Development technologies and strategies – meeting the skills challenge – Part II

In his second blog, Neil Fowler, Micro Focus Development Director, discusses aligning skills requirements to IT business priorities – and suggests some strategies for overcoming the issues associated with a potential development skills shortfall.

More strategies for enabling long term development flexibility

Workforce flexibility:

Clearly, the solution is to meet future staffing projections, with flexibility in the workforce to build an enterprise-class resource strategy. That either means upskilling the people you already have or training new hires with the requisite skills. These are the people to overcome your IT complexity and bridge the gap between old and new to unlock the value of your core appliances.

Your organisation may take the outsourcing route. In many ways, utilising the skills on demand business model represents a solid business decision. Even if just represents part of the mix, handled – and supported – correctly outsourcing, can resolve a complex array of current IT challenges. But whether you embrace this or keep it in house, there are low-maintenance solutions available.

Radical surgery is not required. Your technology has proven itself over time and bearing in mind the amount of business intelligence you have invested in it – and the application complexity that will make a rip or replace approach potentially difficult – training a new generation of application developers to maintain your application going forwards represents the most practical solution.

Motivating your teams to upskill:

A further consideration is encouraging your current developers to upskill. With a familiar IDE and an easy-to-learn language, the transition becomes easy. Familiar features and functions with new flexibility encourage users to work in a more creative and interesting way.  A motivated team aligned to the right technology can achieve many things.

Creating the right blend of talent is the key to future success and motivating is at least as important as recruitment. Because at this level, skills is not just about where you are now, but where you want to be. Once again, technology – in the form of appropriate tooling – is the bridge between your development team and the future possibilities.When your team works with a modern IDE running a future-proof language, then your organization is ready for innovation – because in the new IDEs, COBOL is as easy to work with as more contemporary languages.

It is no coincidence that COBOL underpins the business systems of 91 of the Fortune 100 companies. Learning COBOL improves your work today and your career prospects tomorrow – a key motivator. COBOL aligns with other agile methodologies and developers discovering that they can use the same development processes and concepts quickly realise that this stuff really works.

Easy to learn, those currently working with Eclipse and Java can master COBOL in a matter of hours. COBOL is enabled in both Eclipse and Visual Studio, and these contemporary environments help the newly-skilled COBOL developer to do more than ever before.  To do the right job, successful organizations need the right people with the right skills. Beyond that, they need tools that bridge the gap between the skills they have and the experience they need.

Micro Focus technology has been developed specifically to deliver the fine-tuning your core assets need to attract the broader range of skills required to maintain and develop your mainframe applications.

Our enterprise tooling offers a development path that enables a new generation of enterprise developers to meet the future needs of the business and resolve any resource challenge.

In summary,

Essentially, aligning an IT resourcing strategy with Micro Focus tooling will ensure flexibility, consistency, attract and retain vital knowledge and create the future generation of COBOL developers that organizations need to maintain their enterprise applications.

To read more about how Micro Focus is aligning strategies with technology to help our customers meet their development challenges, visit the dedicated skills area of our website here.

Micro Focus and microservices

A growing trend in the software world is microservices, but is it an important innovation or just a passing fad? Derek Britton looks to the experts to find out.

The  interview with middleware expert Mark Little, featured in ZDNet, reveals some fascinating perspectives behind the interest in the industry trend microservices, including – importantly – how microservices might coexist with existing IT investments.

Micro what?

Microservices. A new term to some, but with a growing market awareness, microservices is  a “software architecture style… [in] which complex applications are composed of small, independent processes communicating with each other using language-agnostic APIs”.

Microservices has what SDTimes refers to as “striking resemblance to service-oriented architecture”. Such process are “small, highly decoupled and focus on doing a small task”, while the idea behind small services is akin to the “Unix philosophy of ‘Do one thing and do it well’”.

Small wonder perhaps that exponents of this approach include Amazon, Netflix and Bluemix. Outside these pioneers, what challenges ahead does it face as microservices looks to become main-stream?

Micro versus monolith

In the same way that technologies including CORBA, SOA and Web Services appeared over time, the pursuit of more efficient methods of how applications and systems communicate has never been off the table. While in each case these technologies offered an exciting new paradigm with profound potential, none of them became the ubiquitous global standard to replace all other protocols. Why is that? Simple really – there was too much complexity and cost involved in changing what was already there.

Interestingly, in the same article, Mark Little entertains the idea of a pragmatic approach.  “If you’ve got something that doesn’t work, you should still look to see if there’s some of it that you could carve off and keep – particularly if you’ve had it deployed for 20 or 30 years”. He adds “‘even where software is not working, avoid re-implementing everything from scratch because there may be elements that could be retained”.

This is profoundly shrewd. Accepting and exploiting the available, working infrastructure, retaining the value where possible, enables micro service creation to focus only on what new technology is needed. Using this approach, a journey towards a microservices architecture is a simpler, easier and less risky one as a result. But is that really possible? Let’s explore two popular incumbent core technologies that might need examination – COBOL and CORBA – to which Little had referred.

Godfrey

COBOL

Now in its 6th decade of industry use, it is hardly surprising that mature COBOL systems, so often the lifeblood of enterprise IT, are identified as important systems of record with which new microservices may need to integrate.

