chris o'malley

by Joshua Whitney Allen

Optimizing mainframe value in the age of the customer

A Q&A with Chris O’Malley, CEO, Compuware

Published February 09, 2015


The technologies fueling the global digital economy—including analytics, mobile, social, and cloud—have one thing in common: They empower organizations to put the customer at the center of everything they do. This agile customer-centricity is an absolute imperative for any organization that hopes to survive and thrive in a marketplace where change is relentless, where disruptive competitors seemingly appear out of nowhere, and customers are always one click or one swipe away from taking their business elsewhere.

So how can companies optimally leverage their mainframes to support their customer-centric initiatives and achieve the utmost agility? What kinds of decisions do next-generation CIOs have to make to get optimum value out of their considerable investments in the System z platform? Can IT organizations accomplish any of these things at the same time as they face a generational mainframe “brain drain”?

Insights Magazine talked with Chris O’Malley, CEO of Compuware and a 30-year industry veteran whose company is now the largest ISV exclusively dedicated to mainframe management, to get his insight into these critical IT leadership issues.

Insights Magazine: Why should forward-thinking CIOs worry about the mainframe at all? Isn’t it enough to just keep legacy COBOL applications running for now—and then hopefully migrate those systems to some kind of hybrid cloud environment as soon as possible?

Chris O’Malley: That’s a huge question, so I’ll give my answer in three parts.

First, it’s important to understand that the primary issue for the business isn’t the mainframe per se as a compute platform. It’s the incredibly valuable intellectual property that resides on the mainframe in the form of data and applications. Every day, the world’s mainframes execute more transactions than all the Google searches, YouTube posts, Facebook Likes and Twitter tweets combined. So before people get too wrapped up in mining social media, they should probably make sure they’re being smart about leveraging the wealth of customer insight they can get from their mainframe systems of record.

Those systems of record also contain high-value IP in the form of application logic—which is essentially a codification of core business processes and policies. That core IP is not something you ever want to put at risk.

Second, no organization can afford to take a maintain-the-status-quo approach to their technology assets—least of all their mainframes. We are all operating in an extremely demanding business environment. Customer expectations are going through the roof. And those expectations will continue to skyrocket as new, disruptive market entrants leverage technology in innovative ways that offer customers enticing new value propositions. So customers aren’t just comparing you to your competitors. They’re comparing their experiences with you to their experience with every other company on the planet. No one can afford to be complacent in such an environment.

Third, while the cloud is great for some things, it’s not great for everything. Open, distributed computing has always been kind of like the Wild West. You have to sort of make the rules up as you go along—and there’s a lot of risk. It’s not a coincidence that the world’s largest organizations have kept their core systems-of-record on the mainframe for 50 years now. The mainframe is without peer when it comes to secure, scalable, reliable, high-performance computing. And if you get out of denial regarding all the hidden costs with rack-and-stack commodity x86 computing, you’ll discover the mainframe is actually more cost-effective.

IM: OK, you’ve made a strong case for not just maintaining the mainframe environment, but actually getting aggressive about leveraging its IP. But that’s easier said than done, isn’t it?

O’Malley: There are certainly some obstacles that have to be overcome to make the most of the data and applications on your mainframe—as well as the raw power of the mainframe itself. Some of these obstacles are attitudinal. Within the mainframe culture, there has been a sort of “guardian” mentality that has defended the mainframe from the outside world in order to protect its security and integrity. This mindset, though understandable, has helped make the mainframe a sort of cultural island within IT.

By the same token, most IT leaders—including the overwhelming majority of next-generation CIOs—have risen through the ranks because of what they’ve accomplished with distributed computing, the web, mobile, cloud, and the like. Because they haven’t been highly engaged with the mainframe during their careers, they have a perfectly natural tendency to avoid it. But to be a true IT leader in an organization that has high-value IP sitting on System z, you have to overcome that tendency and really commit to mainframe engagement.

In particular, next-generation IT leaders have to get out of the mindset that says, ‘Let’s disinvest in the mainframe, because our resources are better allocated to shiny new stuff,’ and into the mindset that says, ‘Let’s invest wisely in the mainframe, because our ability to successfully and nimbly innovate is largely contingent on our ability to effectively leverage our mainframe IP where and when we need to.’

There have also been some technical obstacles that have stood in the way of optimally leveraging the mainframe in the context of customer-centric analytics, mobile apps, and the like. IBM has actually done a great job of continually modernizing the platform itself—but ISVs like Compuware have not been sufficiently agile when it comes to giving IT the tools it needs to manage System z IP with the same speed and ease with which it manages IP in the distributed world.

IM: And that’s going to change?

O’Malley: It’s already changing, big-time. At the start of the year, Compuware released Topaz—a highly innovative solution that empowers developers, data architects, and other IT professionals to discover, visualize, and work with both mainframe and non-mainframe data in a common, intuitive manner. So now millennials can readily take on the responsibility of leveraging System z-resident data without having to go through a lot of painful and costly re-skilling. I mean, reading War and Peace is hard enough; you shouldn’t have to require people to learn Russian, too.

Compuware has also committed to an Agile development model whereby we will consistently deliver new capabilities on a quarterly release cycle. This streaming innovation model is in stark contrast to the traditional ISV model, which is typically limited to annual releases. By providing more frequent solution enhancements, we will be able to more tightly align our deliverables with our customers’ relentlessly evolving needs. Ultimately, that means IT leaders will be able to more aggressively deliver value to their business in the form of new applications, analytics, and IT services.

IM: You sound optimistic.

O’Malley: I am. These are incredibly exciting times for IT. We have opportunities to contribute to the business like never before. The Internet of Everything makes IT relevant to every aspect of the business—and there is absolutely no reason for the mainframe to get left out of this value equation. My mission is to make sure it doesn’t. It’s a great mission. And it’s one that I believe Compuware, IBM, and our partners in enterprise IT are going to fulfill—much to everyone’s benefit.

For more information about Compuware, visit



No one has commented on this item.