Sep 21, 2010

Back to the Future or the Past?

I sat with my client on a major service orientation project as IBM presented their updates to CICS.  My client is a few versions behind (could actually find no compelling reason to bother to upgrade) on their mainframe and wanted to review if IBM’s added capabilities would offer any abilities the project could utilize.

IBM’s CICS support for web services is well known by now.  Their CICS updates keep the web service support up to the latest WSDL – SOAP – and WS-* standards.  If you need or want to expose COBOL programs as a web service (and this can be valuable to allow older applications to be partially utilized as transaction engines in their area of expertise) IBM’s keeping the capabilities in line.

IBM has also continued to expand a large variety of internal CICS capabilities.  This was a major time warp for me as CICS command line functions, com areas and linkage sections, and various transaction batch and script coding abilities are so dated.  As an example when my children see me occasionally drop to a DOS box or telnet into a Unix command line prompt on some web servers they freak out.  “Wow, you’re like in the guts of the machine or something.  Whoa.”  Manipulating your files, whether on your local machine or on a server, through command line prompts is just a dated concept to which they can’t relate.  Drag and drop is the mode of the day.

As a better example…a Fortune 500 company I worked for in the US had a tremendous problem with turnover (employees who would leave quickly) in the call center.  While call center work is rather tedious and employees staying more than 1.5 years is unusual, their problem was a bit different.  The majority of the customer care applications were mainframe green screen (being displayed in an emulation window on a windows workstation).  The employees, mostly fresh out of high school or college, couldn’t figure out how to work without a mouse!  The result was it taking an extra 2 months to train them…and then they’d leave at 5 months due to the discomfort!

The most amazing thing offer was in CICS 4.1.  Here IBM has added….wait for it…Event Processing!  CICS now has an event processing module that will allow you to code a series of event triggers against program comareas or linkage sections.  The Event Processing Module will monitor activity as it passes between programs and activate the coded event upon hitting the triggering event activity.

I was astounded as the idea of manually coding events off the interaction of modules calling each on the mainframe presented itself!  Astounded as I tried to reconcile IBM’s attempt to keep the mainframe relevant by adding the latest technology possibilities with the reality of the narrow limited implementation.  When I think of event processing handling, I simply don’t think of CICS command line coding and monitoring inter-program communication areas.  I’m astounded someone at IBM tried to marry these two concepts.

Mainframes still aren’t going away.  And continuing to enhance their abilities to expose transactions and integrate into a service oriented enterprise makes a lot of sense.  Leveraging in the latest architecture approaches into a 70’s command line interface…not so much.