Little makes it clear that COBOL could well form the underlying support for robust systems that don’t need to change, “if it’s implemented in COBOL, then it’s battle-tested”, he phrases it. The value of this trusted application is that it represents “COBOL code that you could take and use again…”

One of the seemingly incompatible aspects of talking about COBOL and microservices together is that these technologies hail from entirely different eras of technical evolution. However, the continued evolution of the COBOL language and supporting technology ensures that it remains as current as contemporary approaches may require. Indeed, Product Director for Micro Focus’ Visual COBOL product, Scot Nielsen, confirmed “the upcoming (Visual COBOL) release includes support for REST-ful style services that is well suited as an integration mechanism for creating COBOL Microservices”.

iStock_000005265503XSmall

CORBA

One microservices definition refers to it as a model that “might also integrate with other applications via either web services or a message broker”. Little refers to CORBA as a fairly typical communications model that may need to co-exist with microservices.

CORBA-based communications technology, conceived over 20 years ago, is a valued communications protocol that supports mission-critical systems across a variety of industries including FS, Telco, aerospace, government and manufacturing. Micro Focus CORBA Solutions Product Director, John McHugh, said that it was a typical case in many customers for them to look at “protecting existing investments to lower costs and risk … to use [CORBA] products in conjunction with emerging trends and expanding their value and footprint: it is one of the reasons why CORBA continues to thrive”.

Talking of the broad technology choices enterprises have faced over time, McHugh continued “it demonstrates again the fragmentation that can occur when a new architectural style is introduced, and why any technology innovation should be seen as part of an evolutionary journey”.

Conclusion – Building Bridges

Tried and trusted systems of record, featuring transactional, messaging and core business processing components are the lifeblood of most successful organizations. This is the technology that makes the organization work. Labels such as monolithic, old, cumbersome might be lazily applied, but just as appropriate would be mission-critical, valued, trusted, and reliable.

These systems are in the comet tail of technology innovation. These ideas came to market some time ago, stood up to scrutiny, enjoyed widespread adoption, and just carry on working, without fail, quietly in the background; meanwhile, and continuing the comet theme, white-hot innovation drives new technical direction.

As Mark Little explains, and as Micro Focus would agree, bridging from valued technology investments into new innovative ways of working – microservices being a great example – is both technically possible and eminently sensible.

Learn more about Micro Focus’ COBOL and CORBA offerings at our website.

DerekB

Federal Breaches and COBOL – the OPM Hack Explained

Micro Focus Product Marketing Director Ed Airey explains the high profile OPM hack. Was COBOL really to blame?

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) recently experienced the largest U.S. governmental data breach potentially exposing the personal data of up to 18 million current and former federal employees exposed. To explain the reason behind the breach, many have pointed the finger at COBOL, the venerable programming language. Critics maintain that because the programming language was written decades ago, attackers were able to find and exploit vulnerabilities into the OPM’s systems.

However, even the strongest army base is at risk when the doors are wide open. Similarly, the security measures and access methods to core government systems and data, as the metaphorical gatekeepers, must be up to the task of protecting the prized possessions inside.

Why the Government, and Many Other Organizations, Use COBOL

People have a tendency to believe that what’s new should be the best solution. It’s time to set the record straight; the most likely candidate for ongoing success in terms of IT capability, are the systems that work today, and have done so for years. So while COBOL isn’t a new concept, it is an unrivalled technology in terms of running core systems.

There is good reason why COBOL has been in active use for core business systems, across many platforms, for five decades. The U.S. Federal Government has billions of lines in COBOL in current use, because these applications are reliable and suit the government’s needs. Without these systems, it would be very difficult for government agencies to deliver on their individual mission.

Outside of the U.S. government, the use of COBOL is even more pervasive with over 200 billion lines of COBOL code across many vital financial insurance industries as well as retail, logistics and manicuring organizations to name a few. In fact, COBOL is responsible for two-thirds of global IT transactions.  COBOL’s longevity is due to its unrivaled ability to adapt to technological change.  Few languages over the past six decades have continually adapted to meet the demands of digital business and modern technology.

Addressing the Real Issues

While data encryption and multi-factor authentication are important security considerations, the broader IT security question is more significant. After all, even if data is encrypted, but poorly secured, attackers can still steal it. So the real question we should ask after a breach is not what programming language an organization was using, but rather what security protocols and measures did the organization employ to prevent unauthorized access in the first place? All applications require robust infrastructure security.  Without it, all systems are at risk, regardless of their age.  Here are a few specific questions any organization should ask before and after a security breach:

  • Does my organization follow proper password best practice, or are passwords too simple?
  • Do our users have the appropriate amount of access, or do some have unnecessary administrative rights?
  • Do we have identity and access management (IAM) processes in place that monitor user activity and alert us of suspicious behavior?

If members of an organization cannot answer these questions confidently, there are security gaps that need addressing immediately. These issues affect peripheral systems—web, client, server and other user interface systems that enable access to back end data. Attackers typically look for these frontend vulnerabilities in order to gain access to the backend applications, systems and data. Poor security practices leave the metaphorical front door open, giving attackers access to the whole house.

In short, whether an organization uses Java or COBOL is irrelevant if the organization’s security protocols and practices are lacking.  This was indeed the case at OPM.  Inspector General McFarland noted in his Capitol Hill testimony that OPM has failed to act on the recommendations of his office to modernize and secure its existing IT infrastructure.  McFarland further commented that such failures were likely the cause of this breach.

