ICWA’s 360 staff uses around 1,200 ageing COBOL programs to manage thousands of claims every year. The outsourced mainframe was expensive to maintain and offered limited agility and flexibility. However, infrastructure modernization was a daunting prospect.
The project’s strategic goals included cost reduction, increased productivity, improved ability to support new business initiatives, reduced disaster recovery time, and reduced reliance on vendors.
Glenn Myers, CIO for ICWA: “The mainframe has its place in organizations requiring significant processing capability but it was an expensive component of our IT infrastructure for an organization of our size. Because we outsourced the facilities management of the mainframe it was, effectively, just a ‘big black box’ to us.”
The need to lease a logical partition (LPAR) for disaster recovery purposes resulted in the time taken to stand up our disaster recovery environment being unacceptable.
“This factor, coupled with high associated operating costs, provided us with sufficient justification to re-host our core systems on a more contemporary platform.”
ICWA considered system replacement and rewriting core systems but ultimately opted for deploying its mainframe workload to a Micro Focus COBOL/CICS platform running on Linux Intel servers and an IBM UDB database. The COBOL code was to be recompiled, but largely untouched. ICWA allowed six months for project planning and proof of concept work with Micro Focus, its chosen project technology partner.
Myers explains: “Once we had confirmed the technical feasibility, we sought Gartner’s review of our business case. When we had that independent perspective, our Board was comfortable to approve the project.”
The ICWA modernization, inevitably, encountered issues such as the data warehouse application proving incompatible with the new platform. This required the underlying database to be upgraded – something the team were aware of and had planned for. In addition, new security and printing systems were required to replace the proprietary utilities that were associated with the mainframe. And, as Myers explains, internal attitudes were also a major factor to be considered. Staff who had been with the organization for a long time needed to commit to the project despite their association with the mainframe. The ability of the staff to make the move was commendable and proved to be a significant contributor to the success of the project. ”The easy part was recompiling more than a million lines of code. Micro Focus Enterprise Server™ enabled the use of web services to integrate the existing COBOL code with Java and Fox Pro client applications without the application developers needing to work with COBOL. This way very few applications required noteworthy changes, the vast majority were moved untouched.”