Not long ago, IT was the hero of the business. There was once a time when most staff had no idea how their office technology worked, and the assistance the IT team offered was impressive and welcome in equal measure. When your computer crashed, they fixed it. When an application died, they swooped in to revive it and save all of your files. They took your call and knew what you meant and tackled your problem.

How times have changed. Of course, our demands have grown. In the advent of mobile and Internet connected devices, we have moved on from “can you fix it?” to “can you improve this aspect of my interface?” or “can you build me a new app for that?” And our deadlines are more immediate too – “… today please” is usually the requested deadline.

Meanwhile, the IT estate has grown and morphed into something almost unrecognizable from its previous form just a decade ago. The combination of new devices, application servers, trends towards consolidation and virtualisation, new development environments, and a culture of 24/7 access has exponentially grown the IT workload and points of failure.

The Great Danger To Business Innovation

Keeping up has been hard for IT. A Vanson Bourne survey that surveyed global CIOs found that despite 61% believing their IT organisation’s innovation role is integral to the business, 50% said their non-IT people do not see the IT department in an innovative light.

Yet an Information Week survey recently asked IT people whether they thought IT delivers innovation to the business and received and affirmative answer. Why the difference of opinion? In many situations, IT cannot afford to do everything it needs to. The existing day-to-day IT workload has never been greater, and continues to grow.

The challenges of shrinking IT budgets, growing system maintenance effort and pressure to support new, dynamic environments have caused a melting pot of complexity that threatens to eat up budget just to keep the lights on. In fact, Gartner Group states that 70% of IT budgets are spent on lights-on activities.

And yet these systems show no signs of improving – high profile core system outages make unpleasant reading in the press for the CIO, while the cost to rectify the “IT backlog” is over $10M on average, according to a report by market researchers, Vanson Bourne..

And yet organisational reliance on core IT systems continues. Applications running on mainframes are stable, secure and efficient, irrespective of “backlog” or other operational concerns. According to research by IBM, between 70-80% of global 2,000 companies rely on mainframes to process core business applications, and mainframe revenues and processor usage continue to increase. It can also be incredibly risky and costly to simply ‘rip and replace’ these systems when important, unique business logic is embedded within these core applications.

A Rock & A Hard Place

IT is in a tricky situation; spending on IT maintenance does little to really move the business forward. Yet many organisations still believe that it’s a choice between providing a fully supported mainframe hardware infrastructure or a fully supported, productive, innovative user experience.

To future proof the business, IT must find a way to do both. IT needs to make better use of effective technologies that help modernise existing systems, create efficiencies and help bring innovation back to the business. The answer can be found in technology modernisation; making the most of the systems businesses already have and making them more accessible and relevant to the user.

The User: The Heart Of The Organisation

User relevance is imperative here – what matters to the user affects the business. How well a user can process, respond and complete a business process (an order, a call, a claim, a customer enquiry) directly affects efficiency. The more efficient the workforce, the healthier the bottom line.

Consider how the user currently interacts with the core business systems. Typically this is via terminal emulation, accessing business critical applications from a character interface window on the user’s desktop; all too often cumbersome and difficult to operate. Business efficiency therefore relies on a green screen – the interface of yesteryear. In fact, according to a Vanson Bourne survey of 590 global CIOs, found that 93% of businesses today still use green screen applications.

Yet that needn’t be the case. Clever technology can be used to transform the user interface and provide access to core applications from a choice of devices including web browsers and iPads. Such technology can turn green-screen applications into touch-screen apps, and integrate customisable controls such multi green-screen tables, tabs, images calendars and drop down menus.

In fact, according to the same Vanson Bourne survey, almost all CIOs (98%) believe there would be a positive impact on productivity by adding new capabilities to green screen applications. All of which can be achieved in a matter of hours to provide a rapid and low-cost solution to efficiency challenges.

Using this approach, Allianz UK undertook a green-screen transformation to bring its end users a set of compelling new features. The company found that the modernised green screen environment is more productive than a totally remodelled system. The environment delivers heightened user efficiency via macro functionality, keystroke recording, personalized reminders and bookmark features across thousands of users.

Similarly, Aviva Italia – one of the largest insurance groups worldwide – created easy-to-use web application interfaces so it could enable partners to make real-time policy updates. The new mainframe interface sped up partners’ access and editing and printing of core insurance policies which more than doubled the daily claim handling throughput.

The Price Of Innovation

What might hold CIOs back from updating green screen applications? According to the Vanson Bourne survey, 43% of IT leaders think it is too expensive to upgrade, while over a third (34%) say it is too risky to contemplate.

However, these fears are unfounded. Today’s end-user expects mobility, efficiency and simplicity from their business applications, and the same experience on any device, whenever, wherever. The accepted wisdom is that you cannot provide this from green screen systems – but that isn’t true.

It is possible to both quickly and cheaply modernise green screen systems, delivering new features that take advantage of Windows, the internet and mobile devices, without any application code change or disruption to the end user community. Clever technology solutions deliver exactly that.

Delivering Innovation Fast, Without Sacrifice

The businesses which are able to modernise their business systems while balancing ongoing IT activity, all within budget, will lead the way in restoring IT’s hero status. The use of clever technology that makes the most of existing, valuable IT systems is the cornerstone to this delicate balancing act. Technology has enabled IT’s story to evolve from ‘if’ to ‘when’ they can reclaim their hero title.