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Friday, September 6, 2013

Pitfalls of being a 'Dedicated Follower of Fashion' the Trendy Mainframe

As the Kinks sang in 1966 a 'Dedicated Follower of Fashion' can be found "eagerly pursuing all the latest fads and trends" now whilst Vogue and GQ will tell us in their advert laden publications that is the way for us to tailor (excuse the pun) our attire as the seasons progress, taking the same approach to IT decisions is fraught with danger.  Let me elaborate on my point.

On average a CIO has a tenure just longer than a presidential term, namely 5-years according to research, details of which can be found at:

The first year as CIO is the honeymoon. The second year is about strategy and planning, and the third year is about implementing. In the fourth year they (the higher-ups) figure out that the execution isn't going that well, and in the fifth year, you start looking for your next job.  So whilst it tempting for a CIO to back the latest fad and trend early in their tenure and look to make this their signature project, according to the research this approach does not appear to be serving CIO's well, assuming they want a job longer than 5-years that is...

The old IT maxim was that "you won't get fired for buying IBM", now this largely holds true as big Blue's list of 'bad' products over the years has been pretty small compared to it's peers, but it appears to this Blogger at least that it is still just about perceived as fashionable to move away from the mainframe.  

The rationale for this from most of my conversations with mainframe shops is that the mainframe is massively visible on IT cost reports and therefore attracts undue attention and typically not positively.  Now whilst on one level this makes 'sense' if you just drill down and scratch the surface then this simple rationale is fatally flawed.  Just because the mainframe is a single line item on a spreadsheet does not make it the least cost effective.  How hard is it to group all the x86 costs and UNIX costs into one-line item and compare them platform-by-platform.  When we did this analysis within a large UK retail bank the analysis showed that 97% of the banks IT logic ran on the mainframe and that it represented only 7% of the total IT budget.  To take a personnel approach in another of my clients their entire IT staff numbers 700 people, while only 14 of these work on the mainframe.

Lets take an alternative look, a large retail bank in the UK has for the last 5-6 years been looking to migrate off their mainframe platform to a more fashionable COTS (Commercial Off The Shelf) application.  The previous CIO (are you seeing the trend yet) embarked on this high profile project convinced he could remove the single largest item on his cost spreadsheet.  Well with the help of our DeLorean we can move forward to the latest press release on this project:

Where the bank decides to stay on the mainframe as it's strategic platform and mothball the reputedly £600m+ 'investment' it has made in trying to get off the mainframe.

Now I am not saying that everybody should remain on their current hardware platform and every IT shop needs progress and cost reduction initiatives, IT Execs need to be sure and damned sure they are making financially sound well thought through business driven decisions rather than following the latest trend.  Only then in this Bloggers view will they look to get the career stability at least some of them crave...

Keen to get your insight so post your comments below or ping me @StevenDickens3 or jst post using the hashtag #mainframedebate

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