One of the most notable things I have come across in my career is everyone's point of view on mainframe modernisation and mainframe. These two words have many definitions, and everybody comes at it with different sets of assumptions, creating misconceptions and forcing people to sit at different campsites. It creates an "us" versus "them" mentality.
For the mainframe community, modernisation is about hanging on to the status quo and modernising in place. For everyone else, it can mean changing everything and moving off the platform entirely. Many are caught up in their own definitions, so they lose the sight of what is truly important, which is choosing the best technology for the job (existing or future) and delivering value to the business. I always explain that modernisation comes down to appropriateness, defining where something is useful and where it makes most sense for the business. This is how you can build teams that are aligned, working towards the same objective and purpose with full support from the wider business.
After decades of modernisation experience, Micro Focus developed the Modernisation Maturity Model as a framework to guide realistic and constructive conversations. It starts with understanding the requirements for change from an operational and business perspective. Then, it follows a review of the technical drivers for change, which may include elements such as application complexity, technical and supplier strategy, platform, and architectural considerations and resourcing. Only then can the discussions regarding potential application strategy take place. This of course would include options not only to modernize, but also, potentially under certain circumstances evolve in different ways such as replacement or retirement.
In a previous article, I addressed that unconscious bias affects the technologies we choose to use. While the bias towards old technology is abundantly clear, there is a flipside - the bias against new technologies, which is when you see incumbent people running the old systems saying "these new technologies will never work" and sticking to older systems that no longer benefit the organization in its current form. The biases can result in one person will say "we'll just rewrite this all in Java" while someone else says "cloud can never deliver the performance of the mainframe". You can see both example play out across all types of businesses. To truly succeed, however, businesses need to bridge the gap and work as one team.
Here is a practical strategy that can help you build a cross-functional team to drive change in your organisation from the ground up.
1. Find a partner (or two):
Unconscious bias plays a big part in people's perspectives when it comes to choosing technology. So, start small. Create a small team of advocates across the organisation who have related but complementary expertise and have the ability to ingfluence their organisation.
2. Find a common ground:
Begin with a shared purpose. It can be as simple as survival, which is a great motivator. Or finding a common problem to solve together. Your goal could be reducing cost and complexity while increasing the agility and effectiveness of the IT infrastructure. If you look at it from a "top line" mandate for instance, it's all about making sure you can run business operations while also transforming the business. Alternatively, the "bottom line" mandate is to innovate faster with low risk.
3. Start with the business need:
When you dive into the project, look at your business needs. It can be flexibility, faster delivery, cost reduction, skills, or even new features. Cloud, containers and microservices, however, are not business needs. Challenge the bias and assumptions that state anything new is better or everything has to stay the same.
4. Develop a shared vision:
Align the team around the business purpose and defined success metrics. Create a SIMPLE statement of the vision or a business goal, such as a small project with a financial return but low risk. Test the vision with key stakeholders across the organisation.
5. Explore a range of options:
Now that you have the business goal, explore numerous ways to achieve it. Make a safe space to propose options without judgement. Analyse the technical pros and cons, removing emotion from it. It's also important to realize that no two modernisation projects are the same. You must evaluate case by case and decide what you can reuse or rewrite. Be aware that the fastest way to get results from new technology is to build on what you have—bridging the old and the new.
6. Implement with cross-functional team:
Ensure the success of cross-organisational team by building personal connections and removing boundaries that get in the way.
7. Amplify success:
Make sure top business leaders understand cross-functional modernisation successes and its impact on business results. Collect success metrics you planned before launching project and then report the results. Your goal is to prove the value of modernisation with cross-organisational teams while leveraging the strengths of the current IT investment and the capabilities of newer technologies.
Once you have nailed it, be sure to repeat the process. Follow that up by identifying the next small project and expand to other areas of the organisation or with other teams, keeping a few key participants.
When it comes to modernisation and mainframe, most people tend to sit on different campsites, which creates division and hinders business growth. Establishing small functional teams that work towards the same goal, demonstrating measurable success is the best way to help your organisation start their modernisation journey.
This article was funded by Micro Focus.