• October 19, 2018

Failure to Modernize: The Real Cost

By Jim Buck, imPower Technologies

In the IBM i world, we tend to talk about modernization in terms of the benefits to the customer. We talk about how unlocking hidden data with APIs allows you to integrate that data for better customer-facing apps and marketing analytics, how upgrading your enterprise applications from green-screen-based UIs to a modern interface helps staff serve customers more efficiently, how enabling data access lets you build self-service applications, and so on. And that’s all true.

But there’s another factor that’s often glossed over when companies talk about modernization, and that’s how certain kinds of modernization can improve the lives of your IT personnel.

Companies sometimes forget that it’s programmers, system admins, data scientists and other IT folk that have to deal with the inner workings of whatever system that company runs its operations on day in and day out. Yet their employee experience often fails to be anywhere near the top of the employer’s list of priorities.

This is a mistake: If job market conditions continue in the direction they’ve been trending for the last decade, companies that fail to modernize their IBM i coding and admin tools could soon find themselves losing out on talent to companies with more forward-looking IT departments.

 

Mind the (skills) gap

We talk so much about the skills gap that it’s easy to forget that there was a time when IBM i shops had no problem finding qualified talent. For a long time, AS/400-based IT departments were spoiled with a large pool of talented engineers, eager to work on whatever RPG3 programs their employer could throw at them. But it’s not 1995 anymore, and times have changed.

The most basic problem – and this is true for all platforms – is that the US isn’t producing enough IT graduates to keep up with the demand in growth for IT jobs. The problem is, however, magnified for IBM i shops because by and large, they still rely mainly on veteran programmers in their 50s and 60s. Every day, 10,000 more baby boomers turn 65 and are ready to leave the workforce. This means IBM i shops have to work twice as hard just to maintain the efficiency of their current teams, much less bring in extra help.

 

How the right tech helps you attract and retain talent

All this is to say that today’s IT graduates have a choice. And given the choice between maintaining old code written in RPG3 in the 1980s and designing apps using your favorite tools, well, where would you choose to take your skills?

Companies that rely on IBM i have to do more to attract programmers. The first thing is that they have to stop expecting to find new programmers with IBM i domain-specific skills, and be ready to train talented programmers in the subtle art of AS/400 programming. (As a teacher and trainer myself, I find that this can be done in a matter of weeks. A talented programmer is a talented programmer, regardless of platform.)

But just as importantly, they have to be willing to modernize the technologies that IT and developers work with. Companies are happy to acknowledge that sales and customer service staff don’t want to work on green-screens, and that modernizing these UIs is essential for attracting new employees and improving efficiency. Well, the same is true of programmers and admins. We shouldn’t be surprised that they don’t want to work on code written in the 90s on development environments built in the 70s.

IBM and its partners are constantly releasing tools and applications that make your old AS/400 just as modern, flexible and easy-to-use as any other platform – not just from a customer service perspective, but also from a programmer’s perspective. Every Power System running IBM i5 or later, for example, can run Python, Ruby and numerous other open source scripts natively, as well as tools like git version control. And with attractive, GUI-based development environments that resemble and provide a similar experience to popular IDEs like IntelliJ or Eclipse, programming IBM i doesn’t have to feel like it’s about one step removed from feeding punch cards.

 

Modern IBM i: the AS/400 shop’s path to success

To be clear, the solution to the skills gap isn’t for companies to leave the IBM i platform. In fact, between its inherently secure design – that, for example, leaves it impervious to viruses – and its substantially lower TCO when compared to other server options, your IBM i can actually be your company’s competitive advantage in a world where IT costs are constantly spiraling. Combine that with the hard-to-predict costs and impact on business continuity of a rip-and-replace strategy, and it’s clear that just as it is with improving the customer experience, modernization is the key to improving the IT employee’s experience on IBM i.

In short, if you think that your hiring woes are the result of IBM i being old-fashioned or not “hip” enough, I encourage you to explore the range of modernization options out there. I think you’ll find that it’s not IBM i that’s old-fashioned – rather, it’s you that needs to be open to modernization.

 

Jim Buck

Jim Buck 3 Posts

Jim Buck is CEO, CoFounder and Lead Instructor at imPower Technologies LLC. Jim’s career in IT spans more than 35 years – primarily in manufacturing, healthcare and college education. Jim has served as past president (13 years) of the Wisconsin Midrange Computer Professional Association (wmcpa.org) and has served on a number of teams developing IBM i and COMMON certification tests. Jim has co-authored, with Bryan Meyers, several IBM i books used in companies and colleges worldwide – the latest, Programming in ILE RPG – 5th Edition (2015). Jim’s other accomplishments include: recipient of the 2007 IBM System i Innovation – Education Excellence Award, 2014 COMMON Presidents Award, and named IBM Champion – Power Systems for 2013, 2016 and 2017. Jim is an independent consultant and professional IBM i trainer. He is active in the IBM i community working to help companies train their employees in the latest IBM i technologies to develop the next generation of IBM i professionals.

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