Dusty Rivers is a Principal Technical Architect at GT Software. Rivers is a 30-year veteran in IT and 4-time IBM Champion
Over the past few years, mobility has had a huge impact on the way businesses interface with customers, business partners and employees. Empowered consumers are demanding access to information and applications from anywhere at any time, regardless of the device they happen to be using. Business partners and employees are also demanding more convenient access to real-time data and information. The solution to these demands is to provide more self-service applications to enhance customer engagement. For a majority of midsize to large businesses, this begins in the data center by providing easy access to information within the enterprise mainframe.
Consumer Demand Driving IT Infrastructure Innovations
In the B2B and B2C worlds, self-service applications are emerging across all industries. For example, using smartphone, tablet or laptop to bank online or to book airline tickets and check in for flights is the new normal. Today, 54 percent of smartphone users routinely do mobile banking. And, according to a recent study commissioned by Nokia, most mobile users cannot leave their smartphones untouched for more than six minutes and actually check their phone more than 150 times a day!
Clearly, the mobility trend is spreading rapidly across virtually every industry sector, including financial, insurance, business, education, health care, and government agencies. Organizations of every type and size are feeling pressured today to better deploy existing IT infrastructure to support new demands, and the ‘gold mine’ needed to bring them to the next level are the data and applications stored within the datacenter.
Building Mobile and Web Access Is Easier Than You Think
While mainframe servers sometimes get the rap of being "old school" ‒ that is, dated and hard to access ‒ that’s just not the case. According to recent information from SHARE Inc., 96 percent of the world’s top banks, 23 percent of the 25 top US retailers, and 9 out of 10 of the world’s largest insurance companies run on IBM System z mainframe servers, and mainframe systems process about 30 billion transactions per day. (SHARE is an independent association providing information, education, training and networking for its member community of more than 20,000 enterprise technology professionals.)
Even with the ubiquitous use of mainframes, “easy access” and “mainframe” are not terms we typically think of as compatible in accessing information. However, using today’s advanced modernization solutions and technologies on the back end, it has become faster and simpler than ever to provide a compelling and engaging mobile experience to users on the front end.
Below are some brief snapshots of how five companies around the world have implemented advanced technology tools to unlock mainframe data and create value-packed mobile applications that engage customers and reduce costs.
1. A prominent German commercial bank running on IBM IMS wanted to modernize its systems by offering self-service information and transaction services to customers, bank employees, and smaller private label banks via a web interface rather than by telephone. Rewriting code was not feasible and the business logic residing on the mainframe had to be left intact. Also, the system had to be easy to use and the project had to be completed in less than eight months. With the help of modernization software, they were able to expose and orchestrate their IMS Cobol applications and migrate them to the new self-service web portal. In the process, they achieved 80 percent reuse of the services for subsequent projects, thereby saving additional development time and costs.
2. A U.S.-based insurance company dedicated to excellent customer service was looking to provide new capabilities enabling field agents to provide immediate, accurate, real-time policy quotes right from the customer’s or prospect’s location. Previously, the quotation process required multiple steps and time-consuming communications between the insurance provider and agents. Using advanced technology solutions, the firm was able to quickly (within six months!) build an array of web services to expose their CICS COMMAREA applications to the insurance quoting system, with complete security and data integrity. As a result, the company has streamlined a plethora of daily internal business processes for its managers, while providing field agents with a powerful and persuasive selling tool.
3. A world-renowned German sports car manufacturer wanted to give customers the opportunity to custom design, build and buy the luxury car of their dreams through an inviting and richly functional web portal, accessible in their homes or in distributor showrooms. The firm also aimed to stretch boundaries in its ongoing pursuit of continual improvement. Following their racing inspired philosophy of “Maximum Output from Minimum Input,” they sought a way to reach both of these goals, while still integrating the enterprise with Oracle tools and supporting internal development standards, all within an aggressive timeline. Using an innovative software toolkit, they were able to fulfill all their objectives by developing new web services and loading new car specifications into the design application in real time. They were also able to reuse up to 80 percent of these services in designing their next new car model, and to develop additional on-demand applications to improve internal processes for the manufacturer and its sales and distribution network.
4. A large financial services enterprise in South Africa sought to maintain its unique brand distinction as “coolest bank” while also improving service by giving customers a single solution experience across all 30 of its banking business channels. These included credit, internal banking applications and ATM network processing applications. The firm had a robust enterprise mainframe system built on IBM IMS and MQ. However, when their in-house developed gateway software was unable to deliver a single, cross-channel solution, they implemented a sophisticated yet easy- to-use software suite, which allowed developers to access mainframe data and quickly create new web-based applications. The results have been remarkable. The company achieved a return on investment in just 12 months and currently has over 600 services in production. These were built over an 18 month period and now support over five million transaction services per day across all channels.
5. A regional bank in the Southeast United States set a six-month deadline for developing the mobile banking services customers were demanding. With such an aggressive timeline, designing the system using conventional techniques (e.g., writing new code) was not feasible, so the firm turned to newer software tools to accomplish the task. The result? The bank’s IT team was able to deliver the multi-functional application in record time and saved hundreds of thousands of dollars in the process. The new user-friendly mobile and web services added value to legacy applications and is now the new internal standard. In addition, the team was able to reuse 80 percent of the services for the organization’s next-up brokerage project.
These five organizations spanning three different industries ‒ finance, insurance and manufacturing ‒ all found ways to leverage their existing enterprise mainframe and applications to quickly create new self-service mobile and web applications. The new services add value to their brand and have significantly improved customer service. And, as each organization discovered, the web and mobile services also helped reduce administrative time and costs and greatly improved internal operational efficiency.
Editor's Note: Don Spoerke is Senior Software Solution Architect for GT Software, who also contributed to this article.
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