OPM1

Modernizing COBOL systems to meet new challenges

COBOL’s proven reliability and longevity are misinterpreted as signs that it has not evolved to support modern IT requirements or is deficient in some other way. U.S. Federal CIO Tony Scott has even suggested that the government needs to “…double down on replacing these legacy  systems.” Replacing COBOL, however, is not the answer and will undoubtedly introduce many more challenges to a government IT organization struggling to presently keep pace with modern tech advances. The smarter move is to innovate from a position of strength; which COBOL provides.

Modern COBOL technology delivers the trusted reliability and robustness that it did in 1960 but with the ability to connect to modern technologies and architectures including cloud, mobile, .NET, and Java, as well as the latest hardware platforms from the z13 mainframe to the latest incarnations of Windows, UNIX and Linux. By supporting and integrating with the latest platforms and digital technologies, IT can rest assured and get on with the business of implementing more pressing concerns such as implementing appropriate security strategies for their evolving systems.

Given the seemingly increasing digital threat our IT systems face, it’s critical that IT leaders provide a more responsive, flexible and integrated management system to secure these mission critical applications from unauthorized use.  Modern COBOL offers simple solution to the OPM security breach and an opportunity to significantly improve its existing security infrastructure.

Ed

 

 

 

 

Orginal Article written by

Ed Airey

Amie Johnson

Derek Britton

IT Skills: Crisis? What Crisis?

The much-discussed IT skills shortage is a relative concept, argues Derek Britton from Micro Focus, as he examines what this talk about a “crisis” really means in this fascinating blog post. Read on.

Mind the Gap

Read the trade press nowadays and you can’t help but stumble across another story about the IT skills shortage. And for more eye-catching headlines, the word “crisis” is often thrown in for good measure.

But even the most cursory ‘skills gap’ search on Google reveals a lot of reported problems, and very few positive solutions. This article mentions 43 distinct areas where positions outnumber people to fill them. Admittedly, developers, coders and programmers are included, but that still represents a small percentage.

So, realistically, how big is this problem – and who is affected?

Recent Skills Reports

Ann Swain, chief executive of The Association of Professional Staffing Companies (APSCo). She claims that an IT skills shortage is likely to grow in the coming years, as reported in Computing.

“The IT sector was one of the hardest hit during the recession, and our monthly trends report – which analyses vacancies and placements across the professional staffing sector – has in the last few months pointed towards the early stages of a skills shortage,” Ann said.

Elsewhere, ITPro reported that British firms are struggling to find the right talent to fill vacancies, according to a report published by CompTIA, a company that provides vendor-neutral certifications to workers globally. The International Technology Adoption and Workforce Trends Study found that 44% of 1,500 IT workers believed staff productivity is suffering because of the skills gap.

Accepted wisdom suggests the skills in shortest supply are those associated with ‘legacy’ [sic] technologies. Notwithstanding this erroneous label, this category includes COBOL and mainframe skills. Interesting then, that commentators talk about a skills shortage in more contemporary technologies.

“Demand for skills like C#, .NET and other programming languages has been consistent during the recession and has really started picking back up. However, we simply can’t find enough skills in the UK market,” claims the same Computing article.

This concern is highlighted in a lucid WSJ.com article by Skills Gap commentator Gary Beach. This piece calls out the proliferation of choice among the software development community as a reason for the difficulty in finding people with the desired skills: “All those choices have slowed down the hiring process. Tom Monahan, chief executive officer at CEB, a global consultancy, said it took chief information officers 40 days to fill an IT job two years ago. Now, it’s up to 70 days”, says the post, citing the spread of popularity in terms of development tooling including “Java, Java Script, C#, PHP, Python, Ruby, Perl and Objective C.”

Moreover, the US Government predicts that “approximately 810,000 new and replacement administrative personnel will be needed across all platforms by 2020”, according to the US. Bureau of Labor Statistics (Occupational Outlook, March 2013). This is compared with less than 100,000 of those being mainframe specific positions.

SkillsJuggle

A Global Reality

Importantly, discussions around skills are not restricted to the IT sector or even STEM-related jobs. In a report on the BBC News website, a “skills emergency” was being used to describe the current state of skilled worker demand in the UK. It went on “More than half of employers fear they will not be able to recruit enough high-skilled workers, according to a survey by the CBI (Confederation of British Industry).

The employers’ organisation is warning that a skills shortage is “threatening to starve economic growth”.

“Firms are facing a skills emergency now,” said CBI deputy director-general Katja Hall. According to the CBI, two-thirds of businesses are expected to need more high-skilled staff”

Furthermore, the skill level and affected industries are also illuminating. Nestle USA CEO Paul Grimwood outlined in a recent article the demands for skills in manufacturing “Estimates put the need for U.S. manufacturing jobs at nearly 3.5 million over the next decade. The current skills gap means that 2 million of those jobs — which require technical expertise, but not a college degree — will go unfilled”

Commentator Cait Murphy agreed, in Inc, “In a survey of Inc. 5,000 CEOs last year, 76% said that finding qualified people was a major problem. What’s really interesting about all this is that it’s not just the usual suspects who are complaining about the lack of good workers… it turns out that … manufacturers are having trouble finding excellent employees.”

