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Mainframe Testing: How to Modernize with Test Automation

Although mainframes have been around for years, they are still used by many of the world’s largest banks, insurers and other enterprises that rely on their complex processing capabilities and efficient data storage. 

Mainframes are also highly reliable, scalable, and have an unmatched ability to support high volumes of transactions and data. This allows BFSI organizations to process billions of highly sensitive business transactions per day, such as stock trades, money transfers and credit card transactions.

Mainframes are incredibly reliable because they don’t go through much change in comparison to other systems.. This strength is, however, arguably also their weakness. Because while the systems haven’t changed for 20-30 years, neither have the processes for testing and developing them.

The problem is, although mainframes haven’t changed, the way we do business has. And that’s a lot faster than it was 20-30 years ago.

In other words, the speed at which development must take place today doesn’t match the practices that have traditionally gone hand in hand with mainframe development. As a consequence, mainframe development isn’t moving at a pace that satisfies modern consumers.

What’s more, the systems that mainframes form have evolved significantly over time. For this reason, a complex mix of integrated, connected platforms, technologies and systems now shape part of the constellation, meaning that there hasn’t just been a shift in the need for faster testing, but also for more testing. 

A need to modernize the approach to mainframe development and testing has thereby emerged.

The question is how to unify the need for quality at speed with limited time and resources. For this, you’ll need test automation and the right test automation tool (that won’t drain your team for time and resources).

Why test automation?

Although mainframes have been around for many years, the technology does not prohibit the use of modern methodologies such as agile and DeVops. On the contrary, these approaches are arguably an essential ingredient in keeping mainframes reliable and scalable.

Agile typically involves testing more and earlier, which is important particularly to BFSI businesses to whom defective code can be extremely costly and put business continuity and data security at risk.

Despite this, there has been a tendency in mainframe testing to wait to test until the very end, when all the code is done, and to follow a waterfall approach to releasing, instead of an agile one.

By shifting towards a more modern testing approach, where testing takes place earlier and more frequently in the release cycle, the number of defects found at the end of the cycle is lowered, which in turn lowers costs and reduces risk - something that is imperative during an economic downturn.

Shift left testing is such an approach, and goes hand in hand with DevOps and agile methodologies. Shift left testing involves testing earlier, or, as the name implies, shifting testing to the left on the project timeline.

With shift left testing comes the need for test automation, as it effectively helps teams increase the frequency and speed of tests, test earlier, move faster, become more agile, and scale while lowering risk.

To many, however, testing earlier and test automation don’t go hand in hand. 

This is because test automation in many cases requires your tests to be complete, in order for you to start setting up automation. It’s also something that in many cases takes long and requires resources many teams just don’t have.

But test automation is possible without spending vast amounts of time and resources - it just requires the right tool (which we’ll get to at the end of this blog post).

With the right tool it becomes possible to move away from tedious, error-prone manual testing and towards efficient and accurate automated tests. The quality of tests can also be improved, because testers are freed up to do exploratory testing and to improve test design, rather than spending most of their hours on manual testing.

In sum then, with an agile approach that integrates test automation as a part of the release cycle in mainframe development, businesses can achieve:

  • Faster release cycles
  • Greater agility
  • Scalability
  • Lowered risk
  • Higher efficiency
  • Reduced costs

Risk of not automating mainframe testing, on the other hand, include:

  • Defects are found later in development, or worse, in production use
  • Inefficient release cycles with bottlenecks and developer dependency
  • Unstable performance in applications  
  • Security vulnerabilities

How to find the right test automation tool for mainframe?

Although the benefits of modernization and test automation are clear to many, the transition can still be a challenge and introduce many bumps on the road to teams that have been following the same procedures for decades. 

There are a number of things that these teams can do to ensure a smooth transition to a more modern mainframe testing approach that includes test automation.

One of the most important things to consider is which test automation platform you will use, as this will shape your transitioning, as well as how team member’s time and skills are distributed to achieve the most efficient and lean mainframe development model.

Cross-technology capabilities

The first thing to consider in this respect is cross-technology capabilities. Mainframes are rarely a stand-alone system; they are typically integrated and connected with multiple other platforms and technologies that together deliver business-critical value for the enterprise. A good testing tool is therefore one that lets teams do end-to-end testing across technologies, and allows seamless integration, while providing testing teams with a centralized overview of when and where bugs occur.


When the tool is also codeless, building tests becomes a lot faster, and the maintenance burden lower, as both technical and non-technical team members, mainframe developers and non-mainframe developers, are empowered to create and update tests. As a result, teams become less dependent on mainframe developers (which are a scarce resource, and needed for actual mainframe development), allowing teams to flow through bottlenecks. For enterprises, this also introduces a level of scalability not possible with a tool that requires coding.

Particularly now, when we have entered a new normal where businesses - small and large - are forced to do more with less, ensuring that resources are leveraged efficiently is key. As personnel with mainframe development experience are typically scarce, their time shouldn’t be spent on needless test coding. By introducing a codeless testing tool, testers can be the ones to set up and execute tests. In this way, resources are optimized, and businesses can move through release cycles with higher speed and lower risk.

When you have the right people and process in place for your mainframe development and testing pipeline, the cycle time can be shortened, errors can be reduced, and quality can be delivered faster than ever before.

LEAPWORK’s no-code automation platform enables enterprises to set up automation flows with ease. The platform offers a simple user interface without compromising functionality, meaning you can use LEAPWORK to automate across multiple technologies without spending needless time on coding and maintenance.

Learn more about no-code test automation in our webinars. Sign up below.

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Maria Homann
Maria Homann
Content Marketing Manager

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