Dwindling IBM i skillsets. Experienced talent heading to retirement. What else is new? This ongoing concern for IBM i shops is highlighted daily in numerous ways. For example, how many times have you heard:
“I understand it because I wrote it!”
“I’ve been working on this system for years.”
“You’ll need to check with Bob on that – if he’s in today,” or
“Well, you’ll have to hunt it down in the source code…”.
These are all signs of a looming skills shortage. And when someone of Bob’s caliber and seniority walks out the door, they will most likely take with them a huge amount of knowledge of your applications and business rules, exposing you to a lot of risk.
As covered in HelpSystems’ 2019 IBM i Marketplace Survey, IBM i skills rank fourth out of the 13 top concerns CIOs face when planning out their IT environment this year. This phenomenon is widely seen across all segments of the IT industry. Jobsity discusses this situation in a recent article, while emphasizing the movement toward staff augmentation models:
“IT spending is expected to climb to $3.8 trillion in 2019, according to a Gartner report. This 3.2 percent increase from the projected spending in 2018 and the spur of investments in IT are both directly related to outsourcing development.”
We hear about it and see it left and right, which is why it’s an important topic to touch on. My best advice for addressing the issue of retiring or scarce IBM i talent remains outsourcing, and here’s why.
When you hand over your IBM i tasks and backlog to an experienced and specialized resource, you free up your time. In addition, performing a work triage to decide what to outsource lets you better prioritize your IT workload. The process lets you take the time to plan for the future rather than fixing bugs and dealing with maintenance or system issues from the past. Plus, let’s face it, giving away those unpleasant maintenance tasks, passing over the headaches, is actually soothing, don’t you think? They hear you, understand you, and use their perspective to fit their expertise with what you need.
Obviously, outsourcing means things are getting done (finally!). The pending problems are getting solved, your code is being fixed, documented, and so on. When your tasks are compartmentalized and the IBM i workload is handled by an external source, forecasting and planning to evolve becomes easy, because you see clearer and you get stuff out of the way. After all, the objective of outsourcing is to facilitate your life.
There’s one secret weapon that we use to get that clearer view, that task prioritization and code overview – and you may have heard of it – it’s X-Analysis. First and foremost, it provides a full overview of the IBM i applications in play and automatically generates interactive documentation for those apps. The functionality includes impact analysis to the variable level so you understand the consequences of all modifications. In addition, the data model is automatically extracted to help with planning, development, testing, etc.
Our onboarding and training process with IBM i shops focuses on the virtues of the X-Analysis tool and how it helps us be more productive and accurate in our work. It’s centered on the documentation, best practices and on how to leverage X-Analysis during application maintenance or development. It helps onboard your resource much faster and provides documentation of your application that most likely doesn’t exist. So, on top of your new external counterpart, you’ll have captured knowledge about your system – knowledge that is independent of retiring staff or people who have already left.
Considering recruitment agencies will demand on average a premium of 20% in addition to the salary of the new employee you hire, contract-based or hourly-waged external sources can really have a positive impact on budget.
You might have tried recruiting events in the past, which required significant effort on your behalf – additional time, effort and money. On top of that, the screening fees needed for marketing or advertising the opening were quite high.
The truth is, full-time employees represent a large investment. You can calculate or forecast it yourself with this FTE calculator. Here’s a brief comparison of the costs to consider when choosing between hiring or outsourcing:
|Internal Hire||External Resource|
|Recruitment costs and time||High||Minimal|
|Salary and benefits||Numerous aspects to consider||One single price|
|Office space and overhead||Yes||None|
|Severance||Can be costly||None|
These are just some of the costs of hiring internally. Outsourcing can seem expensive, until you add up all of the hidden costs of an internal hire. And if you choose your outsourcer wisely, you’re almost certain to get a seasoned professional who is well-suited to the job. When you hire internally, there are no guarantees – even that the person will stay more than a few months.
The biggest fear of IT managers is the lack of control or visibility that comes with outsourcing part of their work or backlog. There are many ways to reduce or eliminate this problem, such as using:
• KPIs in a dashboard,
• Protected portals,
• Ticketing systems,
• Automated system documentation.
Plus, don’t forget that you can hire an outsourcer in-house or remotely. In-house facilitates training of your new temporary (or long-term!) staff; it allows for real-time and easy coordination, integration and collaboration. In reality, it’s really just about finding the collaborative tools you need – what would work best for you, according to your current internal processes or your wishes?
What’s great is that one of these options doesn’t necessary limit you, because, for instance, you can gain from robust KPI reporting capabilities by leveraging data from the ticketing system or timesheets, or both! Keep track of the effort hours needed for tasks, the number of tickets pending, or the number solved – everything is measurable.
Strong governance through standard reporting to monitor the performance of the engagement with your external resource
Whether it’s due to retiring staff (you never know what you have until it’s gone!) or increasing backlog for your IBM i applications, maintenance or new development, you can find flexible delivery models in the market and reduce your overall costs by outsourcing.
At Fresche, for example, you can choose a balance between North American and offshore staff, local or offshore project managers, or discuss a personalized approach depending on the needs and scope of work. Our goal remains to move you forward, improve the applications, help IT align with business and help your team get better, with better development standards… we’re ultimately your partner, not a hired gun! If you’re curious, want or need to know more about staff augmentation or support services, please see here or contact me. I’m looking forward to hearing from you.