Lack of awareness
But despite the growing problem, there is a worrying lack of awareness of the risks involved.
A recent survey revealed only six per cent of UK financial service firms were aware when their infrastructure components will reach their end-of-life date and will no longer be supported by suppliers. Worse still, this figure dropped to two per cent among smaller firms with fewer than 500 employees.
So it’s not just mainframes, but a wider problem of ageing IT infrastructure, and it’s not just the financial sector concerned about issue.
We’ve recently worked with the NHS Business Services Authority (NHSBSA) on migrating their mainframe.
The NHSBSA provides a vast range of critical business services, which support the NHS as a whole in its daily activity. Among other responsibilities, the NHBSA manages the systems which ensure pharmacists are paid for all prescriptions issued. This involves processing around a billion prescription items.
Opencast had previously worked with the NHSBSA on updating and repurposing systems dealing with the way prescriptions are funded, paid for and reported on.
An Opencast team supplemented the NHSBSA team working on the mainframe migration at its Newburn site in Newcastle.
The mainframe systems would have incurred a sizeable upgrade cost to keep them running – some of the COBOL code we’ve encountered was written me a very long time ago!
Rather than transfer the mainframe services like-for-like, the solution was to transform these services to better fit the needs of the NHSBSA. This included:
- Removing the need for the mainframe from the end of December 2018
- Simplifying and standardising information reporting
- Harmonising technology stacks across the organisation to simplify support and cut costs
- Modernising the way in which letters to the public are produced.
The programme started in April 2017 and the final mainframe switch-off successfully happened in January this year as planned.
It was a complicated process as Opencast had to have a comprehensive understanding of the complex and numerous functions performed by the mainframe before any migration could even be thought about.
Over the years since it was first introduced there have been many patches and software workarounds that we had to fully understand. On top of this, as elsewhere, the mainframe had been layer caked with a more modern system to improve the interface so we had to fully understand the implications of this.
Having tried and failed once before, then achieving the automation and conversion of the entire code base, working in collaboration between the NHSBSA and Opencast proved to be both pragmatic and achieved the desired outcome in an effective manner. Opencast worked closely with the NHSBSA Programme team to understand, and where appropriate, rationalise both requirements and components needed.
As a consequence of this achievement, the NHSBSA now has a much better platform to further enhance and improve its management of drugs databases and to respond to new and changing demands in a more flexible way.
Our work with NHSBSA is just one example of the issue of mainframe and legacy technology – thankfully they recognised the potential problem and tackled it in a way that shows a great example of government working with SMEs to deliver change.