Further afield, search results reveal plenty of manpower shortfalls in engineering and manufacturing – even potato picking. The list of skills gaps – coinciding with a period of relatively high employment – seems to be a fact of commercial life.

Meanwhile, Back in the Back Office

And these skills crises affect every walk of commercial life, including core IT systems. Right? Well, we see it differently. Micro Focus recognises the need to ensure that the next generation of talent is available to replace those lost to natural wastage. But that isn’t a crisis – it is common sense aligned with good planning.

As the global economy evolves and the digital age takes hold, a new generation of commerce shapes itself. The natural ebb-and-flow of staffing supply and demand causes inevitable variance in the availability of certain skills in certain sectors. It’s just life. Employers, vendors and academia own the collective responsibility to service that marketplace, just as they always have done.

In other words, it’s as much of a crisis as we choose to make it.

That is not to say that we don’t acknowledge a prospective skills shortfall. Indeed, to meet the continued requirement around COBOL skills, Micro Focus is continuing to invest heavily in both the technology itself, and build partnerships with academia, to help build the ‘next generation’ of COBOL application developers. It’s a pre-emptive, rather than reactive move.

academic

Conclusion

So, not just IT then – and certainly not just COBOL, there are skills questions out there.

But a crisis?

The word crisis is supposed to describe a situation that is out of control that you can do nothing about. Readers of a certain age may recall the 1975 album release by English prog-rock  group Supertramp. Called Crisis? What Crisis? The Micro Focus campaign highlights the myriad ways Micro Focus supports organizations in meeting the challenges of skills planning for the future. What crisis?

DerekB

Rumba 9.4: A New Way to Think about Green Screens

David Fletcher, Senior Marketing Manager for Micro Focus Rumba, talks about the challenges with green screen applications and the innovative Screen Canvas feature now available in Rumba 9.4.

Lean and Green

If you’re reading this blog, you probably know about green screens. You probably wish they were more flexible and easy to use, but you still understand their overall value. You know that green screen applications, while written decades ago, still run the world. And behind the scenes, they make our lives easier in more ways than we may actually know.

rumba9.4.0

 ‘Sorry please hold, I will have to switch to another screen’

Most of us will have interacted with green screen systems[1]—for example, when you’re talking to a call center rep’ who is using one to look up your insurance details, or book your travel, or check your banking details. These are the people who often need to put you on hold because the “system is slow” or they have to “go to another screen.” That’s what these green-screen applications are like to use—complicated, convoluted, confusing. They don’t play well together, and don’t take advantage of the latest graphical interfaces either.

However, despite their limitations, green screens and the applications they “represent” are so entrenched in our world that now even mobile users want to access them from their modern laptops, tablets, and smart phones. So why are we content to continue interacting with these outdated systems? One simple reason: These applications are still business critical. And updating them is difficult, time consuming, risky, and prohibitively expensive.

But wouldn’t it be great if there was some way to bring these outdated applications into the modern world?

At Micro Focus we continue to make investments to help organizations get the most out of their existing IT investments—including core green screen business applications. We provide low-risk, easy-to-use software that modernizes the user interface of core business applications and drives business efficiency.

Enter the new Rumba 9.4

You may have read about the user interface modernization capabilities of Rumba in the past, but with this new release we have added more capabilities to help revive tired applications.

Rumba+ 9.4 offers a new facility called Screen Canvas. With Screen Canvas, you are no longer bound by the old 24 row x 80 column limits of the traditional green screen. You can combine what used to be several different green screens into a single page.

rumba9.4.1

Rumba9.4.2

Users with the new version can consolidate several green screens into a single page, re-organizing and merging disparate information to make the user experience more intuitive and easy to use – with no coding or changes to the host application.

To the customer, this is a new way to improve usability of older application. It is a new view of the green screen – it feels updated and contemporary.  It improves the user experience. To Micro Focus, it is the result of an ongoing commitment to improve the user experience for the customer.

And that’s not all. Rumba+ is the perfect partner product of Rumba 9.4 and enables customers to extend their reach even further, with access to Windows, iPad and mobile technologies. Ultimately, Rumba+ represents and supports a full evolution and modernization from green screen to GUI.

Learn more about the all of the Rumba product line, or contact your local sales representative.

RUMBA9.4.5
fletcher


[1] Green screens: Text displays used by the mainframe applications to present information to users.

Terminals: Traditional hardware/screens used to access core application green-screens. The IBM 3270 is a classic example.

Terminal Emulator: A dedicated computer program that replicates the terminal viewing experience through an alternative display, typically a PC screen. Rumba is a terminal emulator.

User Interface: The visible part of the operating system and an older, character-based user interface is a problem for anyone familiar with the Graphical User Interfaces (GUI) on personal tech, such as laptops and tablets.

Is it me, or is the web getting slower?

Every second counts when it comes to the load speed of a webpage . Longer webpage loading times can cost businesses serious amounts of money. A one second increase in website response time equals 11% fewer page views, a 16% decrease in customer satisfaction and a 7% loss in conversions.

The shocking reality of website response times

Every second counts when it comes to the load speed of a webpage. Longer webpage loading times can cost businesses serious amounts of money. A one second increase in website response time equals 11% fewer page views, a 16% decrease in customer satisfaction and a 7% loss in conversions. For example, a one second increase in Amazon’s page load would annually cost $1.6 billion in sales (Aberdeen Group). Walmart found that for every 1 second of performance improvement, it gained a conversion increase of up to 2%.

