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November 24, 2011

Companies can’t find mainframe skills for love nor money: survey

Study finds skills shortage means rising costs and risk

By Jason Stamper

It’s been said that if you take the ‘B’ out of COBOL it spells COOL, but it seems those starting out in their programming careers don’t see it quite that way.

Performance management firm Compuware said research it commissioned to be undertaken by Vanson Bourne found that a retiring mainframe workforce is exposing companies to rising costs and increased business risks. The trouble is, that retiring workforce is not being replaced nearly fast enough with younger grads keen to skill up in ‘Big Iron’ programming, maintenance or modernisation.

In the study of 520 CIOs, 71% stated they are concerned that the looming mainframe skills shortage will hurt their business. Specifically, CIOs were concerned this will result in increased application risk (58%), reduced productivity (58%) and more project overruns (53%).

"One minute of a mainframe application outage can cost nearly $14,000 in lost revenue for the average enterprise according to this study," said Kris Manery, senior vice president and general manager, mainframe solutions business unit, Compuware. "The research also confirms that these already high costs – and the associated business risks – are poised to increase because of looming skills shortages."

"Experienced developers are business-critical assets, which is why nearly half (43 percent) of mainframe operational expenses goes toward their salaries," he added. "The loss of expertise as they retire will lead to increased costs as inexperienced developers spend more time getting to grips with their mainframe applications. Unfortunately, this steep learning curve also means that there are more chances for error and ultimately loss of revenue through application outages."

79% of CIOs said that mainframe application outages pose a significant business risk, yet 78% said these applications will remain a key business asset over the next decade. However, while the study identified rising costs resulting from developer shortages, 70% of CIOs agreed that cost cutting will expose more risks than rewards.

"Businesses must act quickly to address the problem of ‘mainframe brain drain’ or suffer a cycle of spiraling costs and mainframe outages," said Manery. "The overall challenge for CIOs here is resource management. Savvy CIOs will streamline mainframe investments by improving the productivity of the remaining experienced developers and new entrants, as well as increasing IT efficiency."

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The survey consisted of 520 CIOs in large enterprise organisations with over 1,000 employees. Specifically, the study included 100 CIOs each in the UK, France, Germany and the U.S. along with 30 CIOs each in Italy, Benelux, Japan and Australia.

All of this is of course fantastic news for the UK’s Micro Focus, which offers various ways of modernising legacy systems or getting off them altogether. But with many companies’ core business logic tied up in legacy systems, it’s often easier (and cheaper) to think about modernisation than a total migration to something new. Not many firms are running their core banking systems on iPads, for example, at least not just yet.

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