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Q&A: Mainframe skills just as important as AI talent

Nov 23, 20174 mins

We speak to Chris Ducker from Sungard Availability Services about why companies still aren’t providing IT staff with the level of training they need

The IT skills shortage gets talked about a lot across a variety of areas. Yet training is often not seen as a priority in organisations. In the lightly edited Q&A below, Chris Ducker, senior director of global proposition strategy at Sungard Availability Services, offers his opinion on why companies still aren’t providing IT staff with the level of training they need. (And why mainframes are just as important as AI.)

Why do you think companies aren’t training their IT teams?

The demands placed on the IT team continue to grow. Managing legacy technology whilst driving the adoption of new technologies to keep the company working optimally and innovating, means the IT department is stretched. Finding the time to resource it all and train staff with the range of skills needed is very difficult.

In addition, new entrants to the workforce do not possess legacy skills or working practices; for example, how many millennials are adept at managing a mainframe? They are more likely to be great at utilising containers in developing applications or using an agile DevOps approach. But even they need to learn how to leverage Artificial Intelligence and machine learning in automating processes or developing new innovative services.

There are skills shortages across a lot of areas—from security to emerging technologies—where is the biggest need?

Ironically one of the fastest growing needs is in legacy skills—this knowledge is either leaving the workforce or moving to other companies. This is a huge risk as systems and applications that are core to the business will go unsupported if these skills are not replaced.

New talent is more concerned with acquiring the skills of the future (AI and Machine learning) than the skills of the past (mainframe or proprietary in-house applications).

Do you think upskilling is more important than hiring new IT talent?

Both are vital, yet upskilling is necessary for both attracting and retaining staff as it shows a willingness to invest in their future.

What will it take to provide IT teams with the necessary skills for the future?

One good solution is outsourcing the management of legacy infrastructure to an organisation that has retained legacy skills. That way the organisation can invest in upskilling staff with new tech skills and keep them motivated, yet still maintain the full range of skills available to the organisation.

Where is the greatest training need in the IT department?

The IT department needs to take on more of a leadership role, helping department leaders to make their own decisions and investments around IT. Part of this will mean providing guidance and support on maintaining good security, regulatory compliance and a co-ordinated approach to the use of IT across the business. These leadership skills are often overlooked by the IT team as many focus on the technology demands and not the business demands.

What is the greatest mistake most organisations make when it comes to training (aside from not doing enough of it)?

Reacting rather than standing back and assessing all the options before deciding on an approach. The skills development approach needs to reflect how the business wants to use IT, where they are in terms of digital transformation and what skills the business needs to deliver those goals.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

It is not about having all the skills in-house. As the CIO becomes more of a business leader than a manager of IT systems their remit broadens, and the skills required do too. They need to look beyond their in-house team for the skills they have traditionally held internally and consider using third party service providers to resource traditional IT management. This way they can spend time on leveraging innovation to remain competitive (or disrupt) in their specific market space, and still have the mission critical legacy workloads covered.