This year Information Technology Services will decommission the University’s mainframe after a decade-long goodbye and a major cultural shift for the employees who have operated it.
For a time, the mainframe was the only computer doing all the business work of UNC-Chapel Hill, from payroll to student information, from accounts payable to UNC-TV and much, much more. For four decades, this computer was used for large-scale computing. It lacked a modern graphical interface, but as many as 3,000 users signed on to screens to update files each day. It was a workhorse that managed the University’s business and student data.
Individuals within ITS’ mainframe/operations shop were responsible for and felt ownership of individual applications they ran on the mainframe, such as printing payroll, accounts payable, census, registration and UNC-TV, to name a few. They heeded hard deadlines each day as the mainframe nightly processing had to be completed by 7 a.m. so the online files were available for those 3,000 users. Employees also had to meet strict state and federal requirements to avoid fines against the University. Each worker was a subject matter expert. One employee, for instance, never missed printing a payroll in his nearly 20 years of owning that task with the mainframe, said Ray DeCristofaro, ITS Director for Enterprise Operations.
Decommissioning preparations began in 2004
A decade ago the group started preparing for the decommissioning of the mainframe. In 2004 the unit was instructed to be ready to convert over in 2008-09 to the University’s enterprise resource planning system, now known as ConnectCarolina. UNC-Chapel Hill launched the first ConnectCarolina module for Student Administration in 2009. The mainframe continued handling finance and human resources/payroll until those modules were entirely moved over to ConnectCarolina last October.
Jobs had changed little in three decades
The initial reaction 10 years ago was “Oh, no, the mainframe’s going away.” The veteran workers would need to give up the safety and familiarity of their old way of doing things. Those jobs, in fact, had changed little over the course of 30 years. Some of the technology around the jobs changed, but the employees who ran the processes saw little change in their centralized computing functions.
“It was a culture shift within this shop,” DeCristofaro said.
ITS managers asked employees for ideas
Managers listened to workers, gave them a vision of results and asked them to help the University implement that vision, said Jim Etheridge, Associate Director of Processing Services. Enterprise Operations worked with employees to make the transition easier. “We had to adjust the organization and the workflow,” he said.
“It was baby steps,” DeCristofaro added. “We were working in two worlds until go live in 2014 of ConnectCarolina. We kept the mainframe running but we were inventing the future as the needs of ConnectCarolina unfolded. “We ran ideas by our workers and got their input into what worked and what did not.”
Now employees are cross-trained to schedule and run all types of work in ConnectCarolina. They aren’t locked into doing one thing. “It’s broadened their scope and their IT knowledge and given them a career path,” said DeCristofaro.
While members of the ITS unit shifted most all functions to ConnectCarolina, they still have to keep the mainframe running for other applications that have not migrated to ConnectCarolina and for historical data. Now that the finance and human resources/payroll modules have moved over to ConnectCarolina as well, the last of the business processes, Campus Utilities, UNC–TV printing, Finan$eer and the migrating of the historical data run on the mainframe will be shut off at the end of 2015.
Group embraces the future
It has been a long journey, but Enterprise Operations is better positioned to meet the operational needs of UNC-Chapel Hill into the future. Said DeCristofaro, “We say goodbye to old technology, but we embrace the new with renewed excitement in helping the University accomplish its mission.”