Federal IT
July 10, 2017 COBOL, Mainframe Agility

Congressman Sees How Federal IT Can Modernize the Mainframe

U.S. Rep. John Moolenaar (R) sat in the Compuware headquarters boardroom overlooking Campus Martius Park, the Detroit skyline visible behind him. Moolenaar, who represents Michigan’s Fourth Congressional District, wondered if the rapid, positive change occurring downtown had something to do with Compuware’s newfound ability to recruit younger developers—something most mainframe companies are struggling with today.

Young professionals’ image of Detroit has been shifting from a fearsome, decaying urban landscape to what some call a rebounding, creative, entrepreneurial city. While there are still problems to be solved with the city, it’s true downtown has been a boon for companies like Compuware working to recruit younger programmers who will inherit the company from a mainframe development workforce generally consisting of older experts preparing for retirement.

But the bigger reason Compuware has been able to draw attention from younger developers, who are mostly unfamiliar with the mainframe, is due to the Detroit-based company drastically altering its own image, according to Compuware CEO Chris O’Malley. Compuware has essentially ascended from what one publication called a “falling knife” to a gritty, startup-esque software company generating momentum through Agile and DevOps with modern tools—and younger developers like that.

Moolenaar understands the fundamentals of literal transformation—he’s a chemist who worked at Dow Chemical Company before entering politics. But he also knows there’s a need for a transformation, like Compuware’s, in federal IT. Much like the private sector, federal agencies that rely on the mainframe face the same challenges with onboarding next-gen developers.

As a member of the Committee on Science, Space and Technology and the Subcommittee on Research and Technology, as well as serving as a member of the House Appropriations Committee, Moolenaar wants to learn how he can help the government improve what it does, including with federal IT.

Compuware, and companies like it, can serve as examples for what federal IT can accomplish with the right people, processes and tools. That’s why he took time to visit today.

Next-gen Developers with Modern Tools

During his visit to Compuware, Moolenaar watched Mike Machnik, a next-generation mainframe software developer and Team Lead, debug a COBOL program using Compuware’s modern Xpediter debugging tool. As the Congressman saw, the Eclipse interface is much more intuitive and familiar for developers like Machnik, versus the traditional mainframe “green screen” that requires months of memorizing special commands and procedures.

Compuware VP of Product Development, David Rizzo, explained how these tools help developers, regardless of experience, understand and work on any mainframe program, no matter how old or complex. This way, COBOL just becomes another language they can be agile and innovative with.

It’s a manifestation of the changes occurring in mainframe development that are allowing the platform to become just another system in the enterprise, rather than following a “rip, rewrite and replace” strategy, which opens risk to the mission-critical programs hosted on the mainframe.

Inevitably, this led to plenty of talk around how Compuware is helping improve security on the mainframe through its tool Application Audit. It was clear Moolenaar is fixated on determining how the government can improve national security from every aspect, whether militarily or from a system- and application-security angle on platforms like the mainframe. Moolenaar discovered Application Audit, like Xpediter, is yet another tool aiding on-platform modernization of the mainframe and enabling it to continue as a critical, securable back-end transaction processing system for federal IT.

Modern Processes and the Enterprise Future: Two-platform IT

After dropping in on a daily standup Scrum meeting to hear developers share updates on their development and testing work, where Moolenaar saw how mainframe teams can adopt modern Agile/DevOps processes that support the work of iterative, quality development and delivery, the Congressman took a tour of Compuware’s data center.

There, he learned about the company’s two-platform IT approach. This strategy advocates for keeping business-critical applications on the mainframe and moving non-critical distributed infrastructure to the cloud.

Through the removal of 60 server racks, Compuware reduced its IT complexity and its corporate footprint, enabling it to reinvest the resulting savings in product innovation and re-devote the skills of Operations team members to more business-critical activities.

This reduction of overhead costs and increase in efficiency are things federal agencies are keen on achieving, and, as Moolenaar learned, they can be accomplished on the mainframe alongside many other requirements that must be met for federal agencies to modernize in the digital age.

It was an honor to host Rep. Moolenaar as the fourth Congressperson to visit Compuware in the last year. And it was an honor to hear, as he addressed Compuware employees outside O’Malley’s Detroit office, he’s encouraged by what he believes Compuware can do as a Michigan-based tech company focused on keeping critical COBOL applications secure and running.