Change is inevitable, especially when dealing with IBM i talent.
IBM i personnel shortages aren’t occurring only because existing IBM i staff are retiring. Promotions and job changes in a hot labor market are also contributing to a long-term shortage. Today, let’s discuss several different strategies for dealing with IBM i personnel shortages.
Note: this is the first in a series of blog posts discussing changes in the IBM i job marketplace. Future posts will discuss other IBM i staff replacement issues regarding training, managed service providers (MSPs), outsourcing, and return on investment (ROI).
Strategy #1: Replacement through IBM i elimination
Some organizations think they can solve IBM I talent shortages by migrating to SAP or another system running on Windows, Linux, or AIX. After all, when IBM i applications are replaced, you won’t need IBM i staff to maintain them.
Moving to another system has its own set of issues, not the least of which is you still need IBM i professionals during migration, and migration can take several years. There’s nothing wrong with migrating to another production system, if it provides solid business benefits. But using system migration solely as a tool for solving staffing issues is counter-productive if not downright dangerous. There are better ways.
Strategy #2: IBM i Automation and consolidation with network operations
Creating lights out Data Centers in the early 2000s led to phasing out system operators in favor of IBM i administrators. More IBM i automation in the 2020s can free up IBM i administrator responsibilities in a similar way.
IBM i automation software reduces the need for dedicated IBM i operational resources. It can help you combine typical IBM administrator duties with those same duties on other platforms. Many organizations think of IBM i operations as separate from Windows, Linux, and network operations. There aren’t any reasons cross-platform administrators can’t handle IBM i operations tasks. Operational functions are pretty much the same across different platforms; only the hardware and the operating system are different.
Consider purchasing some of these i automation tools and training your non-IBM i staff to handle IBM i administrative duties. Many of these packages have graphical interfaces so non-IBM i specialists can feel comfortable using them.
- Message and resource monitoring software, such as SEA’s absMessage
- IBM i job scheduling products, such as absScheduler
- Audit and compliance management software
- Report creation and management software
- Backup and vaulting software
Stop thinking of IBM i administration as separate from the rest of your IT infrastructure. Automate IBM i administration and make it part of your network administration, so you don’t have to worry when an i IT Ops specialist leaves.
Strategy #3: Expand your application development options
IBM i shops already have one of the greatest open databases of all time in Db2 for i. But just because your core application was written in RPG II doesn’t mean you have to program custom modifications in RPG. Modifications and additions can be written in any number of packages that can access a Db2 database, including:
- Ruby on Rails
DB2 for i databases can be accessed from any platform using almost any language. Code from non-traditional i programming can also be integrated with existing i programs through exit points.
Non-traditional IBM i apps can easily run on and interface with traditional applications, extending your tool set and development into other areas. Both new and existing programmers can benefit from using new technologies for app creation. Introducing new applications and programming talent to Db2 for i allows you to ease the pain when an old-line IBM i professional leaves or retires.
Strategy #4: Outsource IBM i administration and programming
Many organizations and business partners specialize in programming and managing IBM i applications and POWER hardware. These companies handle IBM i administration, programming, help desk, and many other functions. Consider outsourcing rather than hiring to enhance your IBM i talent pool. You can also outsource IBM i operating system upgrades, including PTF application, and Technology Refresh (TR) installation. Partnering with another company that specializes in IBM i systems is another sound strategy to insulate you from talent shortages.
Strategy #5: Move to the cloud and stop managing hardware and the OS
IBM i cloud hosting has come of age and there are several vendors who can host your applications. With cloud hosting, you don’t need a dedicated in-house resource to manage your IBM i hardware and OS. You can move most (if not all) of your IT operation functions to a cloud MSP, where they’ll handle your hardware and operating system setups including:
- Hardware management, including service, maintenance, and upgrades
- PTF and Technology Refresh (TR) application
- Message and resource monitoring
- Backups, business continuity, disaster recovery, and high availability
An added benefit is that your POWER hardware costs will change from being a capital expense (purchasing hardware) to becoming an operating expense (buying a service).
Strategy #6: Repurposing IBM i talent and bringing new talent to the IBM i
This list is heavy on strategies for replacing and enhancing IBM i operations and application developer roles in a shrinking marketplace. These strategies also allow existing IBM i talent to transition into other roles. IBM i administrators can join your network administration team. Non-IBM i developers can bring their skills to core IBM i applications and IBM i developers can learn skills that will allow them to program on other platforms.
Aside from solving personnel shortages, replacement strategies can swap lower-level skills for higher-level tasks, broaden skill sets and increase organizational value. Don’t just replace existing IBM i talent or systems. Use the right strategy to enhance what your systems and staff can do, while you address staff needs.