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Australian firms slow to wean off the mainframe

Australian companies tend to have a wait-and-see mindset that is slowing down mainframe modernisation initiatives, says Accenture expert

Australia’s mainframe migration efforts are proceeding at a slower pace than desired, with many taking a wait-and-see approach before taking the plunge.

That is according to Al Auda, head of Accenture’s mainframe business in Australia and New Zealand, who noted that Australian firms tend to have a “see how others do it mindset which further slows down the initiation of mainframe modernisation initiatives”.

And for those that have already embarked on mainframe migration, challenges in mitigating the risks of disrupting operations continue to plague Australian firms.

“Systems running on mainframes are massive and difficult to decouple, and a ‘big bang’ approach of moving off the mainframe is risky,” Auda said, adding that many organisations have instead chosen to expose certain mainframe functionalities through web services or application programming interfaces (APIs) to integrate with digital channels.

Others could be investing in detailed assessments or discoveries to draw a modernisation roadmap that will fit their mainframe landscape and business needs, on top of other challenges such as budget, executive sponsorship and clearly defined strategies, Auda added.

According to an Accenture study, 100% of the world’s top 10 insurers, 90% of the top 100 banks, 92% of the top 25 airlines and 72% of the top 25 retailers still use mainframes to run complex and monolithic workloads related to core business processes.

At Australian retailer Kmart, for example, mainframes had powered some back-end processes, including supply chain, merchandising and inventory management. In May 2020, it started moving those workloads to Amazon Web Services (AWS). The migration plan involved lifting and shifting some Cobol code to the cloud, as well as rebuilding some code into microservices.

“There’ll be some clean-up of old code, and some of that will run in the cloud on a mainframe emulator,” said Michael Fagan, chief technology officer at Kmart. “But at the same time, we’re taking slices off the mainframe and rebuilding them as microservices which can interact with other applications.”

That tends to be the end goal for many organisations, that is, to eventually run cloud-native or microservices-based applications on modern platforms – even though IBM has been sprucing up its mainframe systems to support modern workloads through Red Hat OpenShift.

“Not a lot of organisations see the value of running modern workloads on the mainframe given the time, resources and investment required to pivot. Instead, companies are turning to digital and cloud technologies and services to initiate the mainframe (and legacy in general) modernisation journey,” Auda said.

Auda said it is possible and advisable for organisations to completely move off the mainframe in the fullness of time, but full modernisation of the mainframe can only be achieved through a multi-year journey.

From Accenture’s experience, successful mainframe modernisation efforts have secured buy-in from senior stakeholders across business and IT, a well-defined migration roadmap and partnered with an experienced vendor.

Mainframe experts, however, are hard to come by, with many already retired or close to retiring from their careers.

In Australia, Auda said there are two schools in Victoria and Queensland that teach Cobol, adding that Accenture is training its employees on the programming language to help organisations achieve their mainframe modernisation goals.

Cloud suppliers such as AWS have also started partner competency programmes to equip software vendors and consulting firms with the skills they need to support mainframe migrations.

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