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Hursley Blue Graduate Opportunities

The Hursley Blue Graduate Opportunities (HBGO) program gives new hires the chance to join a project that they are passionate about while learning new skills. A team of six graduates from across the Hursley Laboratory have been bought together for the CICS Product Showcase HBGO project. The project aims to enable the graduates to extend core CICS sample applications to showcase some of the many features and enhancements that have been made to CICS TS in recent releases. The graduates aim to deliver a series of innovative software demonstrations, videos, and rich media presentations over the next 6 months of the HBGO project, and beyond.

The initial micro-project in the series was designed to build up the core skills with CICS and a number of other technologies. Most of the team had little experience with CICS at the start of the project The micro-project, named by the graduates as “NextGENAPP”, was to take an insurance company’s existing COBOL terminal interface application and enhance it using some of the new features of CICS to create a new web user interface that surpassed the consumability of the terminal interface. The application they were given was GENAPP, a dummy application that enables users to access and edit information in a DB2 database on customers and their policies. The graduates had to use a number of technologies including CICS, Rational Developer for system z, Rational Team Concert, AJAX/DOJO, WebSphere sMash, Groovy, and many more to produce the new interface.

Existing 3270 GENAPP

New login page

Customer search panel

With the first micro project now complete, the graduates have shared their thoughts on how the project progressed for them, the CICS learning curve, and their view on why CICS will remain at the forefront of transaction processing in the years to come.

Michael Jones 

When I joined IBM in August 2010,I had never heard of CICS or worked with it. Within IBM I work for the CICS Transaction Gateway build team, in this role though I have interacted indirectly with CICS, I haven’t had any experience working with it.

Starting the project I had a lot to learn about what CICS actually did, let alone how to use it. Since I was leading the team I wanted to quickly get to speed with how CICS worked, so turned to the info-centres and online resources. In both cases I was presented with a great number of acronyms and a great deal of jargon.

For me this was the main barrier for working with CICS. When you first start, resource names like ‘pipeline’ don’t give you much of a hint as to what job it actually performs. It can also be quite difficult to find basic information about such things inside the info-centres. Though once you get working with parts of CICS it often becomes quite obvious what they, and you quickly realise how useful it is. Looking past all the terminology there really are a lot of handy and easy to use features in CICS.

One of the things that impressed me was the flexibility of CICS. As part of the first task we set up a web interface to a legacy application. Once we learnt the process it was very easy to repeat, and one of the great things about it was we didn’t have to learn any COBOL to do this.

Overall working with CICS so far has been an interesting experience. A lot of the concepts and ways are working are new to me, but I can quite easily see why they’re done the way they are, and look forward to learning more about CICS as we go along.

Mark Richards

I had a rude awakening when I started in May last year, straight into CICS Level 3 Service. University education doesn’t seem to cover z/OS, z/VM, COBOL, Green Screen terminals, mainframe assembler, or XEDIT. However, I guess they were right that Java works everywhere. Nine months later I find myself in this project and the only one with regular CICS experience. How could Mike and James catch up with what I’d learned and did I know enough? Turns out that you don’t need to know CICS to expose web services, just enough to do the task: A couple of RDz wizards, two CICS commands (CEMT INQUIRE and CEDA DISPLAY) and the RDz Remote Systems view seemed to be enough.

Looking back, I didn’t think it would be as simple as it ended up! I’d played with using DFHLS2WS in JCL to get web services running before and was a little shocked to find the ease with which we could do it in RDz (once we learned how!).

With RTC we could fire work items between the two teams to get web services defined, installed, modified, tested and added to the site. At full speed in the backend we could expose a new web service every 10-15 minutes and once done the client team found the auto-generated Java components pending to enter their development environments.
Seeing how this works demonstrated something I’d not really seen before; the ease with which you could develop a new frontend for an enterprise encapsulated application and not really know how the rest works. We didn’t need to know CICS APIs, Systems Programming, database structures or enterprise programming principles. However, we did have to customise the COBOL copybooks, but even that was easy.

