Moving HR Forward With Mainframe Migration

What’s the Difference? Mainframes versus .NET Servers

Traditional mainframes from industry leaders like IBM provide a vast, well established infrastructure that supports many different software applications that are vital to core business functions. They run continuously year after year without downtime. These centralized systems have an excellent reputation for reliability and scalability. However, cloud based hris  these applications have been built up over time with a patchwork of additions every time a new process or change to business rules was needed. The resulting structure is similar to a city that has grown in an uncontrolled, sprawling fashion as opposed to one that was developed from a well thought out plan with ease of navigation in mind.

The concept behind .NET servers is different. The infrastructure itself is decentralized with data storage and processing widely distributed throughout the system. This model focuses on easy integration of modular applications and services. For example, it promotes interfacing via SOA (service-oriented architecture). Rather than binding a set of data and the functions that are applied to it in a single bundle, SOA provides solutions that can be reused over and over in many different environments and for a wide variety of applications.

It does all this while providing the same scalability and continuous operation offered by legacy mainframes. However, it can be more readily modified and upgraded since its structure is modular, transparent, and uses languages such as C# .NET and JAVA which are interoperable across multiple platforms.

The newest innovations in .NET servers – like Microsoft’s Azure cloud computing platform – promise even greater flexibility. Applications, data, infrastructure, and information synchronization (or any combination thereof) can be carried out in the “cloud” environment. This reduces capital expenditures for on-site hardware and software in lieu of less expensive operating costs that require payment only for actual usage.

Special Challenges Facing HR

Today’s Human Resources departments are responsible for maintaining compliance with complex and constantly changing state and federal business regulations. If they fail to accomplish this task, employers may be subjected to fines, litigation, and reduction of profitability from missed tax credits. Modern workflow software uses logic rules and automation to reduce the burden of manual processes for any number of specialized HR data tracking and reporting functions.

Access to these rapidly evolving solutions is especially necessary for employers who manage a large workforce. Executive level decision makers in HR are being pressured to cut costs and do more with less. Streamlining data management processes would seem to be the simple answer.

However, integrating off-the-shelf applications (which still frequently requires some degree of customization) can be costly and time consuming with a legacy mainframe system. Today’s IT programmers weren’t around when the original coding was developed and put in place. Changes made over time are rarely adequately documented and no one really knows the system fully.

Even if a company’s current IT staff members are familiar with COBOL or other obsolete programming languages, they have difficulty untangling the monolithic internal structure of a traditional mainframe. This means HR often has difficulty persuading IT to attempt upgrades or modifications that will allow the incorporation of newer technologies.

A phased migration to a .NET server offers an opportunity to truly understand & document business processes, streamline applications, host data on a more accessible platform, and make the entire infrastructure more agile. The decentralized nature of these servers reduces the risks associated with using a single data center as well.

Broad distribution also matches the needs of today’s HR departments which may have branches in many locations for a single employer. With web based interfaces, data is accessible from any portal yet can be protected by appropriate security permissions. In addition, the end user’s experience is not negatively affected; HR personnel won’t have difficulty adjusting to any changes.

Identifying Which HR Functions to Target First

Any process that is complex and repetitive enough that HR has ever considered outsourcing it is a prime candidate for migration. Such functions usually take up a significant amount of time and-as they are-do not contribute to overall company profitability. When these systems are hosted on a .NET server, they can be more readily integrated, upgraded, or modified using off-the-shelf solutions or via assistance from SaaS (Software as a Service) providers. The targeted processes can be streamlined and automated to reduce labor and leave more HR resources available for strategic planning.

Here’s a list of HRIS processes that are ripe for migration to a .NET server:

  • Recruiting
  • Time and Attendance
  • Ongoing and General Workforce Management Tasks
  • Payroll & Employment Taxes
  • Benefits Management
  • Regulatory Compliance
  • Employee Scheduling
  • Retirement Plan Administration

Making the Case for HR Migration
There are two main areas of resistance HR executives must overcome when putting forward the idea of migrating to the .NET platform.

The costs involved are generally of primary concern to employers. This means HR must investigate and select options that offer high ROI over the near term. Then, the ongoing savings can be applied to future phases after the initial migration has paid for itself. Since the expense of maintaining .NET servers is about 1/10th of the cost of legacy mainframes, demonstrating the high value of this changeover is not too difficult.

Time and effort required from IT is another major barrier. Finding the right partner to assist in the migration process is crucial to relieving this burden while not discounting the contributions of existing IT personnel. Fortunately, most company’s in-house programmers are actually more likely to be familiar with the platform-neutral languages used in the newer servers than with the older coding languages of a legacy system.

The more collaboration there is between HR, IT, and the migration specialists at every stage, the greater the chances of success.

 

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