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Cultivate the Right IT Skill Set to Increase Customer Centricity

With customer needs driving countless digital transformation initiatives, executive leaders must prioritize the integration of the IBM Z mainframe into the connected cloud ecosystem.

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Customer centricity is the mandate of businesses across all industries today. With customer needs and the customer experience driving countless digital transformation initiatives, executive leaders must prioritize the integration of the IBM Z* mainframe into the connected cloud ecosystem. 

The mainframe houses volumes of data about customers—including their demographics, preferences, behaviors and transactions—that can be leveraged together with the platform’s extensive capabilities to deliver a truly differentiated customer experience. Achieving this potential requires a strong commitment to mainframe vitality, and with it, a focus on cultivating the right skillset within IT organizations that realizes the vision of an integrated mainframe and the customer centricity such integration enables. 

One unfortunate reality for many businesses is that integration and customer centricity have been hindered by the makeup of the workforce. Mainframe developers tend to be closer to retirement: 29% of mainframe developers are over 60 ( The younger segment of the workforce is familiar with the distributed environment and modern tools, and often finds itself at odds with the traditional UI used to develop and manage mainframe applications. Thankfully, this skills gap is in the process of being bridged. According to surveys conducted by Arcati, finding and keeping those with mainframe skills is an obstacle for 40% of organizations in 2018, down from 45% in 2017 .

Addressing the Skills Gap

Mainframe-based organizations, solution providers and third parties have collaborated extensively in finding creative ways to address the skills gap. Take, for example, how the mainframe is being opened up through initiatives such as Zowe, an open-source framework launched by the Open Mainframe Project with the foundational technologies contributed from Broadcom, IBM and Rocket. Zowe enables development and operations teams to securely manage, control, script and develop on the mainframe like any other cloud platform. 

Similarly, mainframe integrations for the open-source integrated development environment (IDE) Eclipse Che facilitate the vision of a complete IDE solution for all cross-platform development inclusive of mainframe. Within this framework, developers can more easily visualize mainframe code and assets by leveraging a UI comparable to Visual Studio or Visual Studio Code, the two most popular development environments of 2019.

Altogether, these efforts enable a choice of tools beyond the set of traditional mainframe solutions. New and experienced users can interface with the mainframe using popular UIs as well as employ modern tools and frameworks such as Jenkins, GitHub and more.

Turning Data Into Action

The need to address the skills gap is not solely for the domain of application development. Leaders in IT operations face the quandary of an increasingly complex and interconnected mainframe environment that’s outpacing the ability of technicians to detect and remediate mainframe issues before they impact the business or the customer. Put simply, humans alone can no longer handle the exponentially increasing amount of input that needs to be analyzed. There’s simply too much data to keep up with. 

Operational intelligence is central to getting ahead of the curve. Operational intelligence employs the power of artificial intelligence and machine learning to assess and analyze vast volumes of data through advanced analytics technologies and complex algorithms, and then delivers insights in an understandable and actionable fashion that allows generalists to perform tasks previously limited to mainframe experts. In fact, recommendations delivered by operational intelligence aren’t limited to the typical “red light/green light” approach. Instead, generalists can leverage a level of precision to address such questions as “Across all of the changes that are happening in my IT ecosystem, what are the top 10 things I need to be paying attention to right now?”

Automation, either on its own or as a component of operational intelligence, further enhances the ability of general talent to oversee mainframe operations. Generalists can use automation to save time on common tasks and, in advanced implementations, enable the system to identify issues, diagnose problems and take steps to heal itself autonomously. 

Creating a Culture of Mainframe Vitality

Organizations are also playing a major role in closing the mainframe skills gap by training the next generation of mainframe experts. These organizations have partnered with mainframe solution providers to provide intensive training on the mainframe platform, facilitate mentorship programs and deliver online resources that expand the skills of novice and expert users. Some programs recruit recent college graduates or people who are newly graduated from high school who exhibit a strong passion for software engineering or programming. Others adopt a retraining methodology for veterans with technical skills or those who are ready for a second career on the mainframe.

Naturally, the best results come from deploying all of the aforementioned tactics in concert. As mainframe organizations invest resources to leverage open-source opportunities, operational intelligence, automation and targeted training, they will create a culture of mainframe vitality capable of moving the needle on the skills gap.

Such a workforce can readily overcome the challenge of integrating the mainframe with the connected cloud ecosystem, allowing the massive amounts of data and tremendous capabilities of the mainframe to transform the customer experience in ways that deliver significant and meaningful business and strategic

In a culture of mainframe vitality, both novice and experienced users will thrive, seeing no distinction between interacting with different platforms. In fact, enthusiasm for the mainframe will grow as the next generation is able to explore its potential readily and seamlessly. The mainframe may very well reclaim its rightful reputation as a platform unequaled in its opportunities for business growth and customer-centric innovation. 

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