looming recession have a negative impact on the enterprise software market?

Definitely – everyone will be cutting costs

Maybe – it should not significantly affect this market

Not at all – companies will still need our products

Reusing Critical Enterprise Resources – Mainframe Applications and Programmers in a SOA World

By Robert Morris, Chief Strategy Officer, GT Software

The ability to define hard cost savings through SOA projects provides a strong value proposition for enterprises seeking to deploy new applications. At its heart, SOA is focused on reusing existing application and business logic to deliver new business services. Savings can be dramatic, not just from reusing inanimate resources such as data and applications, but also from the redeployment of programmers from maintenance to building reusable services. This article explains many of the ROI principles that are involved in cost-justifying SOA projects and strategies.

Large enterprises embarking on Service-oriented Architecture (SOA) projects have many decisions to make when planning their initial strategy. One decision that is typically addressed early in SOA planning meetings is how and when to include the existing mainframe applications and data. Mainframe systems at large enterprises contain thousands and thousands of valuable line-of-business applications and databases, and serve as the central repository of record. When evaluating this decision on the level of participation of the mainframe, it is important to understand that the reuse benefit involved with involving the mainframe in the SOA strategy extends beyond the applications and data. An often, unrealized benefit to mainframe SOA is that the hundreds of existing COBOL programmers, who have deep knowledge of your business, are also ‘reused.’ These programmers and business analysts have enjoyed long tenures at the same employer, with many having an entire career with the same employer. Their knowledge of the core applications that drive line-of-business applications is unparalleled. It is this dual reuse – both of applications and existing programmer talent, that delivers a strong ROI for mainframe SOA projects.

At its heart, SOA is focused on reusing existing application and business logic to deliver new applications. While the concept of code reuse has been around for decades, the standards-based approach that underpins SOA has altered the mindset of enterprise architects. This concept of reusable business services translates into both hard and soft cost savings. In the current economy, hard cost savings are critical to document before beginning virtually any new projects. The ability to define hard cost savings through SOA projects provides a strong value proposition for enterprises seeking to deploy new applications and facing financial constraints.

SOA savings can be measured on a single project basis, analyzing the tangible benefits to truly determine the costs versus benefits to the enterprise. This approach may or may not justify the investment, both in man hours and tooling, to help facilitate the transition to SOA. A better method of determining true return on investment is to take a holistic view of the entire enterprise. While a single project may not cost justify your SOA strategy, when viewed enterprise-wide, the savings can be dramatic. The cost savings derived from SOA stem from its ability to consolidate silos of redundant application functionality and data throughout organizations. For example, a large insurance company may have a policy-rating engine that resides on the mainframe, and another engine that is based in a newer technology such as .NET or Java. As a result of identifying and exposing business services that span multiple technologies and databases, one of these systems may be rendered obsolete. This will result in significant savings. Fewer software licenses and servers, or reduced MIPS, translate into hard dollar savings in capital and operating budgets. On the same token, by reducing redundant software applications or components, you free up programming resources to be applied elsewhere across the enterprise.

Smart enterprises undertake the transition to SOA as an evolutionary process, not as a radical change to their development process. By choosing projects that provide visibility across the enterprise, and deliver easily quantifiable ROI, risks of failure are reduced. Ideal applications for these first evolutionary steps are legacy mainframe applications. It would be quite easy to identify essential line-of-business applications that would provide great value as reusable business services. The actual business process on the mainframe may span CICS, DB2, and even other systems such as IMS or VSAM. By encapsulating the entire business process at the right level of granularity, one or more business services can be exposed. These services can then be used in many other application development initiatives, creating goodwill across both IT and business users. Initial success on one legacy application will pave the way for more widespread projects, as the enterprise truly moves to a service-oriented development approach.

While determining cost savings SOA brings to application projects is half art and half science, it is a bit easier to evaluate the benefits for existing programming staff. Legacy application developers programming in COBOL can be repurposed to focus on building reusable services.

While the mainframe is a ubiquitous computing platform driving business around the world, it is viewed as a ‘black box’ by many architects and CIOs. On one hand, executives know it as a ‘trusted partner’ of the business. Many mainframe programmers and business analysts enjoy long tenures at the same employer, with many having 20-year plus careers at the same employer. Contrast this with the newer Java or .NET programmers of the last decade where the average life span of an employee could be as little as 18 months! As a trusted confidant, the mainframe has helped bridge the unease that exists between business and IT. Yet, an air of mystery persists. Most organizations simply do not have a real understanding of the thousands of applications and diverse databases spanning multiple mainframe subsystems and DBMSs.

This lack of understanding of the existing application base is bridged at most organizations through experienced programmers. Organizations must look to their mainframe developers who have deep knowledge of both the core mainframe functionality and data and how the applications are used by the business. While it has been said that mainframe CICS and IMS programmers lack the expertise to build services, this is simply not the case. Third-party tooling exists to support legacy COBOL programmers make the leap to service-oriented application development. The concept is not a difficult one, as mainframe programmers have long been building reusable services. For example: IMS transactions are typically run as stateless logical entities, a perfect match for SOA, since services in a SOA are supposed to be logical stateless entities.

In terms of ROI, it is very easy to quantify the salary and benefit cost of each developer who is transformed from COBOL programming and maintenance to SOA development. Analyst firms such as Gartner and Forrester have published several research notes detailing the costs to transition existing COBOL programmer to newer languages such as Java. Beyond the high costs, the risks of failure after an 18-month investment learning a new programming language are very high. With third-party tooling from mainframe SOA vendors such as GT Software, the skills gap is mitigated. The actual programmers who have original knowledge of the legacy code can easily service-enable transactions. There is no one more qualified to service-enable mainframe applications with the right granularity than the COBOL programmers who understand the mainframe code and the business. This allows services to be exposed in the right manner, possibly spanning subsystems and databases.

In summary, SOA projects present multiple opportunities for reuse, both of application and business logic as well as programming talent. If your mission-critical business applications reside on the mainframe today, then you absolutely must leverage the mainframe as a key component in your SOA strategy. The benefits gained from service-enabling your mainframe far outweigh any cost or risks involved. It makes business sense for large enterprises that recognize the importance of exploiting competitive advantage through technology to consider the benefits that application and programmer reuse provide. The ability to deliver new applications to business constituents without large-scale programming efforts, and without hiring new developers provides a tremendous return on investment.

Robert Morris is Chief Strategy Officer of GT Software, the company that specializes in software that improves the user interface of mainframe (3270) applications, including Web-enablement. He is responsible for the planning, integration and marketing of GT Software product solutions to the global market. Prior to GT Software, Robert held a variety of sales, marketing and product management positions at industry leaders KnowledgeWare, Forté Software, ClientSoft (now NEON systems) and Jacada. He has an extensive background in application development and integration, including experience with CASE methodologies, distributed systems, as well as midrange and mainframe environments. Robert speaks frequently at customer and industry events, including Gartner Symposium, Java One, IBM Common, IBM Transaction and Messaging, and IBM CICS and IMS. For article feedback, contact Robert at rmorris@gtsoftware.com 

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