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Supporting a Mainframe-SAP Transformation for a Major U.S. Energy Supplier

Energy and Utilities | Application Management, Managed Services

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A Midwest-based energy company partnered with TEKsystems to support its legacy modernization effort by developing custom interfaces between its existing systems and a new SAP platform.

The client operates an integrated refining, marketing and transportation system concentrated primarily in the Midwest, Gulf Coast and Southeast regions of the U.S. The client also has approximately 5,000 independently owned and operated locations in 17 states. TEKsystems has partnered with this client since 1995.

Mainframe technologies are the backbone of an organization—integrated into everyday processes and reliably running business-critical applications. However, as these mainframe technologies age, they can begin to create wrinkles noticed throughout the company; they are often inflexible and unable to change to meet evolving business needs, and employees with the skill sets needed to maintain these legacy assets move on to other jobs or retire, taking knowledge of the technology with them. Additionally, employees entering the industry aren't equipped with the same skill sets as previous generations and are no longer expected to stay with a company for 30+ years, leaving them less time to master mainframe code and become invested in an organization’s technology profile. Companies solely relying on these legacy systems can find themselves in a dangerous position, depending on a technology they can no longer support.

In order to defend their current market position, companies are retiring or modernizing their outdated machines. With the retirement of these legacy systems, there is opportunity to move from antiquated, fragmented processes to modern, standardized and repeatable processes and have systems that drive efficiencies and business agility. 

For assistance with these cultural and business transformations, organizations are turning to outside partners for expertise and support, leaning on technical experts for specialized skill sets they might not keep on staff and additional manpower so internal resources can remain focused on core business functions during the transformation.

Mainframe – Natural and JCL, .NET, SAP Core Financials

The client, a major energy refiner and supplier, was in the process of a cultural transformation. A high percentage of its staff was becoming eligible for retirement within the coming year and with the impending loss of these tenured employees, the client was running the risk of significant intellectual property loss regarding its mainframe. In addition to the shrinking workforce able to support it, the mainframe was also no longer able to meet the demands of the client’s long-term business strategy. 

The client was also experiencing some growing pains from a recent organizational shift; a few years prior, it had separated from its sister operation. The business—and its IT function—was still dealing with the execution of this separation day to day, including decoupling enterprise and business systems, and deciding what assets they were going to continue to support, decommission or sell. 

At the cross-section of these cultural and organizational changes, the client decided to standardize its businesses processes by replacing the majority of its financial systems on its mainframe with an SAP platform. The SAP solution would be more scalable, flexible and supportive of its growing and changing business model. The client would retain certain legacy systems with unique benefits or ease-of-use and redesign them to interact with the SAP platform. By leaving these systems intact, the client would retain the unique value of the systems. This meant that the client would need to develop 80 custom interfaces that would exchange data between the legacy systems and the SAP platform, allowing business stakeholders to manage accounts payable and receivable, general ledger, global procurement, time and expense, and billing functions.

The client wanted quality code and artifacts and to keep impacted IT projects in flight and on schedule. Moreover, the client had a tight timeframe; it had set end-of-month and year deadlines and needed the new system to drive efficiencies. However, current in-flight projects were monopolizing all in-house resources. In order to maintain smooth operations and application uptime during the project, the client decided to partner with an IT services provider to create the custom interfaces. The client wanted to maintain ownership and control over the project and was looking for a partner to provide technical expert resources to work seamlessly with the internal team and deliver work back to them. To achieve these goals, they set out to partner with an IT services provider for managed services to help modernize their systems and transition from mainframe to SAP.

TEKsystems would provide a mixed team of on-site and off-shore resources to customize internal applications for the SAP Core Financials implementation. We would meet with client subject matter experts (SMEs) to define, document and review software, hardware and system functional requirements. We would analyze business issues and develop creative solutions to meet end-user business requirements. This in-person interaction with the client’s stakeholders would ensure that the technical requirements were communicated completely and effectively.

