Monday, 27th September 2021

Most enterprises facing shortage in IT skills to maintain and manage aging systems

94% of large enterprises are concerned about having access to the right IT talent to properly maintain and manage their legacy systems.

Concerns around the global IT skills shortage continue to rage on according to Advanced’s latest annual report on mainframe modernisation. The IT services provider has revealed that 94% of large enterprises in the UK are worried they won’t have access to the right IT talent to maintain and manage their legacy systems.

The skills to modernise these systems are in short supply too. More than a third (34%) of senior professionals – including CIOs and Heads of IT – have admitted their modernisation programs have failed because they lack the depth and breadth of skills required for newer technologies like the Cloud. With 41% also blaming a lack of planning for the success of modernisation projects, it’s startling that businesses are not learning the lessons of the past and approaching modernisation with these elements front of mind.

The 2021 Mainframe Modernisation Business Barometer Report is the second of its kind from Advanced, examining the challenges facing large enterprises with annual revenues of more than US $1 billion. This year’s report reveals the extent of the IT skills gap in maintaining and modernising legacy systems, which has been exacerbated by Covid-19.

Interestingly, a staggering 84% of organisations have started at least one modernisation program as a direct result of the pandemic – but it has brought challenges. A quarter are worried experienced staff are retiring and taking their legacy skills with them, while 45% are concerned that people entering the workforce only have modern skills. In addition, 17% say their staff don’t want to learn legacy skills, even though they are still in high demand.

The State of New Jersey in the US is one example which, at the start of the pandemic, saw hundreds of thousands of residents quickly submit applications to its unemployment system. The sudden 1,600% increase in claims crashed the mainframes supporting critical applications, resulting in an urgent plea from the state’s governor for programmers qualified in COBOL – a coding language that is more than 60 years’ old, yet remains the most prominent language in the mainframe estate for 71% of the enterprises surveyed.

Tim Jones, Managing Director of Application Modernisation EMEA at Advanced, says: “The State of New Jersey isn’t an isolated example. Many organisations in the UK are struggling to find the skilled staff needed to maintain and manage their critical systems. If programmers with expertise in the most prominent languages are retiring and taking their skills with them, large enterprises will continue to experience huge disruption to their operations.

“And, as they move their mainframe estate to a modern environment like the Cloud, enterprises could also end up overcompensating on the skills imbalance by hyper focusing on recruiting modern skills and disregarding the need for legacy talent. It’s important they cross-train existing talent to improve existing staff’s ability to support both legacy and modern systems, particularly during and after a major modernisation initiative.”

Tim concludes: “It’s clear that more work needs to be done in ensuring that modernisation programs not only succeed but that senior leaders see their business value. This requires organisations putting in place a defined strategy, backed by a partner with tools, expertise, and demonstrated successes in legacy modernisation.

“The right partner, for example, will conduct a thorough assessment to gain a true understanding of the enterprise’s environment before starting any modernisation program. It will also have a team of people with both legacy and modern skills. For many organisations, including the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), this has become a no brainer.”

Earlier this year, the DWP successfully completed a large-scale project to modernise its 40-year-old core legacy applications. It partnered with Advanced’s application modernisation practice to move its entire application estate off the VME platform to a modern, open systems platform. The applications support DWP’s benefit paying systems, which are fundamental to paying out £150 billion a year to more than 15 million UK citizens.

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