Mainframes are fast, powerful, production-proven and, to many of the world’s largest companies, indispensable.
When businesses were threatened by the Year 2000 bug, mainframe awareness was elevated at all organizational levels due to the potential impact of this system failing. Significant investments in planning, software redesign, testing and deployment resulted, helping companies successfully mitigate the risk while continuing to leverage mainframes for business applications and data.
Today, companies face another threat, not from the technology, but from who will support it. Mainframe-savvy application and systems programmers are fast reaching retirement age. In fact, a recent META Group study found that 55 percent of IT workers with mainframe experience are over 50 years old.
This is not a technology problem; it is a people problem.
While technology advances improve the mainframe’s capabilities, people continue to play a significant role in the solution and, most important, the business outcomes. This is the challenge of continuity: Who’s going to support your mainframe, and who will be your keepers of the mainframe culture that have helped it become a stable, reliable, and strong performer? It is critical for IT executives to begin planning immediately for solutions to the continuity challenge.
The Declining Mainframe Workforce
The stability of mainframe applications—and the businesses that depend on them—will soon be in jeopardy due to a disappearing technical support workforce and the potential evaporation of the mainframe culture. As many of today’s mainframe technical personnel will retire, it will be increasingly difficult for IT managers to support their mainframe applications without incurring significantly higher costs or turning to unproven technical staff lacking the necessary understanding, experience, and technical culture.
Retiring mainframe support staff may take with them the culture, highly developed abilities and persistent sense of responsibility essential to ongoing mainframe operations and, by extension, the businesses that rely on un-interrupted mainframe availability. Consequently, organizations face the following distinct losses:
- The experience and judgment necessary to keep operating systems and infrastructure software maintained without costly disruptions to operations
- The culture of technical responsibility (plus the awareness of business and technical context) that keeps the selection of software and the performance of the mainframe aligned with business needs