Is 2013 the Year of Smart Savings and a Shrinking Belt?

Written by Jim Reinertsen, VP of Federal Sales, North America

Today GovWin released its “Federal IT Resolutions: What’s in Store for 2013.” Unsurprisingly, Resolution #1 is “Get out of debt/start saving.” One of the details underneath Resolution #1 is “Agencies will invest in cost-saving IT enablers…as budgets allow.” This paragraph details cloud and virtualization – the top buzzword technologies associated with cost savings. However, as we know from my last blog post, 70 percent of the federal IT budget is spent on legacy systems. Does it make sense to jump to new technologies/solutions without addressing ways to modernize mission critical systems AND create significant cost savings? I don’t think so.

Resolution #2 is to “Lose weight.” GovWin isn’t talking about America’s waistline, but unneeded and redundant programs taking funding and resources from more important mission efforts. How can agencies streamline or reduce if they don’t know what they have? (If you have a mainframe-based system, we can help you identify unused and duplicative code and unneeded programs to create cost savings.)

Yes, for mainframe-based legacy systems, modernizing and creating cost savings in year one is Micro Focus’ sweet spot. However, this issue is much larger than mainframe-based systems and applications. To get out of our current debt, the public and private sector need to come together to provide true solutions to enable IT advancement, create savings, address cloud and mobile access and do so in a low-risk manner. Do you have ideas to create cost savings? Share your ideas. Connect with us in the comments section below, on Facebook or Twitter.

Legacy Systems Not a Trendy Talking Point

Written by Jim Reinertsen, VP of Federal Sales, North America

Last week, Federal Computer Week (FCW) published “Legacy systems still power much of government.” The article opens noting that “Federal agencies spend about 70 percent of their IT budgets on legacy systems and 30 percent developing new systems,” as reported in a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report published in November. Past readers will know that saving the government, and ultimately the taxpayers’ money, by modernizing and extending legacy systems is a topic this blog addresses regularly.

Micro Focus takes a pragmatic approach; Mary Nugent, Micro Focus’ Vice President of Solutions Consulting, wrote an article for FCW, “Modernize legacy systems or replace them: The debate continues.” Mary provided guidance to help CIOs/CTOs determine whether a legacy system should be considered for replacement or modernization. She proposed five steps (which you can read in detail in the article link above):

  1. The system or application is no longer supported by the vendor.
  2. The system or application is incompatible with future environments.
  3. The system or application could cause harmful operational disruptions.
  4. The system or application is expensive and slow to operate.
  5. The business process has changed.

Given that the federal government is facing unprecedented budget challenges, even if Congress and the White House come to terms to prevent the “fiscal cliff,” doesn’t it make sense to examine tools to extend the life of legacy systems? Especially, as they currently take 70 percent of the federal IT budget. At Micro Focus Federal, we’re doing our part to help agencies with mainframe-based systems and applications reduce their O&M budgets, often in year one. By modernizing, not only can agencies maintain their data and have an extremely low-risk re-platforming process, but also advance their capabilities while significantly cutting costs.

Do you have ideas to help reduce the government’s O&M IT costs? Share your ideas. Connect with us in the comments section below, on Facebook or Twitter.

Trip Report: On the road at Gartner ITXpo

There are many IT trade shows in the global event calendar, but there is no mistaking the brand leader. Gartner hosts over 60 events annually, with over 40,000 delegates and 1,100 vendors attending a range of events held across the globe.

While the analyst and conference group Gartner runs a wide range of industry events, easily the biggest is their annual ITXpo event. Gartner ITXpo series. ‘The world’s largest annual gathering of CIOs’ pulls over 2,500 CIOs to the Orlando (USA) event alone.

A pre-event survey by The Independent revealed that 67% of past attendees have done business with solution providers they first met at Gartner and 90% of attendees primarily attend the symposiums to evaluate new products and technology providers for their upcoming projects.

