Perspectives on application modernization

Like the death of the gas guzzling automobile, reports of the imminent demise of mainframes always turn out to be premature. So, that leaves the equally tantalizing topic of “modernization” on the table.  If you can’t get rid of the gas guzzler, at least try to make it more efficient.

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If you think BPM is the path, it isn’t; you need much more to get to SOA, and capabilities are the missing piece.

William M. Ulrich, Co-chair of OMG's ADM Task Force

William Ulrich is president of TSG, INC. (Tactical Strategy Group, Inc.), a management consulting firm, located in Soquel, California. Among other things, he is also co-chair of the Object Management Group (OMG) Architecture-Driven Modernization (ADM) Task Force and something of a guru when it comes to the topic of application modernization. “I have been in the modernization business since 1980 when I tested the first commercially available software restructuring tool for COBOL-- and I have been down many paths since,” he says.

Ulrich says it is good to start with a definition, namely that mainframe modernization “is the approach or discipline of being able to transform your current state of application, data, and technical architecture,” to something better. “The technical pieces are the hardware and software that hold it together; the applications and data are what have evolved over the years that enable the business to do its work,” he says. And, you can choose to modernize any of those elements or all of them.

Balancing technical architecture with business concerns

However, he warns, “What I have seen is that if you try to drive modernization of the technical architecture without understanding the evolution of the business architecture, you may get some gains – possibly eliminating some platforms and saving costs -- but you will not achieve your larger business objectives, you won’t be able to sustain what you want to do.”

The business architecture itself doesn’t have the concept of service as it is used in the term SOA, he notes. Historically, says Ulrich, when people tried to get to SOA, the IT organization tried to carry the term “service” into the business. “The real apostles for SOA will tell you business has actually adopted the terminology,” but Ulrich has his doubts. “For a business person, service, can mean six or seven different things. That’s why I believe the term business capability is clearer,” he says.

“If you think BPM is the path, it isn’t; you need much more to get to SOA, and capabilities are the missing piece,” he says.  Ulrich says that the concept of business capability originated in a 2006 paper, titled “A Business-Oriented Foundation for Service Orientation” by Microsoft researcher Ulrich Homann.

The business capabilities map

For his part, (William) Ulrich says business capabilities can map directly to SOA. “That is something I would hope the SOA folks can latch onto; instead of trying to make business use terminology they aren’t comfortable with -- it will make everyone’s job easier,” he says.

To facilitate that process, Ulrich recommends the Knowledge Discovery Metamodal (KDM), which has emerged from OMG’s Architecture-Driven Modernization initiative. KDM allows you to transform application and data architecture and to map out the business architecture. “It is a very rich model in terms of helping to understand things,” says Ulrich.

Ulrich says the ADM task force is on a marathon, not a sprint, with a goal of enabling modernization of the technical architecture. “The ADM group wanted to get more than just the process mapping and business rules -- to get the whole picture of business -- so we could map the whole thing,” he says.

And the ultimate goal is to have an ecosystem, an architecture of the business itself and an architecture that represents a specific IT deployment in its current or target state. “That will enable you to drive change through the business -- and that change will ripple back through the IT architecture. That is the global vision,” he adds.

This was first published in February 2011

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