Evangelizing Mainframe
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The Mainframe’s Potential to Get Social

Social media has an important business role for many organizations as a way of getting their messages across to people it might not necessarily reach in any other way. Many organizations still produce traditional magazines and newsletters, as well as printed leaflets on specific topics. That’s how they reached out to customers 30 years ago. Next every organization needed a website—and then a Web 2.0 site. And then it was social media—a Facebook page, a Twitter feed, and a YouTube channel. But that’s organizations talking to people; what about when they talk back?

If you wanted to talk to your bank, bookshop or supermarket 30 years ago, you would go and see them. You might also phone—perhaps making an appointment to see them. Nowadays, life doesn’t work like that.

We’re all busy people. You might not be able to speak to your bank until 8 p.m. when they’ve been closed for hours, or the bookshop might be Amazon, which doesn’t have a High Street presence. So, what do you do? You might:

  • Ring a 24-hour call center, which could be anywhere around the globe
  • Go to the website and complete online forms
  • E-mail the complaints department
  • Post on the organization’s Facebook wall
  • Complain on Twitter with a hashtag naming the company
That means organizations need procedures in place to deal with messages from their customers and potential customers. They need to read their Facebook wall and set software, like TweetDeck, to look for hashtags that name them. And they need to respond—using the appropriate social medium.

Here’s where a problem occurs for many companies. Let’s suppose I’m CEO of a water company, and I have people walking into my building, phoning or e-mailing. I probably have service-level agreements (SLAs) prioritizing problems that must be addressed in a fixed number of days. So what happens when a complaint appears on my company’s Facebook page? Do I respond immediately, and fast-track problems received that way. Or do I leave them for a day or two—like I would if it were an e-mail problem—and then respond that someone will call them to arrange an appointment? The best organizations acknowledge receipt of the comment and inform the complainant how quickly they will get a phone call, visit or whatever. Exactly the same type of response works with Twitter. No fast-tracking—just an acknowledgement of receipt and the complaint is dropped into the system as usual.

But let’s suppose we have this wonderful CICS transaction server (or two) that staff members at my company work on. When they get a complaint, they turn to their screen, fill in the on-screen form and CICS does the rest. It calculates what jobs need doing, how long they will take, and it schedules when they will be done. The information is emailed early each morning to repair workers who read it on their smartphones. They then go off and do a days work. Because the phones use GPS, we can see where they are during the day and how long the jobs are actually taking.

Moving this a step further, let’s Web-enable our CICS transaction. After years of service oriented architecture (SOA), the organization probably has a lot of expertise and quite a few CICS transactions working this way. So we now allow customers to point their browsers at a page on our website, and they can fill in the CICS form. Obviously, all sorts of checks would need to be in place, but basically the users input their data, which the CICS transaction then mixes with the rest to determine tomorrow’s schedule for the repair workers (or whatever).

But can we even go another step further? Is there some way to integrate our transaction with Facebook? I’m not too sure about that. But with so many people using Facebook and Twitter from their phones, it makes sense to use that as a platform and create an app. Then it would be very easy for customers to contact us.

The app might lead to a number of different CICS transactions being run. Perhaps they want to report a water leak—gallons pouring out of a broken pipe. Perhaps they want to know when a plumber will arrive to connect them to the mains. Maybe there’s a problem with the sewers, and water isn’t running away properly. You get the idea. Lots of different aspects of this company’s business could be front-ended using a smartphone app.

What I’m suggesting is that it isn’t too great a leap for mainframe applications to get social and build inputs that ordinary people could use when it’s convenient for them. Wouldn’t that make your company very popular with potential customers? In terms of customer relationship management (CRM), software that reaches out to smartphones enhances existing software for organizing, automating and synchronizing business processes.

Picture the scene: Customers LIKING your mainframe applications!

Trevor Eddolls is CEO at iTech-Ed Ltd., an IT consultancy. For many years, he was the editorial director for Xephon’s Update publications and is now contributing editor to the Arcati Mainframe Yearbook. Eddolls has written three specialist IT books, and has had numerous technical articles published. He currently chairs the Virtual IMS and Virtual CICS user groups.

Posted: 5/15/2012 3:55:26 AM by Trevor Eddolls

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