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What’s IBM doing to modernize the mainframe user experience?

7/24/2013 1:01:01 AM | Many mainframe professionals use social media to ask what IBM is doing to modernize the mainframe, and what improvements or changes have been made to make mainframe tools easier to use. In addition, some of you have asked what IBM is doing to help working with Job Control Language (JCL). This article will explore some of the things IBM is doing to modernize your System z experience.

As part of IBM’s strategy for mainframe simplification and modernization, the User Experience team has studied the needs of our end users, both experienced and entry-level users. This work has driven the development of several ease-of-use solutions, including:

• z/OS Management Facility (z/OSMF)
• CICS Explorer, and
• IBM Explorer for z/OS (z/OS Explorer) V2.1

With experienced users who love the green screen and newer ones more familiar with a Windows environment, the team has to balance the often-diverse preferences of two target audiences in developing each solution. Team members worked closely with many IBM customers to understand what’s needed to improve their user experience with System z. The User Experience team is always looking for new clients to work with, so if you’re interested in learning how to collaborate with us, email your name, company and phone number, with a subject line of “System z Stakeholder Feedback Program,” to Laura Bostian at lbostian@us.ibm.com.

z/OSMF
The z/OS Management Facility (z/OSMF) is the new face of z/OS, which evolved from an initiative that focused on addressing a shortage of mainframe skills. It’s designed to make it easier for users to manage and administer a mainframe system by simplifying day-to-day operations and administration of a z/OS system. The primary target audience is a system programmer, however, z/OSMF has also been designed to help other staff, such as an IT administrator.

As a result of collaborating with our end users, the User Experience team determined it could help entry-level and experienced users improve their productivity, reduce errors and simplify tasks associated with managing z/OS. This effort enables entry-level system programmers to become productive faster by designing a familiar, modern browser-based user interface. The team also reduced the learning curve required to complete tasks associated with managing z/OS by embedding active user assistance into z/OSMF via an online help system and wizards that guide users through tasks. To help experienced system programmers be more productive, z/OSMF functions were made easier to use through common terminology and offering similar functionality to z/OS. The IBM team reduced the likelihood of errors by providing guided checklists, and cut the time required to perform various tasks by making them easier to complete.

What’s your favorite source of information about new simplification offerings from IBM? Please post a comment below so others can benefit from the discussion!

CICS Explorer
Several years ago now, the CICS team embarked on an exciting project to provide a new way to manage CICS through Eclipse—called CICS Explorer. The vision was to provide a modern and user-friendly environment for folks who were coming into the mainframe environment to work on CICS with little or no experience, and to combine the functions from green-screen and Web-user interfaces into a single interface. The team wanted to make it easier for application developers to work with CICS, so CICS Explorer can install into an Eclipse Integrated Development Environment (IDE) such as the free downloads from Eclipse.org or Rational Developer for System z.

IBM Explorer for z/OS V2.1
However, being a system programmer isn't just about managing CICS. It's about managing several sub-systems together and using the underlying z/OS system, typically switching between a variety of tools. So IBM just announced IBM Explorer for z/OS V2.1, which is available for download at no additional charge for customers with a supported z/OS license. This Eclipse tool uses a combination of FTP and z/OSMF to create, edit and submit JCL, review Job Entry Subsystem output, edit zSeries File System files, and view active jobs. It also provides access to a repository of other IBM tools, including CICS Explorer, so you can download the tools you need and use them in one environment. Whether you specialize in one particular subsystem or you are more of a generalist, the aim of the z/OS Explorer is to have a single Eclipse environment in which to use tools from different products to do your day job. IBM isn’t only working toward simplifying what and how you install the tools you need, but also how these tools interact to provide the best user experience possible. It's a lofty goal, and we're not there yet, but with your feedback the User Experience team hopes the next few years will see us move toward achieving that goal.

The team is committed to continuing mainframe simplification and modernization efforts. We’re very interested to hear your thoughts about these efforts. If you aren’t using any of the tools discussed here, we’d be interested to learn what we can do to help you start using them. Please post a comment below or email your comments at irivera@us.ibm.com to share your thoughts on this topic.

Iris Rivera is a User Experience professional specializing in System z Software UCD and usability at IBM. In her nine years at IBM she’s acted as the liaison between people and technology, by using various methodologies like stakeholder feedback, to ensure IBM develops solutions that meet the needs of their customers and end users. She is also one of the co-founders of zNextGen.

Kathryn Briscoe is a User Experience professional on the CICS portfolio of products at IBM. She has worked in CICS for 11 years at the UK Software Lab in Hursley, starting out in information development and moving to focus on CICS usability in late 2012.

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