Where Robots Meet Big Iron: RPA and the Mainframe

by in Application Modernization & Connectivity

RPA and IT: A brief history

Every day, evolving technology simplifies the enterprise computer user’s work. For example, we already use scripts that automatically log into an application, regularly generate complex reports on a cadence, and automate large batch jobs in the middle of the night when the network is quieter.

Some technologies have taken what is “possible” to the next level, moving from a macro that automates a short process in a single application, to automating a complicated business process from end-to-end by orchestrating the exchange of data between desktop, web, and other applications. Meet Robotic Process Automation (RPA).  

RPA is a practical, non-invasive way to automate enterprise processes. Using software “robots” to perform everyday tasks boosts productivity, while preserving underlying applications and IT infrastructures. Robots interact with applications and systems as we do, but are faster, more accurate, and highly secure. They save time, reduce costs, and free employees to work on other projects.  

Recently Dimension Research identified early RPA successes, with 89% of companies citing “extremely” or “mostly successful” RPA projects, and that “nearly all” RPA implementations reduce time and costs. Gartner agrees. Their latest forecast projects global RPA software revenue to reach $1.89 billion this year, a 19.5% increase from last. Further, Deloitte’s recent RPA survey observes that “53% of the respondents have already embarked on the RPA journey and a further 19% of respondents plan to adopt RPA in the next two years”. So, if your organization is not already using RPA, it is likely to do so soon.

Next steps: RPA and the mainframe

With so much important business data housed on the mainframe, it is logical to leverage RPA for mainframe initiatives. But accessing mainframe data can be more complicated. Since this data is business critical, utilizing RPA with the mainframe must be done right.

Involving the mainframe team in the project matters, as they better understand the specific needs of this platform. The mainframe team should lead RPA initiatives that involve big iron, as interacting with a desktop- or web-based application is typically straightforward. However, accessing data on host systems typically requires special skills and technology, often referred to as a connector.

Whether integrating via web services or more traditional Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), such as HLLAPI, or .NET, Micro Focus supports RPA developer requirements.

Accessible Mainframe Data

Historically, the market has created many ways to programmatically access mainframe data. IBM’s HLLAPI became the de facto standard that originated with DOS (yes, that DOS!) and morphed into many related automation interfaces as the Windows operating system evolved—WinHLLAPI, EHLLAPI, OHIO, and many others.

Enabling mainframe RPA breaks down into two primary methods: service-enabling the mainframe, and HLLAPI. We also refer to these respectively as API- and UI-based approaches to programmatically accessing host data.

The first, more scalable method gives RPA developers the ability to create consumable web services that perform units of work in host-based applications. In an automated process, the RPA tool calls on these RESTful web services as needed. We call this “service-enabling the mainframe”, or host.

The alternative is to utilize HLLAPI, the green-screen data access standard for more than 30 years. In this scenario, the RPA tool leverages HLLAPI to access host data through a terminal emulator and corresponding green screen.

Every major RPA solution on the market supports this standard interface for mainframe data access. For the HLLAPI-savvy organization, this can be quickest way to leverage mainframe data in an RPA-based automated process.

Micro Focus supports both methods. Our new Host Access for RPA solution includes Micro Focus Verastream for service-enablement, and Micro Focus terminal emulation solutions uses HLLAPI-like interfaces, including a .NET option.

Industry Use Cases

To better understand how enabling RPA for the mainframe can benefit your organization, let’s look at two use cases. While both examples are from the financial services industry, the potential value is likely evident across a variety of sectors:

Use case 1: Improved customer service

A large bank wanted to implement an interactive voice response (IVR) system to field customer inquiries. Now, a customer call triggers Micro Focus RPA workflow, a robot accessing data from multiple applications, while the Micro Focus Extra! terminal emulator taps into the mainframe.

The operational steps in the workflow to complete processes, fetch and exchange data with non-mainframe systems to serve customers are now faster.

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Use case 2: Automated mainframe banking

Pre-automation, for a bank operator to fulfill a customer money transfer request, the process used to use multiple screens in a mainframe application to verify data, gather information, and confirm successful completion—a cumbersome, time-consuming, and potentially error-prone process.

Now, thanks to Micro Focus automation solutions, the process has been optimized.

Using RPA, application users collaborate with developers to model the money transfer host screen workflow. This mapped navigation is replicated, and the process repeated in the development studio. Once verified to work, the model is deployed to the Verastream server and the mainframe transactions become available as a web service for an RPA tool to leverage. At this point, an engineer using the Micro Focus RPA product accesses the web service, automates the money transfer workflow, and creates a repeatable account transfer process.

Now the bank operator simply initiates the RPA workflow, supplying a list of accounts and amounts to transfer. This is a simple illustration of how Verastream Host Integrator offers fast, scalable, API-enabled access to the mainframe application.

Take me STRAIGHT to your leader! What's next?

Your journey to RPA and the mainframe can start today. Whatever method of RPA you choose, your organization will be able to leverage your business-critical mainframe data in your RPA initiatives. Get started by viewing any of these resources:

If you prefer to speak to someone at Micro Focus directly, contact us here or find me on Twitter! There's also this superb demo available on our YouTube channel I'd advise you to watch if you'd like some Robotic help with your Big Iron - seeing is believing right? Go ahead, grab a coffee and hit play:

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Host Connectivity
Mainframe
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