Note to CIOs: Keep the Mainframe Legacy App

Enterprises with large,mainframe-based legacy applications that provide CRM and ERP (enterprise resource planning) functionality may want to consider keeping them and upgrading them exactly where they live — on the big box.

Aberdeen Group report author and senior vice president Wayne Kernochan toldCRM Buyer Magazine that many IT executives believe they are facing aneither/or choice when deciding whether to leave their legacyapplications as is or purchase a new, packaged application. However, theoption they rarely consider is using middleware tools to Web-enable theapp directly from the mainframe.

Backed into a Corner

Kernochan explained that many IT groups back themselves into a corner byassuming that they must either live with a mainframe system as it isor replace it entirely. There is a middleground, he proposed, that does not necessitate dumping the whole thing:Applications can be beefed up and fitted withWeb browser front ends.

Kernochan drew a line between “Web enablement” — adding Webbrowser interfaces for users — and “Web services” — the strategy ofimplementing key apps using open standards and providing interfacesoutside the organization. Both can be done, he said, without migratingan application to a new platform or rewriting it entirely. Both are enormously expensive options, he added, especially fororganizations that are using systems either built entirely in-house orcustomized extensively since purchase.

Adding a Layer

The researcher named the Unisys (NYSE: UIS) ClearPath MCP suite as an example of anupgrade solution that allows enterprises to enhance mainframeapplications while leaving them in place. Such software, he said,provides a layer between the back-end database and the presentationlayer of the application. It is this presentation layer — the screensthe user actually sees — that organizations often are most eager tochange and enhance.

This is a strategy that some CRM software vendors have been pursuingwith clients for some time. Edify founder and executive vice presidentJohn Kirst told CRM Buyer that his company works closely with internal ITgroups to take advantage of whatever contact center functionality isalready in place — be it through entirely Web-based apps, client-servertechnology or legacy mainframe systems.

Edify chief technology officer Ken Waln added that “a lot of that infrastructure, especially on the telephone side, has been in place a long time and works fine.”

Sometimes New Is Better

The sensible time to add applications, said Kernochan, is when anorganization has outstripped the capabilities of the legacy app andneeds new functionality.

“There are very good reasons for getting the added functionality of apackaged CRM application,” he said. “But if you’re just getting it toreplicate an existing application, you should at least carefullyinvestigate the possibility of upgrading it in place.”

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