Mainframe skills shortage looms claims survey

An acute shortfall in mainframe computer skills among the UK workforce threatens to undermine the commercial effectiveness of ‘big iron’-based businesses, claims a survey by Vanson Bourne for enterprise management firm CA. 

Entitled ‘The Mainframe: Surviving and Thriving in a Turbulent World’, the study showed that 83 per cent of UK respondents – compared with the European average of 66 per cent – believe mainframe users are suffering or will suffer the effects of a shrinking workforce holding the relevant skills.

Offering some hope, 35 per cent agreed that a Web-oriented graphical user interface (GUI) would enable less-experienced IT staff to narrow the skills gap. In fact, 43 per cent of UK respondents reported a focus on mainframe skills training to address the shortfall, compared with 33 per cent of European counterparts; while 25 per cent say that their organisations are ‘outsourcing certain activities’.

These findings illustrate the point that UK organisations using the mainframe as a connected resource within the distributed, Web-enabled enterprise place special emphasis on particular benefits compared with other European users, CA asserts.

In the UK, the survey found that where the mainframe acts as a fully-connected resource – as opposed to a disconnected, comparatively isolated mainframe environment – 81 per cent of respondents say that ‘disaster recovery and emergency management are extremely efficient’, compared with a European average of 45 per cent. Similarly, 78 per cent reckon performance levels are ‘excellent’, compared with a European average of 63 per cent, while 78 per cent in the UK say ‘centralised management is relatively easy’, compared with a European average of 45 per cent.

On the security front, the survey reveals that 71 per cent of organisations in the UK believe a mainframe-centric infrastructure to be more secure than the server-centric equivalent. This compares with 68 per cent of all European organisations. When asked why the mainframe is such a valuable resource in an organisation, 81 per cent in the UK against the European average of 48 per cent highlighted disaster recovery, 78 per cent in the UK against 63 per cent cited performance, 78 per cent in the UK against 45 per cent identified centralised management and 74 per cent in the UK against 65 per cent highlighted security.

Additionally, only 23 per cent in the UK agree that ‘the mainframe is too much of a standalone device’, compared with the much higher European average of 54 per cent demonstrating the interconnectedness of the mainframe to the rest of the organisation. As well as highlighting the value of the mainframe in a connected infrastructure, the survey finds conclusive proof that mainframe users in the UK experience a disproportionately low total cost of ownership compared with other countries. The percentage of annual IT budget spent by on the mainframe UK organisations is 13 per cent – the lowest of any of the European countries surveyed. Germany spends 24 per cent of annual IT budget on the mainframe, the Nordics 22 per cent, Benelux 20 per cent, France 18 per cent and Italy 15 per cent.

‘The Mainframe: Surviving and Thriving in a Turbulent World’ is based on 180 interviews with IT directors and senior IT managers during February and March 2009. The sample comprised 40 respondents in each of the UK, France, and Germany, and 20 in each of Italy, Benelux, and the Nordic region.

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