With the rise of BYOD across the insurance industry, the logical question to ponder is how to tap into all those back-end systems to move data out to decision makers, and vice-versa. Many executives now use mobile devices, even when they're in their offices. Likewise, insurance companies rely heavily on people that are constantly out on the road — such as claims adjustors and agents.
In a recent survey of 590 IT managers by Micro Focus, which provides tools for recompiling mainframe applications and data onto smaller, distributed systems, finds that an average of 31 percent of business apps are already accessible on mobile devices. Respondents expect this to increase to an average of 46 percent of applications within three years; a third of businesses expect 60 percent of apps or more to be mobile-accessible.
So the push is on to make the mainframe accessible from an iPad. Talk about worlds colliding.
But there are technicalities in making this all happen. For example, 86 percent of respondents to the Micro Focus survey say that many mobile app vendors will not, or are reluctant to, work with them because they are mainframe-centric.
So a lot of education is still needed out there in the market. True, many organizations have successfully developed service layers in which mainframe apps are replicated on a Web-accessible system, and thus, are capable of accessing the back-end data, which is still kept secure in the big iron machine. Apps add a new twist to this Web-to-host story, demanding new interfaces are real-time capabilities.
To that end, Penny Hill has put together an excellent guide in Enterprise Systems Media, detailing what goes into a mainframe-to-mobile app interaction. In particular, the systems involved would be IBM’s CICS transaction monitor (some would call it an application server), and DB2 or IMS databases. “The main challenge is integrating these processing systems and critical mainframe databases with the variety of smart devices in the marketplace today,” says Hill.
The biggest bone of contention is security, she observes. Mainframes are highly secure fortresses, while mobile devices float around willy-nilly. With BYOD, device-level security is beyond the control of enterprises. Yet, Hill adds, banks seemed to have mastered this challenge with the mobile apps they now offer. “These banking applications have become the proof other industries need to show that providing this sort of access to information isn’t just possible, but potentially profitable.“
Hill outlines three steps that need to be taken in the process of moving apps and data from mainframe to mobile. While these are relatively simple in describing some the hard technical work that needs to be done, they form the core of any mainframe-to-mobile activity.
Build and connect. The first step, Hill says, is to “design and build a mobile app and then connect it to run back-end systems in support of mobile devices.” So don't worry how the back end is set up, design a good, user-friendly app first.
Manage and secure. The enterprise needs to establish secure policies and methodologies for security at the app level.
Extend and transform. The back-end processes for data access need to be moved out to the client layer.
Perhaps once these approaches are addressed, app developers won't be scared away by mainframes.
Joe McKendrick is an author, consultant, blogger and frequent INN contributor specializing in information technology.
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