But despite the impact that speed has on conversion rates and customer satisfaction there is a very worrying and surprising trend: websites are getting slower! The average website is actually slower now than it was last year. This is a consistent trend that we’ve seen for the last few years.

Has webpage loading speed changed over time?

It made me wonder if the slowdown is a uniform trend across all sites, or if it only affects a subset of the web. So I took a closer look at the actual loading speed of webpages, and how it changes over time. I used data from the HTTP Archive which is a wonderful repository for big data analysis of anything relating to website performance and how the web is built. It stores the metrics from monthly crawls of about 500,000 of the Alexa Top 1,000,000 Sites.

I specifically looked at a metric called SpeedIndex which is a measurement of how quickly the screen paints (perceived load time). It’s expressed in milliseconds, so the faster you paint the whole screen, the lower the score.

In order to understand if the slowdown just affects websites with average performance or slow performance, I graphed the 10th, 25th, 50th (median), 75th and 90th percentiles (e.g. 10th percentile = the fastest 10% websites) and here are the depressing results:

SpeedIndex

Note: The lower percentiles are the faster sites, and the higher percentiles are the slower sites.

So, despite some anomalies that may be caused by the nature of synthetic monitoring, we can see an upward growth to all these lines for the last 2 years. This means that all sites across the Alexa top 500,000 websites are getting slower over time. For instance, the 10% fastest websites are on average getting 29ms slower each month, and the median sites are adding 67ms every month (assuming a linear trend).

What is causing webpages to slow down?

The main reason is simply page bloat. The average webpage size is now 2.1 MB, according to the HTTP Archive. That’s two times larger than the average site from three years ago.

Websites are adding more and bigger images, attention-grabbing videos, and other code and script-heavy features that are negatively impacting response times, especially on slower mobile connections. In addition, the use of tracking and analysis tools to learn more about visitors has grown significantly. Frank would need two of these floppy disks to store one page of an average website now:

floppy disks

What can I do to ensure my webpages load quickly?

While websites are getting slower, customer expectations are getting higher, with most consumers expecting pages to load in 3 seconds or less. Using effective performance monitoring, you can make sure you’re webpages are loading as quickly as your customers expect them to.

Borland Silk WebMeter monitors your website for availability and responsiveness every 15 minutes, and emails you with daily reports so you know exactly how your website is performing. If your website is down or takes too long to respond, Borland Silk WebMeter alerts you immediately, so you can get straight on it. You can simulate popular web browsers from your iPhone or Android mobiles, as well as from Internet Explorer, Firefox and Google Chrome.

For large scale website usage, Silk Performer CloudBurst provides unlimited scalability from the Cloud. Simulate peak-loads of any size from multiple places throughout the world, without even having to invest in load testing hardware and setup. With Silk Performer CloudBurst’s diagnostic tools, you can easily locate root causes of performance problems, even under peak loads, enabling you to get straight to the problem and fix it immediately.

Remember, every second counts when it comes to the load speed of a webpage, so make sure you closely monitor you website’s performance using some world class performance testing tools. Before it costs you serious money.

Try it for free now: Silk Performer WebMeter

Register now to explore Silk WebMeter’s performance testing capabilities, including daily reports, statistics and error notifications. It takes you just a few steps to get started.

Register now

Try it for free now: Silk Performer CloudBurst

Register now to run your free performance tests in the Cloud, with 200 complementary CloudBurst Credits.

Register now

Gregor Rechberger

Gregor-Rechberger

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gregor Rechberger is the Product Manager for performance testing and application monitoring which includes load-testing and application performance monitoring products. Since joining Segue/Borland in 2002 he has held documentation, program, and product management positions and has over 10 years of experience in the testing discipline.

Get your SHARE

SHARE is the place to get up to speed on the hottest enterprise IT topics and choose from more than 500 technical education sessions. Derek Britton looks forward to this year’s Orlando event.

Along with all the well-deserved attention that COBOL received when it hit 50, the mainframe enjoyed when it hit the half-century  and CICS will surely pick up when it hits the same landmark, another tech high water mark is about to be reached.

Mainframe50press

It’s the 60th anniversary of a US-based, internationally-focused event that provides a great platform for free-thinking and idea-sharing. No, not Woodstock – that was practically yesterday compared to this. Younger than Cher and more popular than the chair, SHARE remains the go-to event for tech pros looking to learn, network – and maybe influence industry thinking.

There really is nothing like it. The list of partners says plenty. Big Blue remains the Strategic Partner and other names provide the endorsement that potential attendees are looking for, including Oracle, BMC and these guys.

Meet the people

For these organizations, SHARE represents a great opportunity to get the user-driven perspective that drives the creation of problem-solving products that meet genuine business needs. For delegates, this is the place to get up to speed on the hottest enterprise IT topics and choose from more than 500 technical education sessions.

Technical sessions like this one. It’s our lunch and learn. So that’s free food and a taste of a streamlined mainframe application build process on the side. Ed Airey and Bob Schoppert give out the good stuff that could help you build, test and manage better mainframe applications, faster.

