Mainframe Skill Shortage Poses Financial Risks

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The shortage of mainframe skills could result in increased costs and system outages, Compuware warns

Senior management are being warned in a new survey that the looming shortages of experienced mainframe developers could potentially expose businesses to increased costs as well as risks of mainframe system outages.

The warning came from Compuware in its international study of 520 CIOs in large enterprise organisations.

The study was conducted by Vanson Bourne, and it found that 71 percent of CIOs are worried that the looming mainframe skills shortage will hurt their business.

Costly Downtime

These CIOs have a number of specific concerns, as mainframe workers reach retirement age and leave the workforce. For example 58 percent were worried that this skills drain will result in increased application risk, whereas another 58 percent felt it would result in reduced productivity. 53 percent felt it would result in more project overruns.

“One minute of a mainframe application outage can cost nearly $14,000 (£8,857) in lost revenue for the average enterprise according to this study. The research also confirms that these already high costs – and the associated business risks – are poised to increase because of looming skills shortages,” said Kris Manery, senior VP and general manager for the mainframe solutions business unit at Compuware.

“Experienced developers are business-critical assets, which is why nearly half (43 percent) of mainframe operational expenses goes toward their salaries,” said Manery. “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.”

The survey also highlight the ongoing reliance of many businesses on mainframes, despite long running predictions of the death of big iron solutions.

This was backed up by another survey from BMC Software in September, which underlined the fact that ‘big iron’ looks set to remain an integral part of IT systems for large businesses, at least for the foreseeable future.

Brain Drain

The Compuware survey meanwhile found that 79 percent of CIOs confirmed that a that mainframe application outages poses a significant business risk. Another 78 percent admitted these applications will remain a key business asset over the next decade.

But while the price of big iron solutions may be coming down, the survey identified rising costs resulting from developer shortages, with 70 percent of CIOs agreeing 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 spiralling costs and mainframe outages,” Manery said. “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.”

Mainframe Academy

Of course there has been concern about the lack of mainframe skills for a while now, as businesses struggle to find staff with appropriate mainframe skills as their own mainframe experts reach retirement age.

This led CA Technologies for example in March to announce the launch of a ‘Mainframe Academy’ to help develop mainframe talent. It even donated $1 million (£613,000) to fund scholarships at its Mainframe Academy.

In July meanwhile Compuware coughed up $256 million (£160m) in order to acquire dynaTrace, as part of its efforts to solidify its position in the application performance management software market.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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