James Bartlett

I started as a graduate at IBM in July of 2010. My degree was in Maths and Philosophy and my experience of computer science consists of an introductory course to z/OS and z architecture, followed by a year working in a role supporting a proprietary test system and various other resources used in CICS testing. My knowledge of the inner workings of CICS is cursory at best, or was, although I have a reasonable understanding of the mainframe. My role in the team was initially to assist Mike and Mark in exposing the programs constituting our legacy application as web services, and on that subject I don’t have much to say that they haven’t covered.

I also undertook the migration of our web front end from external hosting on WebSphere sMashash to hosting in CICS itself using the sMash implementation provided by the CICS Dynamic Scripting Feature Pack. The exercise was not without its challenges, but I was on the whole pleasantly surprised by how easy the process was. The installation of the feature cap is very straightforward, there being little more to it than copying the zipped up feature pack to Unix System Services, unpacking it and creating a couple of datasets to contain the resources to be used by CICS. The whole process is clearly and thoroughly documented on IBM’s Information Center, and this was little more than painting by numbers.

The installation in CICS was a little less straightforward, and as such a bit more interesting as an education. Again the documentation was good, but writing the JCL to update and then clone and expand our CSD (which filled up the first time I attempted the update, took a bit of trial and error. Updating our CICS region took a bit of effort also, but at least here I had the JCL written and just needed to add and edit as per instructions. This done, there was little more left to achieve other than to drop our application into USS, edit the dependencies and set it going.

Domanic Smith-Jones and Alexander Woodgate

We wrote the website that would consume the web services exposed by the back end team. We both joined IBM in September 2010 and started this project with little CICS experience between us. Now we are at the end of phase one, we still don’t have much CICS knowledge! The website uses a mixture of HTML, CSS and DOJO to provide a dynamic web application front end and Groovy to call the back end web services on CICS. The CICS program may have been written in COBOL but once they have been exposed as SOAP web services we don’t have to worry about how it all works in the back end. We simply needed to set relevant fields for the operation we were performing and then send the soap message off to CICS, we didn’t need to understand commareas or channels. The web application was all developed using a local sMash server that we ran on our laptops enabling us to run the site and make changes to it live to test the implementation of the calls we used and the forms that we created to use them.

The DOJO enabled us to create simple methods that allowed data verification before the data was sent to CICS. This again required little knowledge of CICS beyond the sizes and types of fields that were to be sent, which were all stated in the java classes created by the back end team.

The real power of web services was that we could consume them from a whole host of technologies, we may have hosted a website on CICS using the dynamic scripting feature pack but there was nothing that limited us to that. We can host our site on other platforms and web servers, or we can take a completely different approach and consume them from a native desktop or mobile application.

Amy Ferrell

I joined IBM Hursley in September 2010 as an information developer on CICS TS. Having an ID background meant that I understood much of the terminology of CICS, I have however never really used it. My main work on this project has been on the showcase and documentation, though I have completed a small amount of work on the web user interface. I worked closely with other members in the team to write the documentation for the new GENAPP application, and put together a short media clip to explain to non-technical users how the power of web services can be used to provide real business value.

To me, CICS is vast and seems incredibly daunting as a graduate when faced with building applications and using the mainframe. The project was a really good introduction to some of the technologies that the people who interact directly with CICS must use. I was really surprised when I learned that the WUI that we created in just 2 months of part time work (including our education) could connect hundreds of users with CICS and provide the capability to process tens of thousands of transactions per day. When I think of the capabilities of a typical website versus one similar to ours which is linked into CICS, it is easy to understand why IBM customers continue to rely on CICS for their day to day business functions, especially mission critical functions: it’s the incredible scalability and reliability of CICS TS coupled with the security and versatility that it offers our customers. In the next few micro-projects, I’m really looking forward to being more hands on with coding to see what we as a team are capable of even though we’re not the most experienced CICS users.

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Categories: CICS TS, HBGO
  1. ijmitch
    September 18, 2011 at 11:50 am

    Nice article!

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