In a survey of 38 state IT directors conducted by the National Association of State Technology Directors last year, roughly half of officials said that mainframe modernization was their top priority for legacy system improvements.
Twenty-seven percent said that they would fully outsource their mainframe management, and 24 percent said that they would manage them in-house. Managed services were the answer for some officials: 22 percent said that they would hire off-premises mainframe managed services, and 11 percent said they would engage on-premises mainframe management (22 percent indicated they would take a hybrid approach).
Caring for mainframes is a fact of life for many state governments. These computers continue to deliver critical applications that fulfill valuable functions, and they are longstanding and perhaps predictable line-item budget items.
Just like all IT platforms, mainframes require care, maintenance and modernization. State and local governments should carefully explore a range of options before fully outsourcing their mainframe operations, including staff augmentation. If that is not fully achievable, they should look to managed services prior to fully outsourcing.
Click the banner below to learn more about government IT modernization.
Define Skills and Capabilities Through Staff Augmentation
State and local governments face budget challenges in hiring top IT professionals who may prefer the higher salaries available in the private sector.
When considering staff augmentation in support of mainframe modernization, agencies can carefully consider the specific skills they require in their IT environment. Governments may still find it challenging to hire for specific disciplines, but defining those skills can provide them with a clear-eyed view of their requirements.
Some of these systems are running applications first written decades ago in languages such as COBOL or PL/I, which poses another set of hiring challenges: these skills are typically less available than Java or .NET. But there are upskilling options: companies such as IBM and Broadcom offer mainframe training courses. A number of colleges and universities are also offering mainframe education as part of IBM’s Academic Initiative.
In many cases, agencies overlook much of the simplification and modernization capability that has been added to the platform by IBM and the mainframe integrated software vendor community. Implementing these functions can address a number of technical difficulties, easing the operation of mainframes while also using technology that is attractive to younger professionals and incentivizing them to care for these IT assets.
LEARN MORE: What is Mainframe as a Service for state governments?
Specify Tasks in Managed Services Contracts
In a look at function-by-function requirements, state and local agencies can narrow the list of what they truly need and hire managed services providers to address those specific capabilities. The exercise of clearly describing their needs and expectations will aid in determining ideal staffing, yielding a well-written contract that addresses exact skill sets and tasks that are not being effectively handled by the current staff.
Often, fully outsourcing mainframe services may not be the best route for government agencies. Outsourcers look for ways to improve the bottom line and profit from the overall operation. An outsourced public sector account is typically managed as "your mess for less," where the goal is to manage the agency’s mainframes in a manner that costs them the least amount of money to make the best profit. Such a case invariably means fewer people overall and fewer people on hand, with little focus on technical improvements that will help the customer reduce costs through implementation of new features.
Dramatic Change Is Not Compatible with Short Tenures
Public sector organizations are somewhat free of the challenges of private sector companies because they don’t necessarily have to compete with each other.
A state government doesn’t need to poach customers. But agencies can benefit from focusing on what they do best and engaging expertise to assist with other matters.
Many government agencies rely on the dependability of mainframe operations. Without competition to drive them to make changes, governments may embrace existing solutions that achieve their goals. Moreover, a report by the National Association of State Chief Information Officers notes that the average tenure of a state CIO is just over 31 months. Leaders may not want to rock the boat or implement evolutionary in an environment where they likely will serve for less than three years.
Still, a budgetary shift from the capital expenses of a monolithic mainframe to the operating expenses of cloud computing services may appeal to those who like to carefully manage and moderate their spending. Officials must consider these shifts against the backdrop of their business requirements and legacy operations.
This article is part of StateTech’s CITizen blog series. Please join the discussion on Twitter by using the #StateLocalIT hashtag.