In a world of extreme and unpredictable change, agility is imperative. That’s why large enterprises have rightfully invested in all kinds of agility-enhancing capabilities—from hybrid cloud to DevOps.

Unfortunately, any improvement not made at the constraint is an illusion. So, at this point, many IT leaders are wasting their precious time and resources on making already-pretty-agile cloud/VMware/Java environments incrementally more agile—instead of focusing on their primary agility constraint: the mainframe.

Why It’s Time to Shift Investment

If your organization doesn’t have a mainframe, stop reading now. But if it does—i.e. if you work for any of the world’s largest financial institutions, insurers, retailers, governmental agency, etc.—please read on.

Much of your organization’s most valuable digital assets reside on your mainframe. And they always will. Your organization’s agility is therefore strictly bounded by the speed and frequency with which you can safely execute change on your mainframe—whether that change is to application code or data.

Those of you as wise as my wisest customers are already attacking mainframe agility bottlenecks. You realize that there is nothing inherently non-agile about the mainframe. Everything that makes our mainframes non-agile today is merely the result of how we conditioned ourselves to do things on the mainframe over the past few decades—not because there is no agile alternative.

In fact, any IT leader can accelerate the pace of mainframe production delivery from quarterly to bi-weekly simply by addressing a few key issues of process and culture. These process and culture changes may be painful to those who are set in their waterfall ways—and they won’t bring the mainframe into full parity with containerized cloud—but they help relieve the top constraint on digital agility at most large enterprises today: slow mainframe code updates.

Mainframe Tools: The Next Frontier

Here’s the thing, though. You’ll only get so far on the mainframe by addressing process and culture. Eventually, you need to acquire new agile-friendly tools that support the new agile-friendly way you want to do things—and jettison the old agile-averse tools that you’ve endured for years.

In particular, you need mainframe tools that:

  • Give mainstream developers the application understanding they need to work effectively on highly evolved and involved mainframe applications that may be inadequately documented
  • Enable teams to collaboration in parallel on a single, well-coordinated mainframe deliverable
  • Automate mainframe deployment and roll-back
  • Ensure rigorous case-appropriate test/QA, so speed never steamrolls quality
  • Such tools have been proven in the field to more than double developer productivity while driving down defect rates. More importantly, these mainframe outcomes enable the enterprises that achieve them to more nimbly improve their digital customer experience and better compete with their upstart, mobile-native rivals.

Bottom line: As long as your mainframe agility lags behind your other enterprise platforms, that’s where you need to focus your time and investment. Any improvement not made at the mainframe constraint is an illusion. The improvements enabled by new mainframe tools, on the other hand, are remarkably real.

Originally published on LinkedIn Pulse.

Chris O’Malley is CEO of Compuware. With nearly 30 years of IT experience, Chris is deeply committed to leading Compuware’s transformation into the “mainframe software partner for the next 50 years.” Chris’s past positions include CEO of VelociData, CEO of Nimsoft, EVP of CA’s Cloud Products & Solutions and EVP/GM of CA’s Mainframe business unit, where he led the successful transformation of that division.

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