Interoperability: IBM® Software Product Compatibility and Your Roadmap

Software product compatibility isn’t just the OEM’s call. You have more say than you think.

When a company makes a large investment in HCL® or IBM® infrastructure (or any deeply entrenched B2B solution), software product compatibility and interoperability issues ramp up as the infrastructure matures. Historically, organizations have taken that added complexity as a sign to move onto new versions or new products altogether.

The problem? The path to tech innovation is not nearly as straightforward as it once was.

Businesses simply are not as certain about where they would like to land. And even if you do have a solid IT roadmap in place, interoperability issues that arise when software unexpectedly stops working together can still pose an operational threat from multiple angles, including technical, licensing, and skill availability.

Any changes to products or versions within your present software estate require detailed, resource-intensive planning to ensure solutions from different vendors all continue working together once the plan is rolled out. At the ground level, the ongoing need to maintain product support can make many situations seem like a software upgrade or update is the only resolution, even if compatibility (for products that worked fine together before) is the only improvement the update offers.

However, there are often other ways around immediate and long-term concerns when IBM® software product compatibility issues do arise.

These can include maintaining a level of support that satisfies strict regulatory requirements, even if the OEM no longer supports the configuration. It can also mean continuing to validate and use software configurations in an ongoing IBM mainframe support arrangement that thrives separate of the OEM relationship.

Here are some things businesses can do to ensure system health and operation will continue well past the End of Support (EOS) date.

There are often other ways around immediate and long-term concerns when IBM® software product compatibility issues do arise.

Software product compatibility, interoperability, and your IT estate

It is challenging to pin the term “interoperability” to one definition or avoidable outcome in B2B software. While performance and uptime concerns naturally come to mind, product compatibility can also have a significant impact on the company’s ability to conceptualize and act on technology and business plans, with or without actual performance problems.

A given IBM® software product compatibility issue within an organization can create problems that require input and execution from multiple stakeholders and divisions. The same OS upgrade that has IT operations nervous from a performance perspective might also have application managers, ITAM leaders, and compliance personnel up to the executive level losing sleep over specific issues touching their domains.

Then there’s the interoperability support gap, which runs concurrently with the mainframe skills gap many large organizations currently face. In businesses of this size, ongoing availability of maintenance and quality of support are typically primary concerns when interoperability challenges threaten operations. Depending on what you do, having active software support and maintenance is either company policy, a regulatory requirement, or simply good business practice. Without a documented level of knowledge, a business quickly opens itself to numerous avoidable risks and outcomes.

Do you really need a software upgrade to achieve interoperability?

It’s easy to see why IT, business, and application stakeholders might think updating is the only way to achieve the desired level of maintenance or service. That’s how it has always worked, it provides a quick, if costly, way to assure performance, and it minimizes risks that can put jobs in the balance.

But when the trade-off is relinquishing vision of and control over your IT roadmap just to avoid problems that can often be resolved in other ways, it’s worth investigating what other options are out there before making the leap. With essentially every enterprise putting strong IT cost optimization measures in place, it very well could be that an update is more of a blocker or a stopgap than a facilitator.

Software product compatibility matrices highlight one such example. Compatibility reports for software solutions usually detail which products work with one another. Version configurations must comply with the compatibility matrices for OEMs to offer support. If a configuration doesn’t align with the matrix, they can require customers to replicate the configuration based on a valid test configuration to continue receiving support.

And compatibility matrices are only updated for software products until they’re designated to EOS status. Future product compatibility validation with newer third-party product versions is not carried out by many OEMs. Customers are typically expected to upgrade to a newer version of the software to receive or continue receiving support.

However, if the required version configuration is not listed on the compatibility matrices, it often only means the OEM hasn’t tested it – not that it won’t work.

For companies with fully standard, working configurations and the ability, funds, and technical adaptability to shell out for updates at the OEM’s recommended pace, that’s all well and good. But most companies aren’t in that boat. Tech stakeholders in most businesses lack the funding authorization to upgrade every time the wind changes, yet they routinely find themselves faced with difficult interoperability problems that require expertise beyond most any organization’s internal skill sets.

Customers are expected to upgrade software to receive or continue receiving support from the software OEM. Not so with third-party maintenance and support.

Quick interoperability wins with third-party software maintenance

When faced with software product compatibility problems, companies turn to third-party software maintenance (TPSM) for a mix of perspective, strategic advice, and practical software support.

In turn, the combined input and direct intervention help guide companies, including those with strict regulatory needs and complex mainframe distribution requirements, to a point where they can keep using the software configurations they wish to utilize, even if the decision doesn’t fall within the OEM’s compatibility matrices.

TPSM providers can guide software and mainframe users through the challenging implementation process and support the software configuration afterward. They also offer access to unique support skill sets that meet or exceed many of the active service requirements large businesses operate under. In some cases, the people who wrote the source code for the product are the ones picking up the ticket.

Interoperability issues tend to be so challenging across many departments because of dense interdependencies. Even if one piece of software is identified as a primary culprit, secondary issues – large concerns in their own right – make adequate resolutions difficult to find.

To keep software up and working without falling into OEM-prescribed upgrade patterns, TPSM providers apply their contextual knowledge of the customer’s estate, needs, and goals to a set of rigorous testing and validation steps. These are carried out to ensure ongoing performance through the length of the engagement and to give the customer company a full view of its options as it evolves its roadmap.

More specifically, the first step allows the customer company to address specific challenges that might have been holding its roadmap evolution back. And from there, a TPSM provider can step into a proactive support and advisory role so the enterprise on the other end can keep using the configuration as long as it wishes – keeping the product supported past the EOS date and helping the primary company update on its own cadence.

Instead of breaking out the checkbook for an update they don’t really need, companies can turn to TPSM for an outlook that furthers innovation needs and provides holistic support for potentially unsupported configurations. With skillful advice informing the plan and a guarantee of expert service on the configuration itself when needed, there’s a lot more you can do before an interoperability upgrade becomes necessary.

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