Thursday, August 16, 2007

Boomers Retire, What Happens To Mainframes

Deborah Perelman of Ziff Davis - CIP Insight has brought up and interesting and pressing subject in the article: 7 Ways to Protect Legacy Systems When Boomers Retire What happens to your Mainframe system when those 50 to 65 year old professionals retire, and what can you do now to prepare.

She starts the article by stating:
"CIOs need to conduct a reality check as baby boomers head into retirement. True, the fact that a generation of some of IT's most experienced and knowledgeable professionals will be leaving over the next decade has been discussed for years. Yet, most organizations have done little to prepare for this exodus of talent, especially as it concerns maintaining all-too-important legacy systems. The clock is ticking, and CIOs must act now."
Though there isn't a hard deadline as there was in the Y2K problem, there still is a deadline and it is just as real as Y2K. The baby boomers are going to retire, and when they do, they will take a great deal of mainframe knowledge with the. What is different is this process will occur over a number of years instead of a single set deadline of 1/1/2000.

This is a growing problem because, there are not many new computer scientists, and even fewer of those are going into the mainframe world. Yet little is being done today, to move the vast libraries of Cobol and of mainframe applications into the client/server world. And lets face it, some applications are best done on a mainframe.

Phil Murphy, principal analyst at Forrester Research, issued a paper suggesting CIOs can mitigate the loss of the boomers. He says there isn't an immediate crisis but there could be one so if inaction continues. In her article, Deborah continues:
"Forrester suggests several steps companies should take now to address the pending loss of brainpower. If not, Murphy says, the boomer retirements will drive the issue of legacy skills from a minor annoyance in IT to the level of a skills-management issue that will plague the entire organization. But with the right management action, he says, the problems can be contained. Inaction will most certainly lead to crisis."
Here are the seven steps that Forrester Research recommends to limit the danger:

1. Determine if senior corporate executives knows this threat exists. Find out if a corporate or enterprise-wide program addressing boomer retirements exist? If so, leverage it. If not, lobby for one. Either way, IT should be the one that gets the ball rolling.

2. Ascertain who is at the highest risk in IT. It is likely to be the programmers because they are most familiar with how the business rules are coded and because they are closest to retirement age.

3. Figure out the employee age threat. Chart the age of employees in key roles and their tenure on key applications. Average their ages. If this average is above 50, as is the case in many organizations with pension plans, worry now.

4. Determine when employees who deal with these key applications are likely to retire. Identify the most important applications and who knows the most about them. Consider an application mining tool or application portfolio management to help regain lost knowledge.

5. Tap vendor initiative programs. IBM, MicroFocus and other Cobol vendors have invested millions to revive mainframe training programs at universities, and they also can be a resource to CIOs at risk.

6. Institute a formal program to regain intellectual property; technology and IT training is comparatively easy. IT must guard against the loss of business knowledge accumulated over years by these retiring workers.

7. Ramp up contingency planning, consider the whole ecosystem. Adding an extra level of contingency planning will help ensure normal operational continuity if indirect impacts wreck havoc.

One alternative Murphy says most large companies should avoid is porting mainframe applications to new servers and systems. Mainframes have proven to be one of the most reliable computer technologies, with up times far outdistancing those of Unix and Wintel boxes. No wonder major corporations are reluctant of moving critical transaction systems off mainframes.

Still, if all else fails, CIOs might turn to foreign workers with mainframe experience for help. Don't count on outsourcing to India or China; IT workers there have plenty expertise in enterprise resource planning systems, such as SAP, but few offer legacy skills. Look to the old Soviet bloc.

Trying to find foreign workers with mainframe experience as Murphy suggests, doesn't seem extremely helpful to me. Just as in outsourcing, communication problems and immigration issues will surely follow if you rely on foreign workers, which will make an already complex problem even worse.

Instead, wouldn't it be better to leverage the knowledge and expertise of a respected U.S. based mainframe software company. A company respected, for their ability to deliver innovative, high quality solutions to the most difficult problems posed by mainframes. And I'm not talking about IBM, I'm talking about Compuware.

Compuware, as they did during the Y2K problem, has launched a program to combat this problem. Enter Compuware’s five step, Enterprise Legacy Modernization (ELM) Solution:
  • Legacy Discover and Rationalize - The first and most critical step in legacy management and modernization is to fully document mainframe applications and develop a rationalized plan for each application in the mainframe portfolio.
  • Legacy Optimize - Reduce mainframe operations cost and increase the quality of service of mainframe batch and online applications.
  • Legacy Extend and Service Enable - Unlock mainframe application business value and leverage decades of investment by extending and service enabling core business functions across the enterprise and to outside parties.
  • Legacy Transform - Transform mainframe business logic into J2EE, or .NET services or replace with commercial off the shelf (COTS) applications running on distributed platforms, where and only where it makes sense.
  • Legacy Sustain – Maintain and support legacy applications with competent professionals.
Compuware is in a unique position in the industry to perform this ELM Solution. They wrote the software tools required to implement it, and they have the mainframe professional services (over 1000 mainframe professionals) needed to the perform the entire Enterprise Legacy Modernization solution from start to finish.

I wouldn't wait for the problem to become a crisis, if your mainframe staff has an average age over 50 and your worried about what will happen after the boomers retire, I suggest you email Compuware at, check out this fact sheet or visit Compuware's ELM webpage.

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