Cressey: We use a suite of products, including those from BMC Software, to run an extremely efficient IT environment. Part of our team consists of mainframe engineers who perform workload analysis and large, complex upgrades. They also watch current and future environmental trends. We also have operations staff watching the glass and maintaining the daily health of all our systems. These same folks perform release management.
In the Liberty Mutual IOC [Integrated Operations Center] environment, the tools BMC provides help us in continuously monitoring system health and performance. These tools also provide automation that helps decrease our operating costs. One area where these tools have really helped is console message management. We get around 7.5 million of these messages each month in our three data centers. We’ve been working with BMC to eliminate the “noise” from these messages, and we’re already seeing around a 50 percent reduction in our messages in the Redmond data center. This translates to a need for fewer eyes on the glass and less staff time needed to perform monitoring duties. In another project, we’re analyzing the types of messages that come into the console. We then use this information to determine whether we can define business rules and guidelines that can automate actions in certain message situations.
EE: You were a customer of I/O Concepts before they were acquired by BMC. What are your thoughts on the acquisition?
Cressey: Yes, we were an I/O Concepts customer long before they were acquired by BMC, so we were familiar with the ioEnterprise tool. It seems like the acquisition could bring value to BMC, and ioEnterprise provides opportunities in managing, monitoring, and controlling the mainframe environment. There’s now an opportunity for deeper integration with other BMC tools, which could be positive for customers.
EE: Tell us about the challenges and lessons learned in gaining IT efficiencies on the mainframe.
Cressey: Everyone understands that we’re growing and expanding as a business—and that the demands on IT will also grow and expand. However, one of the challenges we’ve encountered is working with employees who have done their work the same way for many years and are now being asked to change. It’s hard to convince people to do their work differently unless you can show them how change will lead to productive results. To gain buy-in from the team and ensure we aren’t implementing change simply for change’s sake, we’re empowering our employees to identify more efficient and standardized processes that will lead to more consistent delivery of services. Based on their input, we’re implementing new initiatives and re-factoring existing processes and procedures within the environments. We need skilled people to support the 24/7 operations of the data centers. If we can apply automation to some of the tasks they do, this reduces the work. At the other end of this process, we’re moving operational work from the engineering teams in to the IOC to free up their time and realigning work to the individuals who now have freed capacity. When people see there’s a continued demand for their services, they’re less fearful and protective of the tasks they’ve been doing.
EE: Organizations around the globe are concerned with the aging mainframe workforce. What is your organization doing to address this concern?
Cressey: We share those concerns about the aging workforce and have a two-pronged approach to handle the challenge. The first approach involves moving senior people from the data centers to the engineering team. The second prong focuses on entry-level hiring. Here, the breadth of our Linux on System z environment demonstrates to young IT workers that mainframe work in the insurance industry is dynamic and is an excellent stepping stone in their career. For the more traditional skillsets like z/OS, we go to IBM mainframe-focused schools such as Marist for job candidates.
Nisbett: Today, we find that graduates entering the workforce are skilled with Java, Web development, Windows and UNIX, and typically new hires don’t possess mainframe skills. To address the gap in acclimation of new hires into our mainframe environment, we mentor them in basic mainframe skills for our environment and then we use programs such as the Marist College Online z/OS Certificate Program to provide a more in-depth accelerated level of understanding.