Gartner events have a value beyond statistics though. Customers and prospects can engage directly with Micro Focus, learn in more detail who we are and what we represent, and hold specific discussions that mean much more to them. Hundreds of delegates representing organizations from all five continents spent time at the Micro Focus booth to learn more about how we can help them tackle their important IT challenges.

Micro Focus regards Gartner as one of the leaders in the global IT event calendar, and as such is always keen to be involved at the major events.

Gartner Symposiums sponsored by Micro Focus in 2012 were:

10 – 12 Oct: Goa, India

21 – 25 Oct: Orlando, Florida

5 – 8 Nov: Barcelona, Spain

12 – 15 Nov: Gold Coast, Australia

At 3 of the shows, Micro Focus held Solution Provider Speaking Sessions (SPS) on ‘4 Key Steps to Application Modernization’. In each presentation, our guest customer speakers brought these sessions to life by describing the value Micro Focus brought to their operation.

A full house of 120 people saw Micro Focus’ Kevin Brearley and Troy Sheeley from CSC evangelising during Gartner Orlando around a major US Insurer’s IT modernization project. At Barcelona, Jeroen van der Heijden of Raet was introduced by Derek Britton of Micro Focus, to talk through their recent re-hosting and future cloud implementation project, while Glenn Myers from the Insurance Commission of Western Australia, again with Derek’s support, wrapped things up in Australia to describe the Commission’s own significant modernization success.

Gartner is hosting videos of these sessions on their site (http://www.gartnereventsondemand.com/) while you can find the slides from the shows on the new Micro Focus slideshare site (http://www.slideshare.net/Micro-Focus). Of course, www.microfocus.com provides news of all key events as they happen, and we look forward to another busy calendar for 2013.

Part 6: Innovation Blog Series – Bridging the Skills Gap

The first blog in this series, “Can IT Face a Future Living in the Past?” remarked that ‘IT debt’ and ‘disruptive technologies’ are becoming important labels in today’s IT and commercial world. This, the final blog in a series of six, explores the issues surrounding IT skills, and how a solution is readily available through unifying processes and technology.

The incompatibility of old and new

The skills gap – the deficiency in a given organisation or body in terms of IT skills required to meet current or emerging business requirements – is a problem that pervades the IT industry and has become serious enough even for governments to intervene.

A variety of reasons have been given to explain the current crisis surrounding IT skills:

  • Lack of appropriate higher education investment
  • The prevalence of a silo mentality throughout the IT industry, reducing efficiency and leading to a failing collective
  • As technology continues to evolve swiftly, businesses have failed to take action to update their skills pool appropriately – creating a gap between what they can do and what they would like to do
  • The tendency for more established skills – such as mainframe infrastructure and COBOL development – to diminish as that earlier generation of staff look to retire.

Skills deficiency is seen as a key contributory factor in IT debt, a problem measured at $1Tr by 2015 (Gartner).

More established programming languages, such as COBOL and PL/I, are not commonly taught today, so an unwelcome gap is expanding between the senior programmers and the newly graduated, who are learning the newer languages such as Objective-C, HTML5, C# and Java. The loss of expertise as these experienced programmers retire will lead to increased costs, as inexperienced developers spend more time trying to deal with their mainframe applications.  This intense learning means the likelihood of errors is pretty high, which leads to the risk of poor quality and even application outages.

With developers leading a blinkered existence by separately using either old or new technology, but never both, we cannot expect to have a functional or efficient system within an organization.

What caused the problem?

Technology has evolved such that what is available now, and today’s market requirements, bear little resemblance to the original incarnations. This has created a chasm of understanding, process, technical differences, which is far from easy to bridge.

How bad is it?

Let’s take a look at how the IT world is being affected by the skills crisis. According to CompTIA, Downers Grove, Ill., March 12, 2012, the non-profit association for the IT industry, “eight in ten organizations say their business operations are impacted by gaps in the skill sets of their information technology (IT) staffs”.

Echoing this are the results in the Computing IT skills survey 2012, published by Computing, which says that Android, HTML5 and Java will be commonplace in the next few years, but more established mainframe and other Enterprise server system skills, from a business point of view, are more critical than ever. Ross Bentley on Computerweekly.com comments that the demand for COBOL skills is on the rise: “many companies, especially in the financial sector, are still benefiting from existing … assets.

