Dec 12 ’12

Getting to the New Normal

by Reginald (Reg) Harbeck in Enterprise Executive

It’s about to happen. All of your most experienced mainframe staff will be retiring over the next five years and you will need to turn to a bunch of less-experienced, non-mainframe IT personnel plus new kids out of college.

As you plan ahead, the role of your mainframe isn’t just a minor topic you chat about over coffee or cocktails; it’s critical to the future success of your entire IT strategy. So let’s consider what you need to do to succeed and what enablers could make it easier.

When Inertia Is Good

Inertia is that nasty word that refers to “the way we’ve always done it.” But what looks like a problem when you get into a dysfunctional rut is a solution—a set of good habits—in a culture of excellence. This is what has enabled your mainframe’s success despite what was thrown at it.

Your IT department should already be doing change control, capacity planning, lifecycle management, tried-and-proven automation and performance management, full backup and Disaster Recovery (DR), and secure operations. Be sure to confirm all these items are being performed at a high level. If they aren’t, address whatever is deficient.

IT managers and staff who have well-defined roles (often more than one) know through force of habit (and some automation assistance) how to perform their roles. They will be able to pass these good habits on to their successors. Scrupulous practices and good management also encompass measurements and reports that keep tabs on response times, uptime, and successful DR tests. Of course, the day your top systems programmer’s 201K becomes a 401K again and they give notice of imminent retirement, none of that may seem to matter much. Fortunately, they’re often amenable to considering doing some contract work, and that can be a significant help.

Training Considerations

But what can you do about hiring and training enough new people to replace the deep experience and talent that’s moving on? Letting your retired technologists babysit the system and mentor the newbies can help, but you will also need to train the new kids on the block. Here, you can leverage several opportunities, beginning with online mainframe basics training and instructor-led boot camps. You can send some of them to SHARE, Computer Measurement Group (CMG), and other mainframe-relevant educational events. You can also:

• Assign your new hires the task, one product area at a time, of finding the best way to update the configuration and use of your mainframe software. Bonus marks for those who use IBM’s Health Checker and any simplified installation, maintenance, and configuration systems available. Extra bonus marks for those who figure out how to trash the maximum number of local customizations and effectively run the software in the most native configuration possible.
• Document everything your new hires learn on an internal Wiki, where they can benefit from each other’s experiences, then present to each other what they've learned. A good follow-through incentive to support this behavior is to reward those who make the best efforts by encouraging them to write articles and give presentations at user groups such as SHARE.

Maintain Morale and Security

With all the turbulence that skills transfer can bring, morale is an important matter to address. How do you ensure your experienced people, including the ones taking on new mainframe responsibilities, don’t feel like they’re being replaced by a bunch of inexperienced hires? Giving everyone a respected role is key. You can do that by formalizing your mentoring program and encouraging a cross-generational exchange of insights, recognition, and appreciation—opening the door to a new and positive collaboration.

Of course, you can't afford to staff every product or project in-house; some of those are too specialized or temporary to warrant a new staff member. Reaching out to a trusted mainframe services partner and hiring an experienced person to handle those items offsite can work out well.

The quality, security, and integrity of your mainframe environment provide a strong safeguard against the mistakes and investigations of the inexperienced and overly curious. To keep security a strength of your operations:

• Take good care of your security people.
• Encourage security team members to treat the job as an important career advancement.
• Suggest to others that working with security could be a promotion.
• Ensure you have security experts who understand the technical side of the mainframe environment.

Conclusion

Your mainframe hardware and operating system is the most cost-effective and business-enabling platform for many of your most critical workloads, and you should treat it accordingly. That’s an essential perspective for your planning. Moving new workloads onto the mainframe using Linux or the zEnterprise BladeCenter Extension (zBX) side of the zEnterprise can get the interest of your organization's top technical movers and shakers as they realize the mainframe remains a great place to advance their careers.

Persistent attention to quality and good business practices will influence decisions on which of your distributed workloads that are so hard to secure and manage could be readily moved to the mainframe.

To build on your prior successes, you should be able to describe in detail the actual process you've followed. Future articles will explore each of the approaches and processes mentioned here. Stay tuned and good luck as you evolve to the new normal.