Is the connected mainframe the fastest path to digital transformation?

It’s no secret that citizens are demanding more modern solutions from their governments. With the private sector well-entrenched in digital transformation, development teams in federal, state and local government agencies face growing demands to find ways to apply digitally driven applications everyday interactions with citizens.

But that’s just half of the battle. Internally, IT leaders must also address a growing skills gap among their aging COBOL workforce, the gatekeepers of their mainframe-based infrastructure. Many of today’s coders, with their knowledge base tied to modern Windows and web development options, are ill-equipped to confidently maintain the many COBOL-based workflows and processes on which governments rely. With added IT budgetary constraints from leadership, many agencies are operating in an age of technological uncertainty.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Despite common perceptions, digital transformation does not mean abandoning existing mainframe solutions for modern technology. In fact, it’s quite the opposite: The mainframe can serve as the foundation for digital transformation.

Why the mainframe for digital transformation?

With nearly a half century (or more) of custom-coded applications developed for them, mainframes cannot be easily replaced. And for many municipalities, the mainframe remains the trusted tool for effectively managing essential processes and government data. In examining the millions and even billions of transactions that these systems process every year, it’s easy to see the proven and ongoing value of this infrastructure workhorse.

Thus, the key to digital transformation lies in creating the connected mainframe; that is, merging foundational infrastructure with modern application programming interface (API) development tools built outside the mainframe to bring new functionalities to government systems.

As noted in a 2016 IDC study, there is a growing realization that the connected mainframe is not only feasible, but is delivering much greater business value than traditional mainframe migration practices. By integrating existing systems with modern coding solutions, connected mainframes not only reduce the COBOL skills gap, but they also allow operational growth through modern workflow development -- all while maintaining the established infrastructure. Such solutions are paving the way for governments to reap the benefits of digital transformation.

How government are using the connected mainframe

Constituent and end-user needs have significantly changed over the last couple of years. Gone are the days of paper forms and closed records, replaced with demands for greater record visibility and digital processes.

The connected mainframe can address these new priorities and allow teams to avoid the risk and uncertainty of a “rip and replace” approach. By integrating tools that keep decades of custom application code and secure data intact, teams can take advantage of the agility of modern tools while preserving the security of legacy systems, addressing modern constituent problems  faster and with less risk. This is especially true in creating transparency and self-service functionalities, the two most desired government upgrades.

Constituent engagement with governments and the demands for transparency are both at an all-time high. So much so that many governments have adopted open data models to improve visibility and allow end users to more easily interact with government systems. APIs can increase data visibility by allowing government teams to better aggregate mainframe data and identify new ways to use the data to engage with the public.

In addition to improved visibility, self-service functions can easily be developed and executed within a connected mainframe environment. Just as financial institutions have moved to mobile banking, constituents are looking for real-time mobile engagement with government. Through the connected mainframe, agencies can easily roll out applications that can streamline workflows in areas such as permitting, utilities and bill pay. Additionally, self-service applications can also help government employees manage and track work orders, allowing them to speed their issue response and resolution times.

Is it time to consider the connected mainframe?

Creating the modern mainframe environment can be challenging, but it doesn’t have to be. With the right tools and infrastructure, governments can create a modern, secure environment where digital processes thrive while still maintaining their highly effective mainframe environments. The key is to remember that going digital doesn’t mean starting from scratch, it means growing and expanding upon established and trusted infrastructure. Agencies that have not yet explored a connected mainframe environment should take a close look at bringing modern API development tools to their mainframe infrastructure. Both employees and constituents will reap the benefits.

About the Author

Steve Hassett is chief operating officer at GT Software.


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