Sunday, 18 September 2011

Mainframe maintenance – a new paradigm with new challenges

For many organizations, we’re beginning to see a new model of how IT customer support can be organized – and the model is coming from management who are completely platform-agnostic. To them, IT is IT – it doesn’t matter whether something runs on a mainframe or a distributed platform. And this new way of working brings with it new challenges.

This whole change in staff structure is also being encouraged by the advent of the zEnterprise hybrid machines with their zBX blades running everything from AIX to, potentially, Windows. A consequence is that a mainframe specialist could be dealing with a Linux error message, or a Windows SharePoint guru might be trying to understand what’s going on inside CICS. What can you do to help them?

Or let’s suppose in a more traditional mainframe environment, for whatever reason, you lost some of your top technical people. Perhaps they got jobs elsewhere or perhaps they retired early, but suddenly you find yourself with a huge knowledge gap. Maybe you can transfer someone across from the distributed team. Or maybe you can recruit one of the new generation of youngsters who are learning the benefits of mainframe computing. But whatever you do, there will be a fairly long period of time during which anything out of the ordinary occurring is going to leave everyone scratching their heads and searching Google – whereas, previously, your in-house expert knew exactly what to do. So, in this situation, what are you going to do?

Let’s not worry too much at this stage about Service Level Agreements (SLAs) and performance targets. Let’s simply focus on the problem. How can any organization, irrespective of how its IT team is constructed, ensure that appropriate expertise is available at all times to whichever staff members are available?

Obviously you can have the manuals, and some could be on the IBM mainframe portal, but that doesn’t give you speedy access to the necessary information. A Google search will reveal hundredsof pages of results, but it takes a degree of expertise to sift through those and find the correct one quickly. And someone without any expertise could spend a very long time reading solutions to completely different problems before ever finding the right one. Not a satisfactory way to provide IT services to customers – whether internal or external to the organization.

So what would be a good solution? How can these issues of staff working outside their comfort zone be dealt with in a way that is good for the business? And what kind of a solution will still be able to ensure those business-critical mainframes are being supported in a year’s time, in five year’s, or even further into the future?

This is where a new breed of solutions that can address this coming challenge are positioning themselves. One of these, Softlib with its iSolve product (, allows an organization to combine all its IT-related information into a single virtual library. That means users – your harassed staff – have to search in only one place, not as previously in many places, to find a solution to any problem. And once you have a single location for information available, you can allow product champions and other IT-literate staff access to it – which should result in more empowered and satisfied users and fewer calls to the Help Desk.

It makes sense to organize the information in this single virtual library using themes, so CICS information might be one theme, IMS another, Linux a third, etc. The information in the library starts from IBM and third-party software vendors’ manuals, and can be supplemented with information from newsgroups and other online resources. Plus, you can add your own technical expertise.

Access to the information can be from a Web browser or a terminal server. It can be hosted locally, or as a cloud-based resource. The advantage of the cloud route is that the information is looked after by Softlib and they already have access to a huge number of the resources you’ll need. So you can start using the facility almost immediately. Plus the online documentation is automatically updated when new information becomes available. Other benefits include knowledge usage analytics that can help address missing or outdated knowledge, and seamless integration with CRM, bug-tracking, Service Desk, content-management applications, etc.

All in all, Softlib’s iSolve product has a lot to offer most mainframe sites, and certainly provides an answer to the question of what to do if you restructure your IT customer support and need to extend the working expertise of your staff onto other platforms such as AIX and Windows. It also offers a solution to the problem of losing key mainframe experts in a mainframe-only environment.

1 comment:

JacobU said...

Hi. You bring up an important problem. IT managers would like to have a single plaform agnostic services\operations team. I don't believe that it is actually achievable (beyond just putting a single facade in front of the different groups handling the problems). Having all your manuals and documentation in a single virtual store is useful, but doesn't solve the underlying problem - do you really want your Sharepoint expert mucking around with CICS? (or vice-versa)?

I have been blogging about this problem for a while at