Furthermore, a recent global survey by Vanson Bourne found that the UK has the largest number of CIOs (12%) that believe 25% of their mainframe skilled staff will retire in the next five years.

The situation looks set to deteriorate, “We are creating unfilled jobs. We have a shortage. This shortage is going to get worse. It’s a problem that’s approaching dimensions of a genuine crisis”, Microsoft Counsel Brad Smith told a Brooking Institution panel recently.

How to build the bridge: unifying the old and new

If the skills gap is causing a huge problem in the IT industry, how can it be tackled?

There is a way. Unify.

Unify Education.

How can we bridge this skills gap between old and new developers then? Accepting that there is a generation gap in terms of key technical knowledge, and that the older generation are soon to retire, the new generation of IT professional must be trained up. The answer starts with education. Young developers need to be encouraged and more industry relevant IT qualifications and further educational courses need to be introduced.

The UK government has earmarked funds to tackle this problem and other governments have their own initiatives. It will be crucial for these courses to concentrate not only on teaching new programming languages, but also to keep a strong emphasis on  prevalent languages which are still very relevant to business, such as COBOL and PL/I.

In the decisive quest to prevent IT agility from being held back, universities have already begun to implement skills-sharing programs. Even Estonia for example, plans to have school children as young as six learning how to code. America is taking decisive action with many of their “state” universities enrolling in programs to teach COBOL programming, including Columbus State University, Durham College and Texas A&M.

Those keenest to adopt COBOL classroom training and education are the US, Canada, Brazil, Germany, France and some in Malaysia, and the Philippines. Crucial skills, such as applying a systematic approach to problem solving and designing, testing, documenting and deploying CICS or COBOL programs based on specifications, will equip a new generation of developers and programmers with the kind of knowledge that the world of IT has been screaming out for.

Unify Process and Technology.

Accepting that a silo mentality builds barriers and blocks teamwork, steps need to be taken to remove artificial barriers in IT departments. For example, all developers should be able to work within the same corporate development environment, regardless of technology choice. The process for building, testing and deploying applications should be seamless, irrespective of platform or technology. The solution: start from a position of strength

The COBOL language may not be the most obvious choice to help address the skills gap, but the latest Micro Focus Visual COBOL technology provides all the necessary components to help unify the organizational discipline to help resolve the skills gap.

Build the next generation of core system developers – Micro Focus is making great strides to support academia in educating the next generation of skilled COBOL developers. With over 200 universities signed up, organizations are encouraged to seek out their local university and lobby them to provide appropriate technology in their curriculum. Organizations including Micro Focus are delighted to support such initiatives.

Free up your development process and skills pool – Micro Focus Visual COBOL sits inside the same IDE as all other contemporary languages so the COBOL team can work alongside, and on the same projects, as the Java or C# developers. Not only does this allow delivery schedules and integrated development and testing activities to be closely coordinated, but it also provides an immediately-available learning environment to enable other programmers to pick up sparse COBOL skills. Ironically perhaps, because of its readability and structure, COBOL is a very easy language to learn – one C# programmer was debugging an unknown COBOL application “within an hour” (source: Micro Focus customer).

Micro Focus is looking to offer educational and personal editions of its core products to allow higher education and freelance developers the ability to train themselves on this new generation of technology.

Conclusion – crisis, what crisis?

So the IT skills gap can be and is being tackled, by unifying processes and technology. In future, we need to make sure that there is a bridge between new and existing technologies, and be more alert to the issues which begin to develop.

Part 5: Innovation Blog Series – Development Efficiency

The Lights are on, But No-one’s Innovating

Efficiency
How do you rate your IT organization’s development efficiency? If the answer is “I don’t rate it at all”, then you have a problem. Efficiency in any organization is crucial if it is to run like clockwork, which is equally true for the IT division. If businesses are finding it hard enough just to “keep the lights on”, how can they even imagine taking on the challenges that new innovation presents without greater emphasis on efficiency? Unfortunately, the majority of IT organizations spend approximately 70% percent[1] of their time and budget just on “keeping the lights on”, leaving hardly any time or money for innovation or strategic IT projects.

