Rapid advancement of emerging technologies—combined with the increasing demands from customers and ongoing disruptive market forces—are driving organizations to prioritize digital transformation more than ever. According to a recent survey conducted by the IBM Institute for Business Value in cooperation with Oxford Economics, 67% percent of executive respondents say their organizations need to transform quickly to keep up with the competition, while 57% report current market disruptions are placing unprecedented pressure on their IT.1

Digital transformation places significant demands on existing applications and data, which necessitates modernization and integration across an enterprise’s heterogeneous technology landscape, including cloud and mainframe. It’s no wonder that CEOs ranked technology modernization as one of their top priorities for their organizations as they look to reinvent products, services and operations in order to improve efficiency, agility and time to market.

Enterprises need flexible, secure, open and fit-for-purpose platforms to operate and develop services consistently across their hybrid cloud environment. The mainframe remains a critical component in achieving this since mission critical applications continue to leverage the strength of mainframes. A hybrid best-fit approach is one that includes mainframes and cloud, supporting the modernization, integration and deployment of applications. This maximizes business agility and addresses client pain points, including reducing the talent gap, accelerating time to market, improved access to mission-critical data across platforms and optimizing costs.

The new research from the IBM Institute for Business Value found that nearly 7 in 10 IT executives say mainframe-based applications are central to their business and technology strategies. On top of that, 68% of respondents say mainframe systems are central to their hybrid cloud strategy.1

However, modernization can be a complex process, with organizations facing a host of challenges. Almost 70% of executives surveyed report that the mainframe-based applications in their organizations need to be modernized. The study further reveals that organizations are 12x more likely to leverage existing mainframe assets rather than rebuild their application estates from scratch in the next two years, which could be too costly, risky or time-consuming.1 For those businesses now pursuing mainframe application modernization, surveyed executives point to the lack of required resources and skills as the top challenge. Mainframe costs, which executives cited as a significant barrier when asked two years ago, is no longer perceived as such, with executives now looking for more sources of value from mainframe such as resilience, optimization and regulatory compliance.

Given that application modernization is essential for organizations focused on “best-fit” transformation spanning across mainframe, cloud or even generative AI, IT leaders looking to reinvigorate their mainframe modernization need to take a few critical actions now:

Adopt an iterative approach

As part of your plan to integrate new and existing environments, factor in your industry and workload attributes. Partner with your business counterparts to co-create a business case and a “best-fit” roadmap designed to meet your strategic goals. Adopt an incremental and continuous approach to modernization instead of a big bang, rip and replace.

Assess your portfolio and build your roadmap

Examine the capabilities that define the role of the mainframe in your enterprise today and how those capabilities tie into the greater hybrid cloud technology ecosystem. In addition, prioritize cross-skilling within the organization and lean on your partners to make up for new or existing talent and resource gaps.

Leverage multiple application modernization entry points

Help enable easy access to existing mainframe applications and data by using APIs. Provide a common developer experience by integrating open-source tools and a streamlined process for agility. Develop cloud native applications on the mainframe and containerize applications.

Learn more about IBM Consulting mainframe application modernization consulting & services

1. Based on a 2021 survey refresh by the IBM Institute for Business Value (IBV) with Oxford Economics “Application modernization on the mainframe  Expanding the value of hybrid cloud transformation,” conducting a double-blind survey of 200 IT executives in North America in April 2023.


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