Race is on at Ford Australia to migrate off mainframes

Ford Australia is racing to migrate off its MCP-based mainframes by the end of next year in a bid to standardize its global IT infrastructure.

Ford has been running on Unisys mainframes since 1969, whereas Ford US runs on IBM so the race is over for Unisys’ proprietary MCP operating system.

A Ford Australia spokesperson said the goal is to standardize IT globally as part of a systems renewal program that began three years ago.

“This project includes internal systems across the entire business, as well as external systems that allow us to interface with our dealers. The project is about 70 percent complete at this point,” the spokesperson said.

Sources familiar with Ford’s plans told Computerworld that the company wants to get off its “own legacy systems” which were home-grown.

The migration is slated for completion by December 2006, and although Unisys mainframes will be switched off, the company will continue to provide Ford with other outsourced services.

The last piece of Unisys kit purchased by Ford was an Itanium system in early 2004 which is housed in Singapore. Ford’s development and disaster recovery environment is based on Intel which has been problem-free for more than 18 months.

Unisys Australia’s systems and technology group general manager, David Ireland, said the move by Ford is indicative of a trend by large multinational companies to standardize on one vendor for particular parts of the business.

“Ford also standardized on HP for its desktops,” Ireland said, adding that there are still opportunities for Unisys to sell Intel-based systems to Ford.

“Our relationship with Ford and Ford Credit is still strong,” he said. “Is it inevitable there won’t be a Unisys mainframe at Ford, but we are providing a host of toolsets to help take its applications from the mainframe to Intel.”

Ireland said Ford Credit is using Unisys’ Enterprise Application Environment (EAE) which supports J2EE and .Net.

“People tend to look at running costs and not migration costs,” he said when asked how to deal with older technology. “Be sure you take a good look at what’s available before you throw it away. Just because something is perceived to be outdated that doesn’t mean it is.”

Ireland questioned whether businesses can afford to “build a whole new world” with new technologies when modernizing existing ones may achieve the same result.

“If a migration disrupts the business and costs a lot more, then why do it?” he said.

Build systems for change to avoid the forklift

IBRS analyst Kevin McIsaac believes there may be a lot of reasons why companies remain with legacy systems but a significant factor is the large, up-front cost of migrating. “For most businesses, particularly in the automotive industry, cost control has been a big thing over the last four years,” McIsaac said. “By under investing in IT you may end up with systems that are not going to support the business.”

McIsaac said it’s not uncommon to see companies faced with large migration projects which carry a high risk. “These are fraught with danger and can, and frequently do, fail if done in a big-bang way,” he said, adding that factors such as, will the company have the necessary skills, and will the new applications have the same functionality as the custom-developed ones, all need to be considered.

Large-scale migration projects may cost around A$10 million (US$7.5 million) but can easily blow out to A$150 million, he said.

McIsaac said the direction IT departments need to go to overcome the dilemma of incrementally upgrading systems or sweating the assets, is to build systems for change. “Systems should be designed with change in mind by reducing the complexity of IT,” he said. Buying software and then modifying it is worst practice.”

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