Automation and AI may be the keys to overcoming talent shortages when businesses approach modernization programs.
The ongoing talent shortage is affecting all areas of business. Even as the world becomes more automated, companies know they will only achieve their ambitions with the right talent. It is so significant that Gartner named it one of the six macro factors that will reshape business in the coming decade.
The need for talent in modernization
Without the know-how to build the right strategies, identify the right tools, and deploy and run them, any project, whether to modernize legacy mainframes or deploy cutting-edge technologies, will be a struggle. No wonder 64% of IT executives see the talent shortage as the most significant adoption barrier to emerging technologies, far ahead of cost or security risks.
However, it is more than finding the right skills to implement new and challenging tools. Managing legacy technology is equally critical, and finding the talent for that is proving just as hard. Just look at mainframes: 90% of business leaders said hiring the right talent to maintain mainframes was moderately or extremely difficult.
What impact do these skills shortages have on modernization plans?
On the one hand, legacy tech suffering from a lack of talent validates the decision to modernize. Why stick with something that no one knows how to work?
That, along with rising costs and a lack of flexibility in adapting to market needs, is a significant driver for moving workloads away from mainframes. Yet, on the other hand, how can modernization programs be successful if the workforce cannot use new technologies?
Will automation and AI be the fix?
Artificial intelligence will begin to accelerate the pace of application modernization. The initial impact area will be related to the collection, organization, analysis, and reporting. Those areas usually need more knowledgeable and skilled staff, especially for legacy COBOL applications that could be decades old. These tasks will be done faster with automated AI-powered tools, increasing productivity as teams are freed from manual, time-intensive data tasks. While outputs will become more consistent and predictable, there will still be the need for deep domain expertise to validate and ensure the accuracy of results.
Mindsets also need to transform.
Transforming mindsets is about tackling preconceived notions of what change means. Say “mainframe application modernization,” and most people think of big-bang transformation. They imagine a complete rip and replacement of legacy systems with the result of something shiny and new.
In many ways, this is a hangover from the days when anything relating to technology was significant, both figuratively and literally. Monolithic systems brought with them monolithic mindsets.
There are occasions when projects need to be big and happen all at once. Yet there are just as many projects that people assume need to be huge but would benefit from being broken up into much smaller initiatives. The gains will appear smaller, but the overall flexibility, the ability to respond to changing circumstances, and the opportunity to generate results faster mean that modernizing in increments has higher success rates.
Incremental, not big bang
First, smaller projects require smaller teams. Second, the ability to secure results more quickly means teams can demonstrate tangible value to stakeholders, helping unlock more resources. Finally, shorter cycles mean any changes are incorporated to reflect evolving needs. So, if business priorities change, application modernization programs can be adjusted quickly.
A smaller, incremental approach means less disruption to technical and business operations. For instance, an application can be moved from COBOL to a Java environment while its data remains connected. Once the app is in place and tested, new data sources can be added, old ones decommissioned, and everything can be conducted at the pace the business is comfortable with.
Adapting to, rather than accepting, the talent shortage
Talent shortages are not new, but rather than accept the inevitable; businesses can look at how they approach modernization programs and adapt their approaches to reflect that they can’t, and shouldn’t, hire vast amounts of expensive people all in one go.
The resources needed for application modernization programs can adjust as circumstances and needs evolve by automating where possible and combining tool-assisted modernization with an incremental approach.