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Mainframe skills surge as lockdown drives transaction growth

Mainframe skills and Cobol programming are now in demand as enterprises scale up to tackle increased online activity due to the coronavirus

The mainframe is being used to support a growing number of customer-facing and revenue-driving services, according to a survey from Compuware. As consumers and organisations turn to the web to conduct business during the Covid-19 coronavirus lockdown, such systems are seeing an increase in usage, which is leading to an increase in demand for Cobol skills.

The global survey of 400 senior IT leaders, conducted by Vanson Bourne for Compuware, reported that mainframes remain popular for hosting business-critical applications.

The survey found that organisations expect to increase the frequency of new mainframe application feature deployments by an average of 41% in the next 12 months, compared with 38% for non-mainframe applications.

More than half (52%) of organisations said they have adopted DevOps on the mainframe and 42% have adopted agile methodologies. Compuware said that although the survey shows that organisations have made great strides to implement modern development practices on the mainframe, there is still a long way to go before adoption of DevOps and agile methodologies on these core systems is as widespread as today’s digital economy demands.

“Mainframe developers are more critical to business success than ever before,” said David Rizzo, vice-president of engineering at Compuware. “However, to truly innovate on existing core systems and deliver new digital services for customers, developers need the best possible experience and environment to work in.

“The basis of this should reside in an open and collaborative culture, where developers can work on inspiring and challenging projects, with modern methods and tools, and receive fast feedback that continuously improves their abilities. Providing this kind of developer experience is crucial to enabling organisations to compete effectively in the digital age.”

IBM said it has seen its customers needing to scale their systems to handle increases in demand resulting from the coronavirus, and has been actively working with clients to manage those applications.

Earlier this month, IBM and the Linux Foundation announced the Open Mainframe Project as a response to meet demand for mainframe Cobol skills due to the pandemic. In a post describing the initiative, Meredith Stowell, vice-president, IBM Z ecosystem, wrote: “We have seen customers need to scale their systems to handle the increase in demand and IBM has been actively working with clients to manage those applications.

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“There are also some states that are in need of additional programming skills to make changes to Cobol – a language that has been widely reported to have an estimated 220 billion lines of code being actively used today. These changes to the code are required to take into account the new parameters for unemployment payment eligibility, in a very short timeframe.”

Working with the Linux Foundation, IBM has established a skills portal to help enterprises recruit Cobol programmers, and is also supporting a free technical forum for programmers new to Cobol. Stowell said online, self-service video courses with hands-on labs and tutorials will be made available via Coursera.

Chris O’Malley, CEO at Compuware, said: “Given the increasingly crucial role the mainframe plays in innovation, continuously improving the quality, velocity and efficiency of software development and delivery on the platform should no longer be a wishful IT aspiration – it is an urgent strategic imperative.”

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