Helping Citizen Developers Extend the Mainframe using Microsoft Azure™
Note: This article was co-authored by Jim Dugan, Principal Program Manager at Microsoft for Azure Global Specialized Workloads – Legacy.
More and more enterprises are turning to citizen developers as a way to accelerate and expand innovation. This is a simple idea: empowering business experts to build new solutions in the context of improving efficiency and scale. This way to innovate enterprise processes and systems also evolves skill sets and broadens the pool of solution development experts well beyond a very limited group of centralized IT and software development specialists. Furthermore, citizen developers speed up delivery as they act as both business subject matter experts and solution developers. How does this trend translate to modernizing mainframe transactional data and applications?
Mainframes are a treasure house of data that is continuously enriched through a plethora of enterprise applications creating and updating data. However this treasure is locked within the mainframe legacy world.
A full modernization of mainframe applications and data is typically an elongated process, often involving a multi-year strategy and roadmap. Data replication, synchronization, transformation also needs a well-defined strategy including additional considerations of storage, cost, maintenance, multiple copies of data, etc.
The question then becomes, how does one tap into this treasure quickly and securely extend it over to the citizen developers thus modernizing mainframe transactional data and applications?
Agility with Extendability is Key
Combining the trust and safety of enterprise data systems and extending it to a modern user experience in a fraction of time is the key. For example, allowing business analysts to quickly build property insurance quotation tools for field agents that are specific to their region and specialty drives efficiency and competitiveness for an insurance sales force. Similarly, allowing loan specialists to expedite applications and processes for retail clients through automation and low code platforms can deliver customization and customer innovation without a single software project meeting. What is needed for this to happen?
The answer to empowering citizen developers to build an innovative user experience with trusted and robust core business systems running on the mainframe is two-fold. First is making it fast, easy and safe to build solutions with mainframe data. This simple concept may seem as a formidable technical challenge. There is a simpler answer, however. Second is a feature rich and easy to deploy low-code/no-code platform in combination with business-level API integration with the mainframe. Let’s take a more detailed look at both of these.
Power Platform-Based Solutions Make it Fast and Easy
The Microsoft Power Platform™ offers not only the ability to automate everyday mundane tasks such as risk calculations or account balances. It also can build user-facing applications with responsive interfaces to allow self-serve capabilities for internal users and consumers alike. The business process expert or business power user leverages familiar and intuitive tools to get this done, no programming required. With the performance and scale of the Microsoft Azure platform, deployment of Power Platform-based solutions can happen instantaneously in a safe and controlled manner.
What about getting mainframe data to this innovative cloud platform? How to get transactional data from the mainframe to this platform in a way that can scale as nimbly as Azure deployment? How do we best democratize mainframe data to the cloud?
Business-Level API Integration with Mainframe Transactional Data
RESTful APIs, as is often the case, are the answer to this challenge. To be effective, however, a design approach is critical. API-First development is necessary to effectively enable front-end development that is free of dependencies to the back-end systems and technology details. An alternative to a more established method of exposing technical artifacts through APIs, this method allows these integration points to act as a pivot between different systems, keeping both ends of the process insulated from changes at the implementation level.
The use of RESTful APIs is not a new approach. It is, however, critical to successfully enabling citizen developers to leverage mainframe transactional data in a way that is secure and performs at scale.
HostBridge supports direct data access to VSAM, DB2, Datacom, DL/1; supports CA-IDEAL, TELON, Gener/OS; supports MQ; and, via FEPI can access any VTAM application. IMS support requires HostBridge running in CICS with a FEPI connection to IMS. MQ support can also communicate to non-mainframe, DB2 as well since the database may be off mainframe or be accessed by non-mainframe clients.
Benefits of using RESTful APIs
A streamlined API design process, as implemented with HostBridge Technology, provides the benefits of low maintenance overhead, no change to core enterprise systems running on the mainframe. It’s an easy way to extend the mainframe to any cloud development environment, particularly for low code solutions aimed at citizen developers.
Leveraging the API-first approach with HostBridge Technology makes mainframe data widely available to application developers and the user community. It does so while protecting core mainframe business systems from interruptions or superficial interactions endemic to implementation-dependent APIs. In addition to significantly simplifying the solution architecture and lowering the risk, this approach holds a significant financial advantage.
The Cloud-Mainframe Model
Operating in a cloud-mainframe model lets you dynamically manage the distribution of workloads. Running what makes sense on the mainframe and implementing unrelated processes on the cloud optimizes the run-time costs. Development happens rapidly and without dependencies, often in parallel. Return on development investment is more apparent and occurs in a shorter amount of time. Furthermore, mainframe APIs built with the API-First approach are highly reusable, leveraging the power of mainframe transaction processing across virtually any number of cloud-based applications. This capability offers a superior return on infrastructure and development investment and accelerates innovation for both enterprise users and customers alike.
This solution stack delivers flexibility and agility that is critical for cost effective innovation. A business analyst can rapidly respond to competitive pressures specific to a segment or geography. A specific business division within a bank, for example, can create and evaluate innovative ways to engage customers. All this happens in a dynamic fashion and without the need for a lengthy and costly IT project. Users can scale dynamically utilizing the cost/benefit of the Azure cloud with the safety and performance guaranteed by API-first mainframe integration from HostBridge Technology.
To learn more about how to democratize your mainframe transactional data, reach out to us using the contact information found at the bottom of this page.
About Jim Dugan: Jim Dugan has been in the IT industry over 3 decades and has worked at Microsoft for over 25 years. At Microsoft, Jim has served in several roles such as Technical Director and Principal Consultant. He is currently a Principal Program Manager for Azure Global Specialized Workloads, focusing on legacy modernization solutions.