Evangelizing Mainframe
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To Outsource or Not to Outsource?

The mainframe has evolved into a foundational part of enterprise IT, in spite of the dire predictions about its demise that, for a time, cast a pall over mainframe computing. Today, it’s more critical than ever, but that’s not to say it doesn’t pose a few challenges for enterprises. Complexity in the application environment is increasing with the introduction of mobile and the proliferation of customer-facing applications. Budgets are continuing to tighten and the “old-school” workforce that knows its way around mainframes is becoming a rare and expensive commodity. This is leading many companies to turn to outsourcing.

Compuware’s recent global survey of more than 500 CIOs found that, unsurprisingly, the biggest driver toward outsourcing was to reduce costs, with 76 percent of companies stating this was their key motivator. Secondly, the aging workforce that once led the way in mainframe development is now retiring or moving on, leaving behind them a widening skills-gap. Many companies are turning to outsourcing to fill this void: 68 percent of companies outsource because their in-house team no longer has the knowledge needed to develop and adequately test mainframe applications.

While outsourcing of mainframe application development and maintenance can be a great solution to assist in managing complexity, if not closely managed and monitored, it can actually create a whole new set of problems, resulting in hidden costs and poor application quality.

Checking Consumption
While the key driver behind outsourcing is to reduce costs, 71 percent of CIOs are frustrated by the hidden costs associated with mainframe outsourcing. MIPS consumption is the biggest cost associated with mainframes, a cost that appears to be increasing. On average, MIPS consumption is rising by 21 percent year upon year, with 40 percent of companies claiming that MIPS consumption is getting out of control.

Some of this increase can be associated with the fact that the mainframe is now performing tasks it never had to before: 62 percent of companies are using their mainframes to support external applications, such as online banking, and 68 percent believe that the increase in mobile applications is driving higher MIPS usage. However, that’s not the whole story: 57 percent of CIOs say their outsourcers are not concerned about the efficiency of the applications they code, allowing inefficient coding to increase MIPS consumption. For those that utilize pay structures based on CPU consumption, a whopping 88 percent suspect their outsourcer could better manage their CPU costs.
It is possible, however, for MIPS consumption to be controlled and reduced when the right processes and solutions in place:

1. Having access to baseline measurement capabilities allows for a performance comparison on new or modified code submitted by an outsourcer, meaning inefficiencies in the application can be uncovered rapidly.
2. Providing the outsourcer access to actionable recommendations to address those inefficiencies—and monitoring their progress on correcting those inefficiencies—can support a rapid resolution.
3. For organizations that have outsourced their infrastructure, “watchdog” capabilities that uncover inefficiencies in production applications can be of great benefit. Armed with tuning recommendations, businesses can proactively direct their outsourcer to address inefficiencies. This is especially important for those who are charged by their outsourcer on a CPU-consumption basis.

Poor Quality, Increased Costs
Another area of hidden costs is due to failures in knowledge transfer, which are having a negative impact on quality and performance. About 37 percent of respondents don’t have comprehensive documentation for existing legacy applications, making knowledge transfer extremely difficult. As a result, 80 percent of respondents say issues with knowledge transfer are affecting the quality of outsourced projects that are being delivered.

This failure to deliver quality applications is putting added strain on IT departments, which are being forced to divert their attention and resources away from planned projects in order to pick up the slack. Approximately 54 percent of companies have had to increase investment in performance testing and troubleshooting due to the poor performance, and 51 percent have had to increase investment in internal quality-assurance teams due to the poor quality. In addition, 47 percent find the error and bug rate in application code delivered by an outsourcer is higher than with in-house developers, and companies are being forced to spend an average of 10 days fixing application bugs and performance problems from outsourcers for any given project. This can have a serious impact on a business’s bottom line and ability to create an agile response, as important projects are delayed and unplanned-for costs around people and time are added to the balance sheet.

To help improve application testing, high-quality test data is a must. Being able to provide an outsourcer with high-quality test data enables businesses to ensure that coding changes have been carried out accurately. By the same token, requesting test coverage reports that show new altered code is fully tested before being returned encourages accuracy and thoroughness from outsourcers. Finally, with good test data, in-house testing of performance prior to migration of the application to production can help avoid quality issues at the first hurdle.

Future Proofing the Mainframe
Because the hidden costs of mainframe outsourcing and the associated quality and performance issues continue to abound, it is important for companies to address these challenges head on to ensure they retain their competitive edge and maintain customer satisfaction. While an outsourcer can be a great ally, helping to provide skills and reduce costs, outsourcing should never be seen as a silver bullet that will solve all of a company’s woes. To realize the full benefits that outsourcing can deliver, companies should take a proactive approach by ensuring that projects are closely managed and monitored. Quality and performance will improve, costs will decrease, and the partnership will be more productive.

Stuart Feravich is product director of mainframe solutions at Compuware.

Posted: 6/11/2013 1:01:01 AM by Stuart Feravich

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