We would then transition these technical requirements to our Bangalore Solution Center, where our team would perform mainframe (i.e., Natural, JCL) and .NET development to supplement the client’s current project goals and position it to meet future business objectives. Our resources would utilize their expertise in SAP systems analysis, design and development to develop code base and unit testing. As our team would receive technical specifications and begin developing the custom interface, the on-site team would continue to produce new specifications. By sharing responsibility between the on-site and off‑shore team, our solution would minimize cost and downtime. 

To ensure the interfaces would function in tandem with the client’s new SAP systems, our BSC team would develop test scenarios; review test cases, test results and defects for accuracy and compliance with project standards; and perform black box testing, exploratory testing, regression testing, functional testing and systems/integration testing. We would also provide defect tracking, results reporting and risk analysis and mitigation.

Because the client was facing a loss of significant institutional knowledge due to retirement, the client wanted to proactively mitigate this risk in the future by instituting a standardized workflow. We would engage the client’s mainframe SMEs and keep them at the center of the process and supportive of the new SAP design.

Under a managed services model we would also provide program governance, resource selection, onboarding, training, planning, as well as analysis and estimation of work.

As a long-time trusted partner who has placed over 400 consultants at the energy supplier and refiner, TEKsystems was approached by the client regarding this project. Based on the quality of our solution, as well as our past performance, the client partnered with TEKsystems to deliver and manage resources and optimize their workforce planning to include value-add services, cost containment and an offshore component.

We provided two on-site technical systems analysts and an on-site delivery manager; our off-site team at the BSC consisted of two mainframe developers, one .NET architect and a .NET senior developer. Timing was a significant metric for the client. We successfully developed 80 custom interfaces—with minimal bug count, hitting targets set forth by third‑party owners and helping the client’s HR/financial group stay on track to meet end-of-year goals. 

We standardized the mainframe code and built a seamless workflow process that had checks and balances that required client sign-off, providing traceability and encouraging buy-in from key client stakeholders. The workflow format was inspired by Agile best practices; it was high-quality, easy-to-use and predictable, and was designed to have repeated frequent contact to keep all SMEs aligned. During development, we instituted daily standup meetings and simple tracking to monitor progress and adherence to quality and time targets. This allowed us to see potential pitfalls as they came up and course-correct more easily than finding out at the end, thus improving overall velocity of the project. 

We also embarked on a development standards and best practices document to assist in longer‑term development to set a consistent, high-quality and predictable format to form their code. We invested in the long-term ownership of their development process, designing it to have frequent and repeatable contact points with business owners, keeping them updated on analytics, design, development, testing results and any final artifacts.

Previously, their applications had operated in silos and the architecture was not designed for cross‑application communication, so even if there were similar facets, they couldn’t work together. To amend this, we created two black box applications for ease of maintenance processes for vendor master and encryption/decryption of sensitive files. We were able to determine a consistent vendor terminology and definition in the system. For example, instead of rewriting and rebranding every single application involved in vendor processing, we created a stand-alone application that had a service‑oriented architecture where all vendor servicing goes in and out of this black box. This service-based application will drive efficiencies and put the client in prime position to assist with additional retirement, replacement or updating of targeted .NET applications (i.e., nVision, PMIC). 

After the development phase, we continued to offer support and, due to the diverse skill sets of TEKsystems’ resources, we have been reengaged on additional mainframe and .NET development projects for the client.

  • Communication. TEKsystems and the client held each other mutually responsible for owning our portions of the communication. Utilizing Agile best practices of frequent and collaborative communication throughout the project made it easier to redirect and redefine priorities if needed. An on-site delivery manager mitigated any communication issues, as our resources worked with multiple managers at the client.
  • Change management. The client was going through a cultural transition that was largely assisted through the IT transformation of its system. We were able to integrate with their culture and help them change it, using our expertise and skills as change agents where they were needed.
  • Spirit of partnership. We had a sense of awareness and understanding of the client environment and culture, making us able to better meet their needs. The client had previously worked with large outsourcing vendors who lacked this insight and thus was challenged to attract qualified resources. The client chose us based on our ability to customize a seamless, efficient and cost-effective solution comprised of on-site and off-shore delivery models. We were able to successfully deliver on these promises and provide a high-quality and cost-effective solution that best fit the client’s needs.
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