Micro Focus loves SHARE. It’s where we get to showcase our stuff to people who get it. It’s where we hear about their strategic challenges and discuss ways we can help them on their application modernization journey. Who knows what theme will be this year? We’re hearing a lot about the challenges of sourcing the right development skills – and we have good news on that score.

Meet Micro Focus!

We never miss SHARE and we’ll be there again this year. We’ll be bringing our roadshow along to the Orlando event on August 9–14 at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort in Florida.

So come along and see us at Booth #307. You can’t miss the elephant. It’s a big year. It would be great to SHARE it with you.

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IT Skills – Strategic Planning in the Financial Services Sector

Originally published in Global Banking and Finance Review Derek Britton from Micro Focus looks at the skills and technologies required to keep FSS sector Enterprise IT vibrant.

Banking Skills

The digital age sees many IT budgets on the rise on an annualised basis[i], and this is equally true for financial services organizations. However, for an organization to keep pace with technology changes, investments in people and skills are equally key. The skills profile of the organization rarely matches the skill requirements of the near term. So IT leaders, responsible for core banking systems, tasked with ensuring their teams can deliver the banking systems needed to support growth, the challenge is stark: ensure core IT skills match the growth strategy of the bank, now and into the future.

The Change Treadmill

Banking complexity, however, continues to grow. With each passing year more and more IT is added to the mix as banks accelerate to support the digital age and a more demanding client base. However, internal IT documentation has deteriorated, as has internal knowledge of the business systems, while suitably skilled staff is finite, and busier than ever.  And for the majority of organizations, a long term skills plan does not exist[ii].

The very resilience of many organizations’ mature applications, typically run on IBM mainframes in computer languages such as COBOL and PL/I, presents IT leaders the challenge of maintaining systems whose longevity few had predicted with skills that are, often, no longer in liberal supply.

These applications, often decades old, continue to provide intrinsic business-critical value and are effectively the lifeblood of the organization. Large scale overhauls or replacements are highly complex and extremely risky, and stories abound with disastrous attempts to replace core systems. So, keeping these vital internal systems up-to-date and fully maintained is therefore an operational imperative and often forms the cornerstone of technical strategy.

Recent Vanson Bourne research suggests that more than half of respondents have no difficulty finding IT workers with mainframe application skills. However, to ensure the long-term success and value of these core applications, Development Directors must ensure an appropriate future supply of application expertise.

New Directions

Planning ahead for the right future workforce will involve considering technical skills, procedures and workflow, as well as the choice of technology.

  • Staffing and Skills: Any strategic resourcing plan must meet projected staffing requirements, with flexibility in the workforce to build an enterprise-class resource strategy. That can be a blend of upskilling current staff or training new hires with the requisite skills. More efficient, powerful technology for building core banking systems can yield significant efficiency gains; contemporary “Integrated Development Environments” offer traditional core banking developers to accelerate towards a more efficient working model. Furthermore, developers unfamiliar with the core systems technology, upskilling is entirely feasible and relatively straightforward. The familiar IDE provides an easy transition, and contains features and functions to complete familiar tasks quickly. Unifying the development approach across languages encourages a cross-pollination of knowledge and application skills. “It’s pretty easy to hire programmers, and if they understand Java I can bring them back to … languages like COBOL,” said David Brown, managing director of BNY Mellon’s IT transformation group[iii].
  • Working Practices: Process efficiency is often cited as the rationale to adopt new working methods, including Agile methodologies and DevOps processes. While such processes aim to improve IT delivery, there is also an opportunity for core IT skills to contribute to better future strategic alignment. Contemporary software offers a more efficient core system delivery model that incorporates IT application build, deployment and ongoing support, and which also dovetails neatly into any new Agile or related methodology. Such software is available to core – mainframe-based – IT systems as well as other server environments.SkillsJuggle

Building a New IT Generation

Core banking systems, and the means in which they are created, have proven themselves over time. Considering the amount of business intelligence invested in them – and the inherent complexity that will make a wholesale replacement extremely difficult – training a new crop of developers to maintain core systems represents the most practical, flexible and cost-efficient solution.

To do the right job, successful organizations need the right people with the right skills. To establish the right future supply, they need tools that bridge the gap between the skills they have and the experience they need.

Modern technology has been developed specifically to attract the broader range of skills required to maintain and develop vital core banking systems. This offers a path that enables a new generation of enterprise developers to meet the future needs of the business and resolve any resource challenges being faced. This technology has provided improvements of 50% in terms of throughput of changes in the financial services and other sectors.

Aligning an IT resourcing strategy with new technology that supports core system evolution will ensure flexibility, consistency, attract and retain vital knowledge and create the future generation of developers that FS organizations need.

Call Out – COBOL: The Cornerstone of Banking Systems

Thousands of organisations worldwide still use the COBOL computer language to build and run their core systems. 90% or more of the Fortune 100 are COBOL users. All but a couple of the top banks and insurers and other retailers use IBM mainframes, and they’ll be running COBOL code on them. In the world today, hundreds of billions of lines of COBOL code, more than any other language by some distance, quietly hums away in the background running the world’s economy. COBOL and mainframe technology both go back over 50 years. But over that time each technology has been invested in and evolved to remain relevant and viable in the modern era. IBM has just released its most powerful ever mainframe, z13, while COBOL has evolved, thanks to Micro Focus and others, to be a modern standard that supports all the new age technology such as digital and cloud.

