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Industry Insight

Mainframe, human factors and the future

Companies want to take on employees who have mainframe and distributed skill sets.

With the mainframe resurgent as a viable solution to the new business challenges emerging in an ever-more connected world, there is one critical requirement over and above the required technology solution and the necessary financial resources: staffing.

Given how integrated the mainframe is with other technologies, it's not a surprise that many companies want employees who have both mainframe and distributed skill sets.

Over the next 12-18 months, 84%-89% of organisations will implement a hybrid, cross-platform management model, with a shared budget, staffing and leadership. That's why a clear majority of employees both in the United States (55%) and globally (54%) says it is essential that new talent have both mainframe skills and distributed/open system skills.

There are indications of trouble in this area, albeit with a silver lining. More than a quarter of US respondents (27%), and 29% globally, believe their organisation will face a shortage of critical mainframe skills in just one to three years, and another 28% and 27% respectively say the same about the next four to five years.

This problem was highlighted in "Mainframe as a Mainstay 2010", which reported that while the current generation entering the workforce is likely the most tech-savvy in history, with little memory of a pre-Internet world, the available skills didn't necessarily translate to the enterprise infrastructure.

On the bright side, almost all respondents (98%) feel their organisation is moderately to highly prepared to ensure continuing mainframe operations.

"Corporations worldwide understand that staffing is a potential issue, and they are clearly taking steps to ensure that the existing and incoming workforce can manage the infrastructure," said Nakesha Newbury, a software engineer with CA Technologies and a graduate of the Mainframe Associate Software Engineering Program.

Road ahead

The clear take-away from this research is that any conversation around the mainframe needs to focus squarely on the future. It's not a legacy system that needs to be maintained or even replaced; by any measure, it's paying a vital role in the enterprise infrastructure and even gaining in importance.

Any conversation around the mainframe needs to focus squarely on the future.

To draw the greatest benefits, forward-thinking executives must drive their businesses towards:

* Making a strategic investment. The computing environment is set to grow more complex, and more data-heavy, as the challenges brought about by big data, e-commerce and other business forces keep mounting. The undeniable benefits accorded by this platform – from throughput and scalability to security and availability – ensure it will be relied on even more by enterprise operations around the world. Companies must maintain, and increase, as needs dictate, the resources they devote to this area.

* Driving innovation. Big iron isn't always associated with this characteristic, yet it's now a hub of innovation. By virtue of the mainframe's increased importance, hardware manufacturers, application developers and other IT specialists are ensuring their own innovations are interoperable with this platform. The mainframe in turn has adapted well to emerging technologies involving mobile management and operating models like cloud computing. Companies must ensure a technology development environment where new technologies fit seamlessly into the strategic core.

* Transforming the workforce. Just as the platform itself is now seamlessly integrated with other technologies, the new generation of IT professionals will need multidisciplinary skill sets that span not only mainframe and distributed capabilities, but also other technologies and business priorities. IT decision-makers must do their part to present this discipline in a manner that draws the greatest talent. In this regard, CA Southern Africa has unveiled the CA Mainframe Academy. This will offer South African ICT graduates the opportunity to gain certification – and enhanced job opportunities – in a sector of the industry with rapidly escalating skills shortages.

* Ensuring software supplied makes management of mainframe easier. Companies need to ensure their software suppliers are making it easier to manage the mainframe than in the past. GUI type screens as opposed to the old 3260 will go a long way towards IT organisations being able to get more for less. This is where CA is focusing its investment in making mainframe easier to manage than ever before.

It is incumbent on us in the industry to get the word out that the mainframe isn't about maintaining a legacy, but instead about driving innovation, because that's what it's doing.

The mainframe is still around, and still viable, for the same reason as any other technology in the infrastructure: it clearly offers greater advantages than its alternatives. The companies that draw the greatest benefits will be those that see the mainframe not for what it was, but what it is – an instrument of change that's perfectly aligned with today's IT priorities.


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