Thoroughly Modern: The Real Top 5 Challenges For IBM i Shops Today
May 9, 2022 Christine McDowell
The only way to really find out what is on people’s minds is to ask them, and maybe you need to ask them two or three times and take an average. As a supplier of development, modernization, and security tools and services, we ask a lot of questions and we do a lot of assessments for IBM i customers, and we look at any and all surveys that anyone does and synthesize this to help drive our business.
We have been through a series of surveys of our own as well as ones that we have helped promote or sponsored recently, taking the pulse of the IBM i base, including an important one that received over 800 responses. This is a lot more response than the vendor-sponsored surveys we all see, and its findings are significant. And so we are sharing our insights on what the latest top five challenges are for IBM i shops, as well as those who are using vintage AS/400, iSeries, and System i platforms, and how they are successfully tackling them.
Challenge Number One: Talent acquisition and skills sustainability.
The challenge is not just about skills, but the sustainability of skills and the difficulty of acquiring or developing new talent in the IT organization. This is a huge problem, and every single customer interaction we do, we hear about how customers either don’t have enough people managing their applications, or they have people leaving or slated for retirement and they have challenges finding adequate skills and knowledge to maintain the systems.
At the end of the day, this is really about knowledge management and how to unlock the tribal knowledge from the heads of the elders.
Across the board, in every survey and in every interaction we have, organizations say that figuring out how to have sustainable skills and transfer the knowledge of the IT team to new members for the continuity of the business is the issue. Yes, companies need to do application modernization and business transformation, but what is really accelerating the adoption of these is skill sustainability and the talent acquisition. It is not the other way around.
While skills sustainability is often an accelerator and pressing issue, the real motivations and problems are business risk, opportunity and having IT fueling innovation and business growth. Technology will fuel innovation and innovation will fuel growth. With market conditions seeing so much turnover, organizations need to be smart in their approach– setting new talent up (hired or sourced) for success and ability to easily manage and evolve applications. And the solution to this challenge starts with realizing this, accepting it, and investing the necessary time.
Challenge Number Two: Security.
Every day, security risks are increasing on many different vectors. We do a lot of customer security assessments, and many companies are only now realizing that they are in vulnerable situations and some have even discovered active security threats on their system. This is obviously not a good situation.
Security is a layered problem, and it is complex. And people don’t know what they don’t know, and in the IBM i base in particularly there is this false sense of security. People have to realize that the minute – the second – you let anyone access your system, you are vulnerable. If employees have access to your data, you are vulnerable because the employees are vulnerable. Every customer that we do security assessments with – and it doesn’t matter how big their systems and IT staff is, or how sophisticated they are with applications – always come back with some red flags on security. They don’t have multifactor authentication, or they give inappropriate people root access. The list goes on and on and on.
The truth is, most of the vulnerabilities and most of the attacks on the IBM i platform happen because of bad practices. Customers might install multifactor authentication, but they don’t think about locking things at the socket level or within the Integrated File System. People set the security up and then they forget it; they never revisit it, they never deactivate accesses. They are focused on other aspects of the environment and they don’t revisit this for many years.
The solution here is that IBM i shops can’t ignore security. They need to look at it, and look at it continuously as they would other aspects of the system and applications. If they need help, they need to get it. They need to do it now, and they need to keep doing it. We can’t stress this enough. There are so many companies that do IBM i security assessments. Many, like Fresche provide some baseline and high-level services for free or for minimal fees so there is simply no reason for organizations to not know their current security situation.
Challenge Number Three: Information Management And Evolution.
This is not about cloud computing, although cloud computing is part of what we are talking about here. This is much broader and much deeper. Companies have to accumulate and store the knowledge about how their applications are built, how they are structured, how they get managed, and how they are going to be improved over time.
Right now, people don’t know what applications and what data to put where, or how to choose between on-premises, cloud, co-location facilities or whatever. They need to have a process for evaluating what the options are and how they were chosen. They need to document all of the nuances of the many kinds of connectivity into their applications and data on the IBM i platform. They need to document the structures of their databases. The old days of putting an AS/400 in a closet, setting it up and forgetting it, are gone. There is a lot more software running on IBM i platforms today, and a lot more things connecting into it, and how this all works has to be converted to corporate knowledge that can be retained.
If your systems are documented, it’s going to be much easier for the next person to be able to come in and understand what is going on and to work with and further improve those systems. This is not just about knowledge management, but knowledge transfer, and it’s about sharing what you know with the rest of the team. People like to be experts and to be indispensable, which affords a kind job security, but this is about making the business more secure.
And the solution here is that you have to build a culture that shares and documents all knowledge. Knowledge can’t walk out the door at the end of the day or at the end of a career.
Challenge Number Four: Business Agility.
There are tools that bring agility to the application development environment, and we are huge proponents of this. But the business agility idea is, again, more a cultural phenomenon that is supported by a technological one.
Business agility means being able to respond to a disruption, competitive threats or recessions (where customer behaviors are changing) or a new opportunity that presents itself in the market, which not surprisingly is also when the customer behavior (and therefore the economy) is also changing.
Historically, IBM i shops have been innovative when it comes to creating applications. But there is a problem, and it is difficult to say this but it is the truth. We find a big disconnect at IBM i shops when it comes to the IT organization supporting the business in terms driving growth and new opportunities. There is a maintenance mode and incremental improvement attitude when it comes to applications, and that is fine, but it leaves opportunities on the table and businesses less innovative and competitive than they might otherwise be.
IBM i shops need to think outside of the box and be as flexible and non-archaic as the IBM i platform itself has become. It has not been an AS/400 for a long time, and they can’t be AS/400 programmers from the 1980s and 1990s anymore, either. You can believe in having agile development tools and still not understand that the whole point is to have business agility, to be able to deploy code to new ideas and new opportunities, not just to make maintenance mode easier and faster on existing applications. There is a tremendous opportunity for the IT organization to engage with the full business differently, to align IT to the business absolutely and wholly.
Organizations that are focused on business process improvement, creating new digital products (APIs, integration, web and mobile, etc.) and automating workflows are delivering new levels of business agility, and IBM i shops need to be doing the same.
Challenge Number Five: Integration And Innovation Enablement.
This is about digging into business processes and finding better ways to do things, and making it happen through IT. This is about measuring all aspects of the business and having an Amazon-class relentless pursuit of improvement of all aspects of interactions with customers and suppliers and employees within the company. This is about how IT can contribute to improving all of the processes of the business, which are encapsulated in the applications that literally drive the company.
For example, if you work at an insurance company and the IT team working with end users figures out how to get a claim done in half the time, this is absolutely huge. Every process needs systems thinkers and users examining it. Better processes lead to profits and revenue generation, and this is the purpose of a company, after all. Sometimes this will lead to new application development, and that is where the IT department plays a crucial role.
Once again, this is a mindset more than it is a technology, although technology is a powerful aspect of this challenge. In many cases, this means streamlining a process that has people and code involved, or improving how a system or application performs to make the whole process run better. It is understanding the complete integration of people and systems that comprises the company, and always being on the lookout for how to improve.
There is a lot we’re doing to help organizations overcome these and many other challenges in IT. Anyone interested in connecting with our IT experts can reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Christine McDowell is vice president of marketing at Fresche Solutions.
This content is sponsored by Fresche Solutions.