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Shaping the Future of Mainframe Software




Shaping the future of mainframe software might seem like a bold statement, but the IBM Z Client Feedback Program and the new simplified cross product legal agreement enables customers and business partners to do just that. By engaging in the Client Feedback Program, IBM is giving participants the opportunity to collaborate with IBM designers and technical leaders to influence product design and direction, hear about unannounced capabilities, see prototype demos and provide feedback on the value and appeal of the functionality.

Design Thinking 

The world is invested in mainframe software and IBM periodically delivers a new release or version into the market to build upon the value of prior shipments. And with the adoption of design thinking, IBM is demonstrating its commitment to customer engagement early in the development cycle, taking early feedback very seriously to provide the value and capabilities the marketplace wants.

Design thinking has no doubt boosted sales of sticky notepads and dry markers but it has also presented development with a shift in focus. With design thinking, developers are encouraged to share these ideas with their peers and with the targeted personas in their use cases to validate the value users will get from the capability. Ideas are kicked around with ideation activities that analyze current situations as areas to focus on improving and providing maximum value to users in the future. As these ideas are defined, the playback process yields feedback to further refine (or stop) an item’s development.

These development activities are grouped into three main areas called hills. Each hill has sub-hills which identify crucial parts of the overall hill. These sub-hills represent the features that need to be completed to produce a minimum viable product. A hill—at its most pared down version—has three essential characteristics:
  1. It provides enough value that users will be willing to use it or purchase it.
  2. It exhibits sufficient future benefit to keep early adopters interested.
  3. It provides enough feedback and independent insight to shape future development enhancements.

Engaging Customers Early

The Client Feedback Program is designed to engage customers early on a large selection of mainframe products with minimal paperwork and administration. In the past, customers had to sign multiple supplements that were triggered off a base agreement to hear unannounced details about a product. Most companies with a mainframe have several Z products (databases, communication software, compilers, middleware, etc.) and would have to sign and renew supplements for each product at different times to participate in the Client Feedback Program. Respective legal departments needed to sign these legal agreements, leading to a very laborious exercise that would then need to be repeated for the next product.

This was a poor and inefficient use of time, but the Feedback Program Agreement provides a solution. The Feedback Program Agreement encompasses many IBM mainframe products. With a simple click of a mouse, prospective participants can register interest in engaging with IBM on a self-selected range of IBM mainframe products.

Getting Started With the Feedback Program Agreement

To get started, clients first need to accept the online Feedback Program Agreement here.
Once they’ve signed up, clients will be invited to create their personalized “Areas of Interest” profile. This profile includes products that the client would like to hear and learn about in the feedback program. If the client has already signed up for the Feedback Program Agreement, they can customize their profile right away.

The client will then be invited to join the feedback program for their selected products, where they’ll be able to offer their opinions on the value of the capabilities they’ve been shown. These playbacks typically last for one hour, and will often contain polling questions and a demo. The questions help gauge client’s interest in the value of what they’re seeing and provoke discussion over what issues are being addressed and if the solution will be of general benefit.

Once a company has signed up for the Feedback Program Agreement, anyone from the organization may attend a playback call. If more disciplines are represented, there’s a better chance of achieving a balanced release that provides value for everyone. A wide variety of sub-systems (CICS, IMS, WebSphere and more), Management and DevOps software are represented.

The Request for Enhancement Process

One rich source of ideas on functions that should be included in future releases is the Request for Enhancement process, where requests may be submitted and voted on for inclusion in continuous delivery drops or major releases. The Request for Enhancement process gathers requirements from external customers and business partners to improve products and policies. Over 500 Requests for Enhancement have been satisfied with the five releases in CICS TS Version 5. IBM listens to customer opinions.

Enabling Customers, Clients and Business Partners

The Client Feedback Program offers a new world of IBM Z customers the chance to review and comment on future Z-related product releases, and ensure these offerings provide the type of value and capabilities that provide Z customers with a competitive edge.

While the Feedback Program Agreement started off as an IBM Z initiative, it now includes many non-mainframe products and events across IBM, enabling customers and business partners to influence product design and direction across their organization.

Nick Garrod has held a number of positions in IBM, including finance, business planning and CICS marketing. In July next year, he and CICS will share a combined birthday of 110 years.


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