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COBOL works across a huge variety of platforms, and thanks to Micro Focus always has done. Over 500 platforms where those core systems can reside, from the largest mainframe to the most modest PC. Important for organizations who have to provide a mixed IT environment for business reasons, and that is quite typical. In most server rooms you’ll find an eclectic array of servers. COBOL is one of the few common denominators.

Change in IT is one of the few constants everyone can agree on, and core systems built on COBOL and mainframes continue to be updated. IBM reports continued growth in the use of mainframe horsepower (known as MIPS). Much of this is COBOL systems. The digital economy is forcing a wholesale rethink of how to approach business. One bank reported recently over 3 times the internet traffic all accessing their mainframe systems because of the advent of their mobile banking facility.  Customers are expecting no delays, no difference in the service.

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Of course there is the option to rip and replace core systems. However, there are several high profile horror stories of major IT overhauls that went wrong. These are very complex undertakings, but what’s also worth noting is that a replacement project consumes time, money and adds a lot of risk to provide the same IT system in a different guise. The Standish Group Chaos Report cites a 40% failure rate implementing new off the shelf packages; rate is higher still at 70% for rewrites in another language. Worse still, other independent studies (for example one from CAST Software) state new systems may be 4 times more costly to maintain in another language than they would have been in COBOL.

DerekB

 

 

 

 

[i] http://www.zdnet.com/article/research-it-budgets-rising-for-many-in-2015/

[ii] While 80% of respondents don’t have a concern over skills now, 55% of System z sites don’t have a talent plan for mainframe skills – source: IBM, Mainframe Skills, the Myth and Reality, SHARE, March 2015

[iii] http://www.computerworld.com/article/2502420/data-center/brain-drain-where-cobol-systems-go-from-here.html?page=3

[iv] Micro Focus, IBM, Compuware and others offer a range of educational support programs

[v] COBOL related jobs was reported as being the “highest growing” IT role in a 2015 study, see http://www.itjobswatch.co.uk/default.aspx?page=1&sortby=2&orderby=1&q=&id=900&lid=2618

Original article published in Global Banking and Finance Review

 

Development technologies and strategies – meeting the skills challenge – Part I

Neil Fowler, Micro Focus Development Director, looks at the challenges of aligning skills requirements to IT business priorities, and suggests some strategies for overcoming the issues.

The Development Director challenge is simple enough; he or she must attract and maintain sufficient and appropriate development skills within the organisation to support the IT strategy and identify new solutions to improve productivity. However, the issues are more nuanced. The challenge of application complexity continues to grow. Documentation is limited, as is knowledge of the business systems. The availability of technically skilled staff is limited.

The very resilience of many organizations’ mature COBOL and PL/I applications presents Development Directors with an almost enviable challenge – to maintain systems whose longevity few had predicted. However, that is the reality.

Godfrey

These applications continue to provide intrinsic business-critical value and are effectively the lifeblood of the organizations who are looking to expose the business functions these applications provide to meet the pace of change. Keeping them up-to-date and fully maintained is therefore an operational imperative and often forms the cornerstone of technical strategy.

Decades of changing business demands will have meant extensive and ongoing application maintenance and evolution. Similarly, business and resourcing plans must evolve to reflect changing dynamics and operational requirements. Skills and resource management is integral to this.

Within IT organizations it is the Development Director who must find the specialist skills needed to develop and maintain their mainframe COBOL applications and ensure that the knowledge of these Subject Matter Experts (SME) stays in house. Because the older the application, the more likely it is that precious documentation goes astray – and maintaining this application is a major business imperative.

While recent Vanson Bourne research suggests that more than half of respondents have no difficulty finding IT workers with mainframe application skills, to ensure the long-term success and value of these core applications going forward, Development Directors must ensure an appropriate future supply of application expertise.

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Strategic approaches

  1. Check your delivery processes: Smart thinking would suggest modernizing the application delivery process through the intelligent deployment of appropriate tooling. This represents an opportunity for new skills to contribute to an improved application development stream that incorporates the build, deployment and ultimately the ongoing support that underpin your improved process.  Enterprise tooling is available to enable a new generation of enterprise developers to meet the future needs of the business and resolve any resource challenge
  • Enterprise Analyzer aaccelerates development and modernization projects by more than 40%. Current and new staff will benefit from faster COBOL maintenance knowledge transfer, application analysis and documentation environment.
  • Our staff-enabling technologies include a more cost-effective and efficient environment that enable current staff to support key mainframe application maintenance, development and test activities.
  • Deploying more inclusive and contemporary mainframe development and testing environments will enable a new generation of developers to skill up and support core COBOL systems. This more powerful IDE also delivers tangible benefits – a 40% productivity boost is just one.
  • Many successful Development Directors have recognized the benefit of a more cost-effective and efficient testing environment for enabling current staff to support application maintenance and development activities. Many of our customers do.
  • The current industry talk is around DevOps, and our technology certainly fits this narrative. Because Micro Focus have been advocating the appropriate combination of technology and processes to racially improve software development and delivery for many years. Continuous Integration, Agile, Unit testing– these will all be familiar concepts to new joiners and supporting these processes with our tooling can breathe new life into application development and maintenance work for many enterprises.

In my next blog, I will take a look at how additional strategies such as workforce flexibility and upskilling – aligned with the latest in development and testing tech – can help organizations address their skills challenges.

