Development Technologies and Strategies: Meeting the Skills Challenge

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.

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.

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.

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 learn to 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 COBOL 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.

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