By Philippe Magne | April 18th 2019
The BFSI sector (Banking, Financial Services, Insurance) relies heavily on the use of legacy platforms (mainframe and IBM i, aka iSeries, AS/400) for their business-critical applications. Many users have simply “forgotten” these back-end systems thanks to their various front-end mobile or web interfaces – but these core applications are very much still there and operating the most strategic of company missions.
The essence of all BFSI companies is risk management. This is probably the main reason why these legacy systems are still part of the IT landscape, even if those who have made a business out of replacing them would insist on calling them “old hat”.
But how is it that in this day and age we can still imagine replacing them with other “better” or more “modern” alternatives while keeping the risks of migration perfectly under control? The number of companies that will dare to take such a risk is shrinking by the day.
To change nothing in the existing organization, however, would be just as risky for one reason: the age pyramid. In the next 5 to 10 years, 75% of existing resources will be retired.
Most executive management teams have fully understood the challenge and the urgency of achieving their “generational transition”. There is a real consensus that this means going through a DevOps transformation. It is by organizing development in a more agile way and equipping teams with modern tooling that we can attract and retain young talent.
From strategy to implementation, there is however a certain journey to travel, with many obstacles on the way, and “keys” needed to succeed. This article gives you some tips to secure your DevOps transformation and put all the odds on your side. They come from our field experience in implementing DevOps in companies right around the world for over five years now.
The 5 key steps are:
1. Define the target
It may sound basic as a first piece of advice, but too many people start off with relatively unclear goals, simply because DevOps addresses three levels: strategic, managerial and technical. For this reason alone it is worth taking a little time to define the milestones of a transformation that, in any case, will last several years and for which the stakes are vital. A clear roadmap integrating all milestones of the change with precise deadlines will help guide all those involved, from the developer through to the management, including the security and operations teams. The objective in a sense is to “downplay” these legacy systems, consider them a technology like any other, and most importantly, demystify them completely for the younger generations. Because in the end, experience shows that the only barrier is a set of preconceived ideas that are readily dropped in practice.
2. Engage rapidly in “tooling”
Unlike application projects where you can spend time setting up “terms of reference” to ensure that the needs of all users are covered, it is almost impossible to do this in a DevOps strategy, because of the profusion of technologies in the distributed world. This is in complete contrast of course with the scarcity of choices available for legacy.
The movement feeds on “good stories” that develop virally through the network and promote the rapid emergence of authentic standards. This is how the Git source management tool became a de facto standard in the distributed world in just a few years, and, as it happens, is now also a “must” for the Legacy code. Similarly, Jenkins as orchestrator of integration tasks is a natural fit. Is it the best technology on the market? The question is irrelevant. It’s a standard. Finally, we should also mention Jira, which has become a reference in project management.
The goal then is to build a consistent and efficient DevOps chain. Either your own teams have the skills (and the time) to do the integration themselves, or you rely on a vendor who offers you a global and already integrated chain. This is the value proposition of ARCAD Software.
Tools do not do the change for you, but unlike the case of application projects, they are powerful drivers.
3. Adopt a policy of “quick wins”
It’s all about gaining buy-in by a proof by example. Transitioning all teams to a multi-platform DevOps stack is far too ambitious. Choose an initial application that contains a mix of different technologies. Do try however to cover the entire DevOps cycle in order to demonstrate the maximum value of the chain and go beyond a one-on-one comparison with what existed before. We need quick wins to prove value, but not everything can be achieved all at once. Instead of subdividing by phases, it is better to apply small changes step by step on each application domain.
4. Communicate all-round
The challenge of the DevOps transformation is to ensure that existing and future generations can collaborate together all with the same goal: that of the company and the continuity of its business. On paper these generations contrast in nearly every way: different technologies, different platforms, different languages, different motivations. Seen in this light, we seem to be on a mission impossible. But the key to success of this project is internal communication through many different channels: posters, videos, testimonials, etc. One of our clients, together with its suppliers, has created mini “tradeshows” called “Techfest” to facilitate the sharing of information, not only between employees but also with the outside world. This level of communication generates the feeling of belonging and boosts the movement.
5. Make the upper management a stakeholder
“DevOps for Legacy” is not a strategy like any other in the sense that it is just vital. Companies that have moved too late and have allowed their critical resources to retire without planning ahead will encounter major difficulties and face no other option than to be purchased by their competitors. This is why we see more and more DevOps leaders included directly within the executive management team. If this is not yet the case in your company, why not consider using this article to sound the alarm? If you have already started your DevOps strategy but have not yet had any tangible results, go back to your management team and request more resources. It is often a lack of mastery of the strategic issues on this relatively technical subject that can make management feel ill at ease.
We are living in exciting times. A time when the old and the new generations must collaborate in the common interest of the company. A time when objections are pointless because everyone has a role to play in the new paradigm. Only the rules have changed, and success depends on a radical change of mindset.