As leaders look to the year ahead, planning and predictions have taken on a whole new meaning in a post-pandemic world. With so many unknowns in 2021, how can anyone claim to know what’s coming with confidence?
However, if 2020 taught us nothing else, it is that major, unseen disruption does result in one certainty: enterprises must be more responsive. The pandemic shone a bright and unflattering spotlight on where companies need to update their IT infrastructure – both to contend with current challenges and to become a modern company. Despite cloud adoption, resilience and business continuity gradually fell to the bottom of enterprises’ infrastructure to-do lists in recent years. Now, companies are playing catchup to take hold of the future that has arrived on their doorstep, a few years early.
While 2021 feels largely uncharted, there are a few trends that are bound to define this year’s plans and investments. Companies that capitalize on these trends will position themselves not only to be competitive and stronger than ever, but to respond when the next disruption hits.
Reinforced mainframe recruiting and retention
We have witnessed the mainframe skills gap widen in recent years. As more mainframe pros retire, taking their knowledge with them, too little focus has been put on enabling emerging professionals to step in Enterprises must recalibrate, the mainframe is not going away, and the workforce needs to shift. Mainframe spend continues to grow at above 3% yearly, and upwards of 50% of organizations in several industries (financial services, insurance, public sector and more) state its running more of their business-critical applications than ever before.
To fill these vacant positions with new talent, enterprises need to adjust their approach to the mainframe. Emerging IT pros and college graduates don’t want to work on outdated interfaces. They prefer interfaces that are intuitive and allow for clicking and dragging. They want to work for a company with a highly collaborative and communicative culture, as well as modern processes and tools such as DevOps and related tool chains. DevOps enables a culture of collaboration, reduces siloes, automates for efficiency and, yes, can be applied to the mainframe. Enterprises that modernize the mainframe and related operations will close the skills gap in 2021 and usher in a new wave of innovation.
A call for COBOL programmers
COBOL (Common Business-Oriented Language) is not a dead programming language – far from it. A 2018 report for the Social Security Administration found that the administration maintained more than 60 million lines of COBOL. In fact, many government agencies rely on COBOL programs, but – no surprise – there are too few programmers to tackle them. The lack of COBOL programmers has been adding stress to the mainframe, especially for government agencies, which will only escalate over the next six to eight months.
COBOL development isn’t inherently the issue – most IT pros who can code Python can learn COBOL. The bigger problem is understanding how the programs work and what they’re doing. It requires a person who has application understanding and ample tribal knowledge. The second issue is good quality assurance. Many enterprises lack the ability to test applications and ensure nothing is at risk of breaking. COBOL coders need an easy way to digest 10 thousand lines of code, break it down and understand it. They need the right tools to avoid working unreasonable hours, battling rampant inefficiency and risking project failure. With these tools, enterprises can tackle COBOL programs in a way that is manageable for people new and experienced with COBOL.
A shift towards value stream management
As enterprises work to better align the IT and business sides of the business, including embracing agile and DevOps, value stream management is stepping into the spotlight. Up until recently, most organizations were focused on workload automation and scheduling, where they could automate certain parts of a system and schedule related jobs. However, workload automations solutions no longer fully meet most enterprises’ needs as IT moves toward DevOps and teams want to move faster and require more visibility as they orchestrate automations across multiple systems, technologies and platforms.
With value stream management, enterprises take a step beyond automating a particular “job” to instead orchestrating the automation of multiple jobs and tasks, across multiple applications and systems, to streamline a process or value stream. Many value streams are currently “in the dark,” managed manually by resources focused on ensuring a job runs to completion. With orchestration, enterprises can design and visualize their value streams, create workflows tying them together and collect metrics to figure out where improvements can be made. This visibility will allow enterprises to deliver value faster and innovate more quickly – key advantages in becoming a more responsive enterprise. This orchestration helps eliminate silos and create greater transparency enabling IT pros to find issues and remove bottlenecks faster. Enterprises can even orchestrate a DevOps toolchain, so they can kick off the creation of code and orchestrate its delivery to meet demands
The hyperautomation takeover
What is the difference between automation and hyperautomation? According to Gartner, hyperautomation applies advanced technologies like robotic process automation (RPA), artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and more to enable the automation of virtually any repetitive task. In the age of efficiency and productivity, it is not hard to see why this trend is taking off.
The pandemic highlighted several areas within the enterprise that would benefit from hyperautomation. For instance, many companies put new workflows in place for COVID-19 tracking. HR departments need to monitor which employees are physically safe, which are not and what their IT needs are, especially with a remote workforce. While many companies were once reluctant to dabble in workflow automation with their content services solutions, never mind value stream management, COVID-19 has forced companies – and HR specifically – to reevaluate where they need automation capabilities, especially with extra processes added by the pandemic.
Automation will also be increasingly pertinent as companies apply DevOps across the organization, especially when integrating the mainframe into the DevOps toolchain. Using hyperautomation, enterprises can integrate tools that allow for continuous delivery and bring processes into a modern culture.
No matter how 2021 unfolds, the focus for most every enterprise will be evolving and learning from the last disruption and preparing for the next one. Modernizing IT infrastructure isn’t about putting on the fancy bells and whistles to impress customers or stakeholders – and neither is touting DevOps programs, hyperautomation or incorporating next-gen approaches like value stream management. These trends are meaningful, impactful and mandatory changes that companies must make to keep business afloat. Those stakes, which grow higher every year, are certain.