Visit: www.microfocus.com/skills

NeilFowler

Doing it for the kids – work experience at Micro Focus

Micro Focus has been hosting work experience students in the Newbury HQ since 2010. Sue Lamb from HR looks back over this program and blogs about it’s successes. What do the students learn? What does Micro Focus get back in return? All is revealed in her blog – read on.

As the old saying goes, ‘experience is what you get just after you need it’. While that idiom works for life in general, it need not be the case for students looking to enter the world of work.

Because as our efforts to support those concerned about a future development skills shortfall is proving, any organization who wants to succeed in the future must capture the interest of the next generation of talent today.

Train to gain

Micro Focus understands the importance training and personal development to future success and is simultaneously supporting our customers’ and our own growth strategies.

We are helping to fill the COBOL development pipeline through our Academic Program and our work experience program has been encouraging at least two work experience students through the doors of our HQ in Newbury, Berkshire, every year since 2010.

Our visitors are usually Year 15 students from schools all over the county. While some are drawn from through the school using Education Business Partnerships, other students have parents already working at Micro Focus. Clearly, we must be doing something right!

The recruitment process is straightforward enough – we email every department confirming the opportunity to offer a willing student a working insight into the world of work in general and technology in particular.

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The where and the what…

Every student visits Micro Focus for a preliminary chat and a look around the offices as a ‘taster’ session. It’s a great opportunity to see what other members of staff wear – a major consideration for students, naturally – to make them feel at home and meet Kiruba. It is also a great chance for us to ask them a few questions:

  • What interests do they have outside school?
  • What GCSEs are they taking in school?
  • What do you want to do in the future?
  • Which departments would they prefer to experience?

We will then prepare a schedule and a list of contact names for the week and send it with a welcome email to the student. Once they have completed the week we use feedback from managers to complete their ‘record of achievement’.

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The popularity of social media, blogging and other contemporary platforms means that the marketing department is always a popular choice. It’s not every job that actively encourages people to sit on Twitter all day!

While others choose a different path – everyone benefits from the experience. As Patrick Nield, our most recent guest explains, “It was a fantastic week – much more fun than school!”

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Doing it for the kids

To Micro Focus, work experience is a chance to put a human face on our corporate social responsibility work and wonderful opportunity for local students to get some insight and understanding of our work by doing ‘real’ tasks and duties.

After all, our company ethos is all about ‘bridging the old with the new’ – and that applies to us, too!

SueLamb

 

Trying different ways to make a difference to the days

Work Experience student Patrick Nield spent a week with different departments in the Newbury Headquarters. But what did he learn, who did he meet and was it better than school? Read on to find out.

Day 1 at Micro Focus: Exploring the server room

My day started with a talk from Oliver on all the products and different packages Micro Focus sells. He went on to explain how services have increased in popularity due to the recent merger with Attachmate. Afterwards, Oliver and I met Rachael who took me through Pivotal CRM for the first time. She taught me how to obtain different information from a set of data using pivot tables.

Later that day I spent some time with David and the developers, where I learned how the product managers manage them and how they would meet their deadlines. Then a different David showed me the online to-do list which he created with some of his team to track progress.

I was shown around the server rooms and learned what each server does before Richard showed me how Micro Focus’ software products are tested. I was even allowed to help install and test one of the products myself – wow!

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Day 2 at Micro Focus: The elephant in the room?

Today I began in account payable with Carrie who showed me how to sign-off payments. When Carrie had finished on the payment sign off I worked with my Mum for a bit who does actually do quite of lot of work here much to my surprise!I then helped Stephanie who started me on the working on fuel cards.

After that I spent my afternoon in operations with David, who took me on a tour around the building to places many people wouldn’t know existed. For example, there’s a room above the third floor where the air conditioning is controlled and there’s an entrance to the top of the atrium. David showed me photos of the installation of the elephant in the main atrium, and when the glass was repaired.

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Day 3 at Micro Focus: What’s in the safe?

I started off today in accounts receivable which is where payments from Micro Focus customers are processed.

In the afternoon I went to customer care. This department helps Micro Focus customers across the world and the team can speak many different languages including French, Italian and German.

I then moved on to HR where I leaned about the various forms and regulations that Micro Focus needs to deal with when a new person joins. I helped fill-out some of the forms which were then placed in an enormous safe.

Day 4: Putting my tech skills to the test at Micro Focus

I really enjoyed today. I spent it talking about computers with like-minded people! This is what I’m most passionate about and the Micro Focus IT team are a really friendly bunch. I helped mend some phones which were needed for new starters to the company.

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Day 5 at Micro Focus: The final task

I’d been really looking forward to my final day with marketing and social media department, but wasn’t quite sure what I would be tasked with. The other departments’ names made my work easier to predict. Marketing and social media covers such a wide range of topics I really could have been given anything to do.  First of all Mark talked me through Digital Marketing before I started on my blog and Tweeting

The main task was to write this blog which is apparently going to be published on the Corporate blog website. I am also trying to write as many tweets as I can to promote Micro Focus. The record I have to beat is 87. I fell slightly short of the target but I did spend an hour with Derek who explained how COBOL and Mainframe technology still powers the world’s IT.

It was a fantastic week – much more fun than school! Thanks to everyone who spent time with me…..

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