Meet our customer hero
Building the future on a foundation of reliable, secure performance
Every dollar collected and spent on behalf of this state's government flows through the Office of the Comptroller. As the state’s chief tax collector, accountant, revenue estimator and treasurer, the agency is responsible for collecting over 60 different taxes, fees and assessments that in FY2021 totaled over $375 billion. The agency is also the state’s purchasing manager, awarding and managing hundreds of statewide contracts on behalf of more than 200 state agencies and 1,600 cooperative purchasing members.
The scale is hard to overstate. “The state's economy is one of the largest in the world,” says the Mainframe Services Manager at the state's Comptroller of Public Accounts.
The Mainframe Services Manager currently oversees all aspects of the mainframe operations. Since 1977, the mainframe has been at the heart of the agency’s operations, providing the performance, stability and reliability that citizens and businesses need from the state.
With growing demand from stakeholders for new data-driven services, and staff familiar with the Natural applications nearing retirement, the Comptroller’s office needed to find new ways to extend the capabilities of its mainframe applications developed with Software AG’s Natural, without relying on coding.
A two-pronged approach brought greater flexibility to the team. First, to extend new services to constituents across the state, webMethods EntireX was brought in to API-enable the mainframe application. Second, NaturalONE was added to provide a modern development environment to appeal to the next generation of programmers.
The IBM mainframe’s unparalleled performance means the Comptroller’s office can run Natural application workloads that are too complex for other platforms. “There have been attempts to redesign or move certain workloads to server environments,” says the Natural Administrator for the Office of the Comptroller. “While they could reproduce some of the processes, they are not able to provide nearly the same level of service that we expect.”
Re-coding important components of the application for a new platform was also a non-starter. For example, the Natural Administrator cites that to deliver businesses and citizens with a single combined statement reflecting their tax liabilities, a compute balance process consolidates billing information from over 75 taxes and fees. The source code for this process alone, if printed, would fill reams of paper—impractical to move, but proven and reliable on the mainframe.
The security of the IBM zSystem mainframe helps the Comptroller’s office process sensitive data while maintaining end-to-end data privacy. “With the amount of money our agency handles, security is critical to maintain the confidence of our citizens,” says the Mainframe Services Manager. The agency can share data securely with entities across the state using SSL- and certificate-based connections. The agency can also take advantage of encryption while maintaining fast database performance.
Reliability is critical for the agency—and the mainframe is the only platform that can deliver the 99.9% service-level agreements it demands. “For all its strengths, the reliability of the mainframe is the number one reason we are still running on it,” says the Mainframe Services Manager. “Since I started working here as a developer in 1984, I can count with one hand the number of times the mainframe has been down.”
As a result, the Natural Administrator says, “the mainframe continues to prove itself as the most powerful engine for the processes we need to perform on our systems.”
The Comptroller’s office began exploring the transition to NaturalONE, an Eclipse-based Integrated Development Environment (IDE), when the capability to build web services caught developers’ interest. Using NaturalONE, developers at the agency can code, test and maintain applications; expose Natural objects as services; and create Rich Internet Applications (RIAs and web interfaces. The Comptroller’s office started a training program to ease implementation—plus extra support for long-time developers with extensive 3270 editor experience. The agency successfully deployed the NaturalONE client to more than 40 Windows laptops, and then upgraded to mainframe Natural 9 shortly after.
Quickly, the agency started seeing the value the modern IDE brings to the mainframe application development teams. It’s been a boon for productivity of new developers, who love that the UI helps them create code and debug more efficiently. “Our new programmers are so excited to use NaturalONE because they love all the new tools and wanted to be the first in line to learn it, and to teach their colleagues,” says the Natural Administrator.
With the modern IDE, developers are also now able to generate web services far faster. For example, prior to NaturalONE, development of new CICS web services required programmers to create three separate COBOL programs. Now, with NaturalONE, the services are auto-generated, shrinking the process from multiple days to just minutes.
Another benefit of implementing NaturalONE is that the agency is now more attractive to new talent. Offering the latest development capabilities helps manage generational change and keeps its programmers excited to learn.
Looking forward, the agency has started developing new application programming interfaces (APIs) proactively to better serve its partners and customers. Developers use webMethods EntireX to API-enable the mainframe applications for digital business services quickly and easily.
“If you want your existing applications to deliver the biggest bang for your buck, in my view, the best way to do that is to develop APIs,” says the Natural Administrator. “You don’t need to move the legacy application, you just need to call the business logic that has been functioning securely, reliably and stably over the last 30 years.”
Now that they have a framework in place to easily create APIs, the agency is able to anticipate customer needs by identifying the highest-used processes in the Natural global buffer pool. The team is gearing up to develop APIs before customers even ask for them.
Though the digital landscape has changed greatly in the four decades since the agency first started counting on the mainframe, the Comptroller’s office is now positioned for the future. Through NaturalONE and webMethods EntireX, the agency is leveraging its investments in unique, high-performing application logic, laying a foundation for new talent and innovative services that meet the needs of the state.