The 2020s Will Be a Sink-or-Swim Decade for the Mainframe, But Not for the Reason You Think

Automating application code quality will be paramount as more DBAs and developers leave the mainframe workforce in the next decade. The mainframe is here to stay, but DBAs and developers are retiring. Veteran mainframe developer and father of DB/IQ Colin Oakhill explains how Insoft-Infotel’s SQL Code Quality Assurance helps hurdle the skills gap.

If you’ve had a lengthy career in IT, you may remember when experts began to prophesize the decline and eventual obsolescence of the mainframe. Decades later, those predictions couldn’t be further from the truth, but they’ve fuelled the perception that mainframes are on their way out.

The reality? A full 70% of Global 500 companies are still running critical applications on the mainframe, and a recent survey of 350 CIOs around the world revealed that 88% see the mainframe as a vital critical asset over the next 10 years. Far from an antiquated relic, 78% described the mainframe as an innovation engine. Clearly, Big Iron isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, but the employees who keep these enterprise anchors running certainly are.

Shortage in Mainframe Developers

As the reliance on mainframes increases, so too does the need for a workforce to support them. A 2018 Forrester Research report found that 23% of enterprise mainframe staff retired in the previous five years, and 63% of those positions remain vacant. Couple this with the fact that few universities worldwide have mainframe-specific curricula and it’s clear that application automation is going to have to be an integral component in the future of enterprise computing.

Not surprisingly, the annual 2018 BMC Mainframe Survey found that just 12% of the mainframe workforce is under 30. Despite the fact that mainframes around the world process 1.15 million Consumer Information Control System (CICS) transactions every second and the average person relies on mainframes between 12 and 14 times per day, mainframes are largely invisible to new developers entering the workforce. As a result, the 37,200 new mainframe administration positions IBM predicts will arise by 2020 are likely to be overlooked, contributing even further to the growing shortage of mainframe skills.

While some enterprises are opting to train their own in-house personnel to take over mainframe programming responsibilities, other organizations are pursuing a different solution – outsourcing.

IT Outsourcing Will Present Increased Risk for Large Enterprises

By contracting developers from various corners of the world, companies gain access to a much bigger talent pool to keep their mainframes operating, but this option comes with a clear compromise. Developers in different geographic areas with varying experience levels will code to differing preferences, and on the mainframe, one poorly performing app has the potential to dramatically jeopardize customer experience and potentially, revenue. Fortunately, Insoft-Infotel has a solution.

With the DB/IQ Code Quality Assurance (QA) tool, every SQL statement is automatically scanned to ensure it meets organizational standards. DB/IQ QA runs in the background and tracks adherence to (and deviation from) code quality standards managed by the software. Creator Colin Oakhill points out that programming rules are built-in, but they can also be customized according to specific needs: “We have all of our experience in the software itself, which includes more than 350 quality rules out of the box. If they’re coding things that are not up to the standards that the company has set up or not in line with good rules of thumb that we know about, then they’ll get messages accordingly and they can adapt.”

DB/IQ QA can also audit results and store them into a database and intelligently determine trends in development processes. Oakhill explains, “Say, for example, I have a hundred people working in development – they’ve been through the QA process 10,000 times this last month. Say in January we had 8,000 defects, where QA indicated that something was out of compliance. Then in February, it went down to 5,000 times. By April, it was down to 2,000 times. Although the same amount of data was being checked automatically by the system, a manager can clearly see that departmentally, code quality is improving. That’s the idea with auditing over a period of time – to measure improvement or deterioration.” The feature is useful for any organization, but it’s even more insightful when an enterprise is relying on outsourced programmers.

Oakhill continues: “In another cost-saving play for DB/IQ QA, if a domestic insurance company decides to outsource one of their applications across to India, they can set up specifications within QA, stating ‘We don’t want to see any SQL statements accessing our mainframe, doing this or doing that, or costing more than a certain amount.’ If the application delivered back to the insurance company isn’t built within the specifications, they can send it right back and say ‘this work falls short of our service level agreement.’ QA makes it very easy for companies to ensure they aren’t investing in rubbish and poorly performing software.”

The decision to outsource development on the mainframe is usually made with savings in mind, but if you’re not careful it can backfire. For proven performance and mainframe cost savings in mind, DB/IQ QA ensures your outsourced application code is up to internal quality standards.

“Thirty years ago, before widescale communications through the internet, being on the same page with code quality wasn’t that big a deal because the people you were coding with were in close proximity,” adds Oakhill. “Today with exponentially more applications being worked on at the same time across all corners of the globe, it is very difficult for the developers to adhere to coding standards; this was the genesis of DB/IQ QA.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *