• May 17, 2022

Why Emulator Macros Are an Outdated Solution to Today’s Automation Challenge

At Rocket Software, we see application modernization as a continuous journey, and for many customers the first step on that journey is to modernize the terminal emulator used to access critical business applications living on core systems like IBM zSystems and IBM i.

Typically, experienced employees leverage the macros tool within terminal emulation on their desk computer to make themselves more efficient. For years this was the only option available to users to improve their productivity, as IT typically did not have the bandwidth to improve the host application itself. When a company switches terminal emulation vendors, all these macros are then often just converted as is without much consideration to what’s best for the business. There are two major reasons why this is bad practice:

Limited productivity gains, if any

It is often hard to determine what a macro actually does at runtime, making it difficult to judge the macro’s value. Is it the holy grail that improves an employee’s productivity to peak performance or was it written decades ago and not used since?

Does the macro still work as intended or has the host application slightly changed at some point, causing the macro to derail when executed and creating havoc by sending input to the wrong screens?

Converting hardly used macros just to make them available in the new terminal emulation solution obviously would be a waste of resources. Then again, if a macro does provide value, how can you provide that workflow improvement to all the employees if those macros are available only on the computer they were created and are not centrally managed?

Another thing to consider is that macros are typically executed within the employee’s active terminal emulation session. This means that while the macro is executing, the employee is idle when they could be doing something else, effectively muting the productivity gain of using the macro. Some employees worked around this limitation by creating macros that automatically start a new, additional terminal emulator instance to execute the recorded steps on their behalf. Apart from the additional host system resource and license cost that approach introduces, it could also introduce a serious security threat.

Security and compliance concerns

A serious risk with user macros is that they are created by employees without any oversight. For example, macros that automatically log on could contain usernames and passwords that are stored in plain text. As most of these macros are stored on the employee’s device this introduces a serious security and compliance risk. With most employees still working from home (with limited security measures) this could be a critical attack vector. Just imagine a hacker leveraging the macro functionality to access the host system, capturing a lot of sensitive data in a very short time!

A better approach

Although macros can provide value in certain situations, they are an old-fashioned solution to a modern problem. There are RPA solutions specifically optimized to automate tasks for terminal-based applications; that is, they understand core systems, which allows users to automate when and where they need to in the workflow.

More RPA solutions today are server based, making them secure and high performing. Additionally, there are some that offer central management, including script change management to handle host application changes and monitoring for the automation scripts. Another benefit is that by completely automating tedious, repetitive tasks using an RPA solution, you will free up your employees to do more engaging work, improving productivity, while keeping your sensitive applications and data secure.

Rocket Software offers leading RPA solutions for IBM i and IBM zSystems. Talk to our automation experts today.

Jeroen van Dun 21 Posts

Jeroen van Dun is a Product Manager at Rocket Software.

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