Most enterprises with mainframe computers are quite happy with their systems, and have plans for their expansion. Still, mainframes have an achilles heel – the diminishing pool of talent that can write programs and run these machines.

A new survey of 1,184 IT executives and managers, conducted by BMC, a mainframe and IT services vendor, finds many companies have plans for their mainframes, especially as a repository and processing engine for big data initiatives. The majority (93 percent) say that the mainframe is a long-term business strategy. One-half of the respondents believe that the mainframe will grow and attract new workloads, similar to last year at 49 percent.

Many insurance companies run mainframe systems, and it's likely they will do so for some time to come – there is a lot of key business logic in these machines. For starters, about a third, 30 percent, report that mainframe data acts as a big data analytic engine or run in the mainframe's Linux partition. 

Another 37 percent report employing mainframes for online processing support, representing a significant departure from the machine’s original batch mode deliveries.

Along with its historic mission of providing high availability and solid security, one out of five IT executives see roles in the new IT paradigms that are emerging. For example, 19 percent see their mainframes playing a role in cloud implementation, while 18 percent say it play a role in mobile computing.

However, many see pain when it comes to finding enough people skilled at running mainframe environments. Once in abundance, such individuals are few and far between. In fact, more than one-fourth of the respondents, 26 percent, say they would opt to move away from their mainframes as a way to deal with the skills shortage. Many original programmers and operators have long since retired, and not enough MIS students or entry-level candidates are showing an interest in mainframe skills. Measures being taken include  internal training programs/initiatives, while 39 percent simply opt to hire experienced candidates. Additional solutions include outsourcing for their mainframe talent (36 percent), while 29 percent are employing more automation.

This is a challenging area for insurers as well. Not only do insurance companies need to compete against tech organizations and other industries for IT talent, but also need to dig down deeper for mainframe specialists.

Joe McKendrick is an author, consultant, blogger and frequent INN contributor specializing in information technology.

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