Fresche Plan: Guidance Leads To Growth
December 4, 2017 Dan Burger
Without wings, an airplane has no chance to fly. A legacy-based IBM i shop is like an airplane without wings. During the past few years, more companies have recognized that IT modernization is necessary. It’s a complex problem with many moving parts and deserves a strategic approach for best results. At the same time, the transition has become an easier problem to solve.
Tools have evolved and much of the manual labor that was once required has been automated. And service providers have stepped up to handle work that companies are ill-equipped to take on themselves. Companies that are quick to pull the trigger on migrations should realize modernization has a much better track record for success than migrations – whether that involves a new software package running on IBM i or a migration to another platform.
Every business is unique yet every business shares the same ambition – the ability to solve problems. Problem solving is also what makes a business unique. How well do you handle your company’s problems, your customers’ problems, the ones that exist today and the ones that will show up tomorrow, next week, and next year?
Compared to several years ago, companies are putting more emphasis on long-term IT strategy and discussions about replacing or rebuilding applications are more frequently on the agenda of executive meetings.
“We are seeing the need to address modernization and business alignment becoming much more elevated in organizations. The C-level wants to know what the company is doing with its applications,” says Chris Koppe, senior vice president of transformation and modernization services at Fresche Solutions. “We see a bigger demand for strategic services because organizations want to invest in IT renovation. But there needs to be a strong business case for investing in whatever the strategy is. This is not just about buying a tool. This is a fairly large-scale IT initiative and a business initiative in many cases. It needs to be funded at a substantial level. In order to get the kind of investment required to accomplish these transformational initiatives, companies need to understand the business case. And they need someone to come in and help educate them on that.”
Strategic services are fueling dramatic growth at Fresche. Since mid-2016, Fresche has added 160 new employees. That does not include employees gained through acquisitions. As of last week, Fresche has 52 open positions. In addition, there are 150 positions coming available in the next six months, and 90 percent of all those jobs are IT related and devoted to helping IBM i shops move forward with modernization projects.
Maria Anzini, vice president of human relations at Fresche, has the job of recruiting IBM i talent to fill the positions. You’d think that might be a lot of needles and haystacks.
“We are not having problems finding people with RPG skills,” Anzini says. “Maybe it’s because we have been at this awhile. We’ve been active for a while on LinkedIn and the people who use LinkedIn have gotten to know us.”
Anzini has a few advantages when recruiting that are likely factors when other companies complain about a lack of available IBM i skills to acquire.
“I have tons of people who work from their homes,” she says. “So, the world is my talent pool. Maybe that’s not the case for companies that are having trouble finding skills.
“Our referral program has been very successful. It speaks to our culture. It’s a KPI I really love, because when employees refer people to me it’s because they love what they do and who they are doing it for.”
It’s been more difficult to acquire Java skills than RPG skills, Anzini says. The competition of Java skills is intense. Senior Java developers are picking and choosing their job opportunities.
People with legacy skills such as COBOL and older versions of RPG are not ruled out. Employees are being persuaded to come out of retirement after thinking their careers were over and their knowledge was inapplicable to modern computing. “I’ve told them ‘I need to know what you know,'” she says. “We have been successful taking people from the HP3000 community – they understand modernization – and recycled them into IBM i careers.”
There are needs for a variety of skill sets and full-time or part-time positions. The challenging work that comes with modernization projects makes the jobs desirable compared to a job that is mostly code maintenance. “The culture here works in our favor,” Anzini says.
Fresche has doubled its recruiting staff, and has not contracted with recruiting firms. See https://freschesolutions.com/careers/ for a partial listing of job opportunities.
“I don’t want to make it sound easy. Synon talent, for instance, is more difficult to find. But we are also starting to teach some hard to find skills in-house.”
Expertise resourcing has clearly become a priority for Fresche as it races to keep pace with current marketplace trends and prepare for the anticipated growth in services.
Robert Heroux, chief commercial officer, describes the IBM i modernization outlook, expectations and realizations in terms of five factors.
- Companies have challenges understanding their environments. Applications running on IBM i are poorly documented, which makes it difficult (sometimes impossible) to know the interrelationship impacts of changing code.
- Determining where to start with a roadmap or IT strategy that aligns with a business strategy is an obstacle that causes paralysis. Budgets, resource constraints and timeframe objectives cannot be ascertained. What is not known dwarfs what is known.
- The means to accomplish an IT/business strategy does not exist in many IBM i shops. Understanding application agility, creating applications that are easier to maintain, and database modernization is not part of the staff skills.
- Planning and providing access to data residing on the IBM i platform via the Web, including mobile and ecommerce applications is conspicuously absent from preliminary discussions regarding modernization efforts.
- An IT workforce lacking in modernization skills, project management skills and the tools to complete projects in a timely and efficient process is an obstacle but not a barrier to modernization.
“We’ve been able to scale our company very quickly. But our growth [shops contacting Fresche for modernization services] is faster than our capacity to fill seats,” Heroux says while describing the hiring trend at Fresche. “We have people with a lot of experience joining the company as well as young people. The age distribution is pretty evenly spread from people in their 20s to people in their 50s, and we have some in their 60s, too.”
As companies become more comfortable using outsourced services (and based on growth at Fresche, it seems there are plenty of companies feeling comfortable), modernization projects will become more strategic. That should translate into projects that are more realistic goals and available resources, quicker to completion than self-propelled modernizations or migrations, and more capable of solving business problems.