Mainframe Skills: Challenge or Opportunity?

People in mainframe circles have been talking about skills development and succession planning ever since it was pointed out that the average age of mainframe specialists was pretty high and getting higher. It’s a conversation that started quite a few years ago and an obvious concern was that a wave of inevitable retirements would create a material risk. Put simply, as the old hands bowed out, there would be no one left to run the platform upon which many organisations depend to support so much core business activity.

Since then, a number of programs have been created by the big players in the space, such as IBM, Broadcom and BMC, to help mainframe customers recruit, cross-train and develop the next generation of mainframers. With some significant subsidies often built in, the idea is to encourage customers to get ahead of the problem to avoid the potential risk of turning into a full-blown crisis.

Some mainframe customers have exploited these programs alongside their own internal initiatives, and as a result are in a robust position. Others, however, have been pretty slow to move, not least because it can be difficult to justify spending on something primarily seen as risk management. And with the ups and downs of economic and geopolitics, catching up in this area this is now becoming even harder.

Meanwhile, the current buzz in the mainframe space is how the latest developments in Z architecture have created a solution that fulfils an emerging need for many organisations. IT leaders have increasingly come to the conclusion that the cloud model is good, but that the future is hybrid. In this context, the mainframe has stepped in as a high capacity, super resilient and extremely secure platform that can rival the economics and scalability of the public cloud, but with all of the benefits of on-prem or privately hosted deployment.

If you’re already invested in the Z platform, this creates the potential to redefine the role of the mainframe and unlock a whole stream of value from it. Indeed, with so many realising that the public cloud is great for some things, but limiting and expensive for others, there’s now another avenue to explore to deal with the thirst for dynamic and responsive platforms and the cloud native architectures that get the most from them.

Against this background, it’s arguably time to reframe the mainframe skills discussion. Rather than looking at it through a risk management lens and regarding it as a challenge, it’s now perfectly legitimate to think of it as a business opportunity. By introducing new blood into the mainframe world, you are, in effect, helping to unlock the next level of business value from a platform that’s already part of your infrastructure.

But whether you see it this way, or still regard it as a risk-related challenge, will really come down to your own circumstances.

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