The Disconnect In Modernization Planning And Execution
March 27, 2023 Alex Woodie
Feeling confident in your IBM i or mainframe application modernization plans? That could be due to your lack of understanding of what is about to transpire once you begin the project, according to a new survey from EvolveWare.
EvolveWare, the Santa Clara, California, provider of modernization tools, last week released a study called The State of Application Modernization 2023. The 18-page report is based on a fourth-quarter survey conducted by Global Surveyz (that is not a typo) of 200 large American companies in financial services, insurance, and healthcare that are either in the midst of an application modernization project for their mainframe or “mid-frame” systems, or soon will be.
The result that immediately stood out to EvolveWare chief executive officer Miten Marfatia was an apparent discrepancy in the confidence level of those who have started their project versus those who have not. The survey found a relatively high overall confidence level; 70 percent of all survey participants stated they were “confident” or “very confident” in the understanding of the legacy applications being modernized.
But when you drill down into the results a bit more and split off those who have already started projects from those who have not, the disconnect surfaces. The survey found that 41 percent of respondents from organizations in the planning stages of a modernization project said they were “very confident” in their application understanding. Among those who had already kicked off the project, only 28 percent said they were “very confident.”
That confidence in modernization drops as more information comes in didn’t surprise Marfatia, who has been involved with many projects since founding EvolveWare in 2001. But the underlying cause of this disparity is driven by a combination of factors, he says.
“I think they already know that they do not have any written documentation, which means the level of confidence is high based on the availability of their support personnel,” Marfatia theorizes. “And yet, once they begin the planning, that level of confidence begins to drop off sharply. And by the time they get to the point where they’re actually requiring the documentation, it’s less than half of what it was before.”
IT departments often aren’t aware of the breadth and depth of information needed to be successful in these initiatives until they start. The need for better preparation and documentation of code is clear. It would be great if all applications were well-documented, with explanations for how the business logic works and any changes that have been made over time. But the fact is, few organizations have invested the time and effort to document their code and their changes. This lack of documentation leads to an overreliance on the IT support personnel to fill in the gaps, which is a real weakness.
This weakness is exacerbated by another finding from EvolveWare’s survey: organizations just can’t seem to hire and retain enough people with technical skills.
EvolveWare found that 81 percent of survey-takers admit to having some kind of challenges in hiring and retaining “legacy programmers.” This could be anything from simply not being able to find enough internal programmers or outsourced talent; internal budget issues preventing the hiring of more programmers; or the risk of programmers leaving.
When you couple the dependency on programmers for application knowledge with the difficulty in hiring such programmers, the result should be a giant red flag for mainframe and IBM i shops organizations with modernization aspirations, Marfatia says.
“In terms of being able to have sufficient knowledge of their systems . . . it’s obvious that they are depending on their support personnel, and yet they don’t have any confidence that they can retain them or even hire new ones. That’s an issue in my mind,” he says. “If you’re going to depend on a factor that you have very little confidence in keeping or hiring new ones, that shows in my mind that they’re not connecting the dots.”
There are several takeaways from EvolveWare’s survey that could help IBM i or mainframe shops. First and foremost is investing in application understanding, according to Marfatia. There’s a long history of IT departments failing to document their custom applications, leaving them at the whim of aging RPG and COBOL developers’ and their aging memories.
The best time to document code was while it’s being develop. Since the Carter Administration has come and gone, the second best time is now. There are tools from many third-party vendors that can help organizations document how their code works after the fact.
“One thing we keep telling clients is take your entire application portfolio, legacy or otherwise, and keep it documented,” Marfatia says. “That will allow you to plan for which applications really require immediate attention, either from a maintenance standpoint or from a modernization standpoint.”
The second big takeaway from EvolveWare’s survey is the everlasting importance of attracting and retaining technical talent. Salaries for IT personnel are typically the biggest cost for an IT department (or any business, for that matter). There’s a good reason for that, as complex systems require talented individuals to create and keep running. Unfortunately, the lack of technical talent on the IBM i and mainframe is not only exacerbating modernization efforts, but it’s a big driver for modernization in of itself.
In other words, organizations want to move away from these systems not because the platforms are decrepit and falling apart, but because they can’t find enough people to keep the lights on, Marfatia says.
“The hardware is not the problem. The software is not the problem,” he says. “It’s the supporting cast that is the problem.”
For more info on EvolveWare’s survey, check out the company’s website at evolveware.com.
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