In 2004 IBM created “z Operating System Management Facility” (z/OSMF), a web-based GUI to enable users to manage their z/OS mainframe environment. Navigation required indepth knowledge of z/OS tasks and did not follow modern web conventions. In addition z/OSMF lacked functionality. Users could not create lists of frequently searched for data sets or files within z/OSMF, they had to use other command line interface tools.
I redesigned the navigation to make it more intuitive and to surface important information and tasks based on the system programmer's experience level. I also designed the ability for users to save collections of frequently used file and data set queries within z/OSMF reducing the need to switch to the command line interface and increasing efficiency.
IBM’s first mainframe computers arrived on the market in 1952, they took up an entire room and were sold without any software. The technology has advanced and now mainframes can support thousands of applications and simultaneous users. Mainframes process 30 billion business transactions per day, including most major credit card transactions and stock trades, money transfers, manufacturing processes, and ERP systems. The early visionaries who brought the mainframe into their organizations are retiring, and automation and novice system programmers are trying to fill their shoes. The challenge is how to teach novice systems programmers the skills and knowledge to take over in a condensed time frame.
There were multiple touchpoints in the z/OSMF experience that could be improved to make it a better tool for systems programmers. I created this site map to help our team strategize.
The redesign of z/OSMF was complex for multiple reasons. The first challenge was getting up to speed on the z/OS technology. The next issue was scoping the project to deliver value to the customer in the next release, yet design progressively enhanced experiences for our users over the long term. To accomplish this we had to align with the many stakeholders who contributed functionality to z/OSMF and get everyone on board. Lastly, our team was part of an overall transformation at IBM to adopt design practices and an agile development approach and we had to work to institute new practices along the way.
An overview of our sprints including creating a style guide to lay the groundwork for future concepts
Applying Recommended Service Updates (RSUs) is a crucial task for systems programmers to keep their environments functioning and secure. It is a time consuming task that senior systems programmers would like novice systems programmers to take over, but it can be complex and z/OSMF should provide assistance.
I lead a design thinking workshop with subject matter experts to look at the different uses cases for applying recommended service updates and the tools currently used.
A key element of the workshop was surfacing questions and assumptions so that we can design a tool better than the existing tools.
We looked at the assumptions and questions we had for each persona involved in the recommended service update process.
“What we need SMP/E to help with is installing the maintenance, packaging the maintenance and distributing the maintenance. IBM could develop a tool that would serve 90% of the customers if it did this.”
I worked in collaboration with sponsor users and subject matter experts to develop concepts and see if z/OSMF could be a central location to process the Holddata and assign it to the systems specialists. This element of the project was shelved but I made recommendations based on the user research for future work.
One of the primary goals of z/OSMF is to simplify the job of the systems programmer by combining the function of multiple tools into one interface. Our team worked to enable file and data set manipulation within z/OSMF. I worked on building a favoriting feature so that users could organize and quickly access important files and data sets.
I interviewed users to learn about their frustrations with their current tools to favorite, bookmark, or organize data sets.
It was essential to map out the all the use cases to ensure the feature worked, but also what to build after the MVP.
High-fidelity wireframe for the manage favorites panel.
Many z/OSMF users valued the option to save favorite data sets and organize them into collections.
“I’d use this, especially if I’m doing things in z/OSMF, this will help me out a great deal, only staying within z/OSMF.”
Working on z/OSMF has been a valuable learning experience. Here are some of the key insights and skills I've developed from this project.
Mainframes are complex systems, and designing software tools for this environment can be challenging because you can’t know everything. My work on z/OSMF has taught me to be comfortable with ambiguity.
One of the more difficult parts of this project was to challenge the team’s assumptions and examine what value we were providing to the user by creating a web-based application, versus improving on the TSO and ISPF systems already in use.
“I’m not a big fan of web-based tools. They are slower and more fragile. One of the things that I like about mainframes is that you have this simple interface.”
One of the chief assets of a mainframe running z/OS is security and all products created for this environment need to reflect this priority. Many of the design decisions I made were shaped by security concerns and building trust into the user experience.