Development Challenges
Core skills are valuable
A development team is not only confronted with the task of maintaining and modernizing applications, but also with modernizing the way in which those applications are developed, tested and delivered. To do this efficiently, you need the right people for the right job. Yet one of the biggest challenges in achieving development efficiency is finding skilled staff to support core, more traditional development environments.

The relative rarity of COBOL skills, for example, leads to bottlenecks in a key element of the IT arsenal. Without the adequate skilled staff, collaboration between different development teams – due to different tooling, processes and structures – becomes strained, and so does the efficiency of the work. Furthermore, deployment approaches are not as streamlined as they should be, which means the time to delivery across a growing range of platforms and devices gets longer and longer. As a result, applications are built sluggishly, testing efforts are more difficult, and overall application quality is potentially compromised. Delayed deployments means the business ultimately suffers.

Skill deficiencies in core systems is a growing concern. Considering that COBOL runs over 70% of the world’s businesses, and over 200 times more transactions are processed daily by COBOL business applications than there are Google and You Tube searches made, the scale of the concern comes into sharp focus. Filling the skills gap between existing systems which continue to run the business, and the next generation of contemporary applications, is an absolute necessity.

Lack of skills leads to lack of money
The delays in delivery to the business from this gap in skills is often referred to as IT debt – a burden weighing heavily upon many organizations. No wonder there is such an unbearable backlog of tasks if, “nearly one fifth (18%) said it [the application portfolio] contained legacy applications that no one knew how to update and that they were afraid to touch”. This IT debt has a knock-on effect. Budgets for new innovations or strategic initiatives are squeezed due to the increased need for “business as usual” systems maintenance. With such focus on the here and now, new customer requirements are sacrificed, architectural strategy is lost, and so the business is dragged along a terminal voyage of decay. Finding ways to improve the throughput of development projects is a key requirement in reversing this trend.

Keep an ear to the ground

Composite applications that are multi-language and multi-platform are in high demand. Web 2.0 and mobile – using a mixture of Java, C# and COBOL – are prime examples. Consumer demand can only be satisfied if businesses manage to keep up with supplying them with what they want. This typically involves a rethink in how IT services need to be provided, and modernizing to adopt innovative technologies will enable greater efficiency in delivering these services to customers. The trick is to find a way to integrate both new and established technologies as part of a composite application architecture.

Shining a light on the problem

By embracing the challenges brought about by innovative technologies, organizations can fast-track towards benefits which would otherwise never have been obtainable. Updating is essential for advancement and advancement is crucial for success.

So how can your business advance? The answer is twofold: firstly the development process and technology need to be unified. All developers can and should use the same development environment (IDE) to support all languages, removing inefficiency and building streamlined collaboration. Secondly, the deployment mechanism must be unified.  Teams must be empowered to work on one application then deliver it across a range of platforms and devices as needs dictate, to establish a streamlined method of service delivery.

The Micro Focus solution

These advances can be delivered by a single technical solution, which can improve service delivery speed by increasing development efficiency by around 30%[2]. Visual COBOL’s IDEs allow COBOL, Java and C# developers to work in the same sandpit, generating improved team collaboration. Development teams will produce a higher quality output as they can write once and deploy everywhere. Risk for the business is reduced as applications already exist, therefore the functions already work. On top of all this, the service delivery will be faster.

Visual COBOL promotes the rejuvenation of the programmer skills pool, with universal application deployment, which will not only enable your business to have all the lights on, but it will shine a bright light ahead towards innovation too.


[1] Approximately 70% of IT budget is spent on maintenance tasks, according to a Forrester report (June 2011).

[2] Statistic taken from a Visual COBOL customer testimonial for Micro Focus by Mr. S.K. Goel, Vice President of Information Technology, at OM Logistics.