If your IT landscape includes aging mainframe systems, you're probably dealing with a problem that is all too familiar to CIOs throughout the world: many of the software engineers who have maintained mainframe COBOL applications over the years have recently retired. Most of the remaining workforce is nearing retirement age.

To make matters worse, the coronavirus pandemic has served as a catalyst for early retirements, as Boomers who feel uncomfortable returning to the work force and are leaving. At a time when many government agencies are racing to accommodate higher volumes, - for example, a flood of new unemployment claims, - the COBOL skills shortage could not have happened at a worse time.

Suddenly, readers of mainstream news sources like NPR are seeing headlines about 'COBOL Cowboys' helping to upgrade state unemployment systems.  Or this: Unemployment checks are being held up by a coding language almost nobody knows.  

This isn't just about unemployment checks, though. For CIOs, this is a perfect storm. Digital transformation is beckoning. Mainframe modernization is on the march.

Fortunately, enterprise-grade public cloud computing has come of age. Microsoft (Azure), Amazon (AWS) and Google (GCP) have led the way with industrial strength cloud platforms which incorporate the entire software stack under a single umbrella. They are secure, scalable, and extremely reliable. They check all the same boxes as mainframe systems; but also offer a great deal more. To make digital transformation a reality, IT systems need the kind of inter-connectivity they can only get from being in the cloud.

Meaningful IT transformation can be painful, - but it doesn't have to be. Mainframe modernization is a highly complex endeavor; but if we begin from a comprehensive understanding of the current environment and the desired future state, we can build a pragmatic roadmap for getting you there.

At Astadia, we've done it hundreds of times. We have a tremendously successful track record, which speaks for itself. So what does that look like, exactly?

We begin with a comprehensive Mainframe Assessment built upon the strategic vision for your organization. That blueprint outlines the guiding principles for your project. We define the restrictions or constraints that may impact execution, and we develop a plan to achieve your strategic vision in the context of those constraints.

Using automated tools and proven methodologies, we conduct static and dynamic analyses on application inventories, infrastructure capabilities, cloud readiness/maturity and other related systems and processes. We identify gaps and lay out a mainframe modernization roadmap.

Most people think of IT projects as being expensive, risky, and disruptive, – although in many cases that simply isnt true. For CIOs, the inflection point for change usually occurs when the perceived cost of doing nothing exceeds the perceived cost of the project, including risk.

Let's look at the various factors that play in that equation:

1. The COBOL Skills Shortage

While we usually associate risk with change, - that is, with big, bold new initiatives, - the diminishing pool of COBOL-trained resources is itself a growing risk for organizations running mainframe systems. In other words, in the current situation, doing nothing is risky. It calls to mind the old Will Rogers quip: "Even if you are on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there. "

The problem is only likely to get worse. While IBM and others have launched training initiatives to develop a new generation of COBOL engineers, it can be a tough sell in a world where big data, machine learning, blockchain, and other cutting-edge technologies are garnering far more attention.

A measured approach to modernization can provide for migrating existing applications to the cloud, re-platforming and/or refactoring.

A new generation of COBOL development tools, including visual IDEs, have made the programming language more accessible to a younger audience. Virtualization and containerization technology made it practical to run COBOL applications in the cloud.

In many cases, we find that legacy applications, - especially those that serve a specific, narrowly defined function, - can be replaced with commercial off-the-shelf software.

With the onset of the coronavirus, a wave of retirements, and increased demand for system changes, a lot of organizations are waking up to the fact that the clock is ticking. The question is not whether to change, - but rather, how to modernize in a way that is cost effective and sustainable given the diminishing pool of COBOL resources.

2. Digital Transformation

Digital transformation has become the new buzz phrase driving significant investment in technology. Underneath that somewhat amorphous terminology, however, is a very real business mandate: innovation and agility will be the competitive differentiators of the 2020s, and the collection of technologies that fall under the digital transformation umbrella are all about innovation and agility.

The platform for digital transformation is the cloud. Connectivity, scalability, and security are the starting point. Big data, artificial intelligence, and machine learning have come of age in the era of the public cloud. Organizations that want to unlock innovation simply must have a significant presence in the cloud.

IDC explains it this way: "There's the conundrum of what to do with a vast number of deeply integrated, highly valuable applications that have been, and continue to be, extremely critical for the business but that may be too costly and potentially risky to rewrite. The key to digital transformation is integrating the platforms that these applications are running on with contemporary platforms so as to ensure maximum yield with application delivery."

3. Regulatory Compliance

Finally, there is the rapidly changing regulatory environment. Europe's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), along with similar legislation in other countries, demands a comprehensive review of access control, encryption, and data protection. With the proliferation of connected devices, the challenges of compliance had increased significantly.

Data sovereignty regulations add yet another layer of complexity to the mix. The EU court's recent decision in the Schrems case has raised the stakes significantly on data sovereignty.

For all these reasons, mainframe modernization is getting a great deal of attention right now.  At Astadia, we have successfully completed hundreds of mainframe modernization projects. We have a proven track record built on an established body of best practices and a suite of tools to ensure accuracy and efficiency. Contact us today to learn how Astadia can help your organization.

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