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Making meals from your mainframe leftovers

When I read Ade McCormack’s book The IT Value Stack I was struck by many sections (as you can see from the review) and one thread in his narrative prompted this post. He recommends avoiding software development (because it is expensive and high risk). Ht talked about the importance of sweating the technology (making the most of it) and making meals from leftovers (reusing things as much as possible). One of the nice things about decision management is the power both to give your mainframe a new brain and generally inject smarts into otherwise “dumb” applications (something I covered in a guest post for Vinnie). So how can externalizing, managing and automating decisions (with business rules) give your mainframe a new lease on life?

Many organizations have large investments in mainframe applications, written in COBOL or another hard to maintain languages. When these systems are evaluated they typically turn out to be costly to maintain – each change to the system takes time and money out of all proportion to the value of the change. This leads many organizations to replatform and reimplement these systems.

However, more careful analysis can lead to an interesting insight – much of a typical mainframe system is static, works fine and needs no maintenance. Often only a small portion of the system is responsible for much of the maintenance work. For instance, the California DMV found that this was the case with their system – the portion of the system that dealt with managing vehicle information, printing bills etc hardly ever required changes. The part that dealt with license fee calculation, the core pricing decision in other words, required changes whenever the legislature changed the law. If this one decision could be externalized and re-engineered into a business rules-based technology, then almost all their legacy maintenance work could be replaced with business rules management. Thus they were able to increase their agility and reduce their costs without having to replace the whole system simply by integrating a BRMS with their legacy system and replacing the hard coded decision with one based on managed rules.

Having thus given new life to their mainframe (sweating their existing technology), they were able to make the same decision available on client/server systems in their offices and even over the web for citizens (making a meal from leftovers, if you will). Many applications revolve around a small number of operational decisions. Taking control of those decisions opens up all sorts of possibilities.

If you want to try these rules out yourself, you can. Check out the Vehicle Registration Fee Calculator or read about the awards this system won – Intelligent Enterprise RealWare Award and Application Development Trends Innovator Award.


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