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CIOs warn on mainframe skill shortage

By Retail Technology | Tuesday February 18 2014

Global survey shows limited progress is being made on preparing for risks of skills shortfall, where retail CIOs fear failure to act could hurt their businesses

Nearly two-thirds of retail chief information officers (CIOs) believe looming mainframe skills shortage will hurt their business.

That’s according to the results of a new global survey released today, where 61% of CIOs said they feared the impending retirement of the mainframe workforce will hurt their business by reducing their ability to support legacy applications.

Performance management technology provider Compuware carried out the cross-industry survey, which included responses from 60 CIOs in the retail sector. Given the level of concern over a lack of skills, it is telling that even more retail CIOs (78%) believe the mainframe will be a key business asset over the next decade.

Struggling to keep up 

Despite this disparity, over half (59%) agreed that their mainframe teams are finding it difficult to meet the fast changing expectations of the business and 75% agreed that their main concerns in relation to the loss of these mainframe developers are related to reduced productivity.

Over one third (39%) of retail CIOs admitted they had no formal plans in place to address mainframe developer and operator shortages. But proportion improved comparative to the 46% admitting to a lack of mainframe skills planning in 2011.

Other concerns relating to the looming skills shortage included increased application risk (51%) and an increase in project overruns (51%). 

“Mainframe applications have been updated and extended numerous times over the past 30 years, making them extremely complex to manage," stated Kris Manery, senior vice president and general manager of Compuware’s mainframe solutions business unit. 

“While experienced mainframe developers are familiar with these systems, newer developers can take up to two years to get up-to-speed. As more experienced mainframe workers approach retirement age, businesses need to act quickly to address this pending skills shortage and make concrete plans for a pain free transition. 

"For example, by modernising the mainframe development environment and using development and testing tools that provide deeper insight into how these applications work, businesses can help less experienced developers get up to speed faster, reducing the risk of an application failure.”

Coping with modern demands

According to an earlier study looking at how the mainframe is being used, the majority of CIOs in the retail sector (80%) say that it is now running an increased number of new and different workloads than it did five years ago. 

Although there have always been high expectations on the performance of the mainframe, the research concluded the result is that 88% of retail CIOs said they believe this pressure has increased now that the mainframe is becoming more involved in delivering customer-facing applications. 

“Growing IT complexity, intensified pressure on the mainframe and the pending skills shortage are undoubtedly heightening the risk of serious IT failures," added Manery. "The introduction of mobile and cloud, along with the explosion in new front end applications, devices and data services, is forcing legacy mainframe applications to work harder than ever. 

He said retailers need the skills to maintain the mainframe applications that support the newer customer facing services: “In today's 24/7 connected world, businesses must ensure they possess the skills and the tools necessary to both deploy innovative new services and keep their IT systems up and running.”

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