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    State of the mainframe nation

    23rd October 2019: It's good to hear some positive news for a change. Informative and enlightening, the 2019 BMC Mainframe Survey report is another excellent piece of work from BMC Software. It takes the current temperature of the industry and reports that the patient is not only alive and well, but also seems to be developing and growing healthily.

  • Drilling down into the figures, it's clear the mainframe is only going in one direction.

    93% of respondents believed in the "combined long-term and new workload strength of the platform". BMC hadn't recorded confidence this high for six years. And this confidence seems to be filtering upstairs. The survey reports that 59% of executives now recognize the mainframe as a "platform for growth" compared to 51% in last year's report.

    Overall, slightly more than half of respondents believe the mainframe will support growth in new workloads. This is an increase on previous years and, from where I'm sitting, that confidence will only grow further.

    Leading the priority list for both techs and execs? Cost Reduction followed very closely by Compliance/Security. Interestingly, execs rate costs and security at virtually the same priority level. For techies, cost is very clearly their big priority, ahead of security by some 14 percentage points. Execs also rated security as their major Concern for the platform while techies cited security as a Strength.

    Now, does this difference in view suggest the techies think they have Compliance and Security sorted? Or could it indicate a degree of complacency? I'll leave that to you. I know what I think, and I'll return to the security issues raised in the report in my next blog.

    In diversity and gender balance, something the IT industry has struggled with, the outlook is also encouraging. BMC reported that 30% of respondents this time were women, a significant increase on last year. The survey showed an increase in new and younger mainframe professionals entering the industry.

    So what are the headlines from the report? For me, the first big takeaway is that the mainframe isn't going away, any time soon. As the report says, the survey results show "the enduring power of the platform for business transformation and growth" in the face of an evolving workforce, and escalating security and compliance requirements.

    My second major takeaway is the continuing skills gap and the need to close it and the difference in attitudes between Baby Boomers and Millennials. "Millennials see the opportunity to integrate the platform with the rest of the enterprise and are asking questions like 'Why don't we...?', while Baby Boomers still see the mainframe as an isolated, specialized system." The latter is a mindset we simply have to break away from, and I'm with the Generation Y'ers on this. And rest assured, in the connected Internet of Things era, Generation Z'ers will simply expect everything to be integrated as the norm 15% of survey respondents were aged between 18 and 29 years.

    Continuing to attract, train and support these younger practitioners is fundamental to the continued success of mainframes, as that "platform for growth" for today and tomorrow. And the skills game is a long game: you can't replace 40 years' of mainframe experience with a couple of years' experience. Mainframers are like fine wines; we can take a while to mature and develop our own fully-rounded flavors.

    We're doing our part at RSM with, for instance, the MIT Mainframer in Training program. IBM has its Master the Mainframe learning system and student competitions, and TechU. We're seeing a growing number of mainframe-related university degree courses. There are Guide Share Europe GSE events and training, the GenZ networking community, and so on.

    The third big takeaway is that Security continues to be really, properly, extremely important, and has greater visibility at C level than before. More about that next time.

    Fourth, that the coming age of automation and artificial intelligence AI will be essential for mainframe operations to deliver the high levels of reliability, availability and security that our users, execs, customers and regulators will expect. So, what are your plans in this area? I'd be interested to hear about them, as this is one area that most people will need help with. Combining security concerns with the rise of predictive analytics and automation and ongoing staffing issues, we can expect an increasing number of software tools like RSM's zDetect. This SIEM compatible z/OS security monitoring tool detects actual and potential security-related issues, helping reduce the risk of breaches happening in the first place.

    As BMC's report makes clear, "Today's mainframe continues to meet the world's ever-changing digital

    business demands." Despite the challenges we face, when it comes to our platform, I think we can afford to have a measure of optimism. Which is definitely something to cherish in these turbulent times.

    An international speaker in mainframe security and technology, and a passionate advocate of all things Z, Mark Wilson heads RSM Partners' Technical and Security teams.

    For more information email: info@rsmpartners.com

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