The digital era and outdated legacy systems.

The digital era ushered in many technology changes. In the late 1990s, companies were desperate to hire mainframe COBOL programmers. Some of these programmers came out of retirement to fill the demand. At one point, there was a shortage of mainframe COBOL programmers. Employers scrambled to snatch up anyone with some knowledge or experience with COBOL.

Legacy mainframe computer and printer.Woman looking at a printout from a legacy mainframe computer system.

 What caused the sudden demand among employers to hire legacy mainframe COBOL programmers? The answer was Y2K. A small-unforeseen date change problem in most COBOL programs spurred the demand to hire COBOL programmers to fix the problem before people celebrated the New Year on January 1, 2000.

Legacy mainframe system.Man operating a legacy mainframe computer system.

The digital era and the "new IT"

Today, the old Information Technology (IT) landscape has changed into what is now known as the “new IT.” What is the “new IT?” Amit Pandey, CEO of Avi networks, explains what the “new IT” is. Software development in the cloud and software-defined networking are changing the rules for the IT industry today. The digital era is also ushering in a new era of technological change and innovation.

This means that CIOs and other technology leaders will have to find new ways for their companies to stay current and competitive in the digital era. The Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence and other “third-platform-technologies” are ushering in the new generation of IT technology.

Application owners will have to make important decisions regarding the techniques, tools and skills they will need for the “new IT.” Today’s data center will transform into tomorrow’s public cloud environment. 

Web-scale IT architectures will become available to most enterprises. This means that technical workers will also have to become information architects and understand more than one technology skill. In the “new IT” environment IT workers will have to be more like systems analysts and less like .NET or JAVA programmers.

Money and technology go hand in hand

CIOs will face increased pressure to spend more on operating budgets and less on capital budgets. Tighter IT budgets will lead to a slowdown in investment in traditional technologies. The need for uniformity of application architectures in multi-cloud environments will have an impact upon IT purchasing decisions. Cyberattacks and data breaches in the cloud will create increasing security challenges, data loss and potential outages in the future. 

According to the Software Engineering Institute, companies have three decision-making choices regarding their legacy systems. These choices are maintenance, modernization and replacement. 

 Not wanting to interrupt functioning business operations, many companies still maintain their legacy mainframe systems. Other companies used minimally intrusive techniques such as screen-scraping or terminal emulation to achieve modernization. Banking, transportation, healthcare and insurance legacy migration projects have become the norm for these business agility industries to adapt to the increased pressure of the “new IT.”

 Right now, the business environment is more competitive. Business software has become increasingly efficient, sophisticated and integrated. Users expect a pleasant, stress free experience. They want user interfaces that adapt to ease of use by humans. They dislike user interfaces designed solely for computers. 

Legacy mainframe systems still perform the functions requested by yesterday’s users. This is one reason to keep the legacy system. It also may not make business sense to move from a platform with a highly customized solution that modern tools don’t address.

Modern alternative solutions to legacy systems

 However, today many businesses are looking for alternatives that will replace their antiquated computer systems. Reasons to find modern solutions to this dilemma include…

• Increasing maintenance costs

• Poor information governance

• Inflexible business architecture

• Lack of mobile accessibility

• Cumbersome user interfaces

• Inflexible security settings

• Difficulty in integrating with other systems

Companies can use four strategies to modernize legacy mainframe applications for the cloud. These are…

CloudsSymbolic pictorial representation of the IT cloud.

• Lift-and-Shift – Using the technologies that recompile and execute mainframe applications onto commodity servers in the cloud.

• Greenfield Approach – Completely rewrite the mainframe application. This is probably the most expensive and risky modernization approach.

CloudsSymbolic pictorial representation of the IT cloud.

• Incremental Replacement – An incremental replacement approach modernizes a mainframe application one module, function or procedure at a time.

• Application Tier Replacement – This approach focuses on the mainframe application’s data-tier or user interface. Use integrated technologies to replace an entire legacy application layer with a modern cloud-based application layer.

CloudsSymbolic pictorial representation of the IT cloud.

The “new IT” means that there is an increase in the number of IT leaders focusing on achieving business outcomes from the technology they use daily. They are trying to modernize infrastructure and identify ecommerce options. They are continuing to look for opportunities to incorporate mobile, wearables, connected devices and the sharing economy as part of the “new IT” strategy in the digital era.

However, it is not easy for corporations to embrace the “new IT”. COBOL is still the main application processing language used by 70 percent of a corporation’s business transactions. IT teams are reluctant to incorporate digital innovation in their software development applications for a number of reasons. These include failure to establish business goals for the customer. Technology operations, application delivery and delivery costs are some other IT considerations.

The digital era has also ushered in a new digital economy

 In the digital economy, IT can no longer stay in the background. It must move to the front of daily business transactions between clients and customers to increase the transaction volumes in the digital era.

The changing digital landscape of online and mobile commerce in every industry has affected the performance of legacy IT systems in the digital era. Today, businesses receive an increasing number of requests for product, pricing and other data. Greater volume requires greater computer resources.

New digital disrupters can build new IT landscapes. Companies with legacy systems must seek ways to integrate new, digital technologies that harvest legacy technologies. This will maximize IT investments. Striking the right balance requires a mix of applications and a careful consideration of the latest modernization approaches.

 Yesterday’s legacy technologies don’t work for today’s way of doing business. Business operations have changed. The technologies needed for processing daily business transactions must also change. This means that the people working with the newer technologies must learn new skills to stay current. Businesses today face two challenges. The first is the modernization of legacy systems into the “new IT”. The second is educating and training the people needed for “new IT” operations with the latest “new IT” skills. 


5 Reasons 2016 will be the year of the ‘new IT’ By Thor Olavsrud, December 14, 2015

Four Strategies for Modernizing Mainframe Applications to the Cloud By vFabric Team, January 30, 2013

Is Legacy Mainframe Modernization for You? By Chris Zaugg, January 30, 2015

Leaving Behind Your Legacy Systems August 6, 2015

The New IT: Driving Business Innovation with Tech By Andi Mann, Information Week, July 5, 2016

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