Perhaps no one feels the IT staffing shortage more acutely than shops with mainframes, the Big Iron beasts that run on COBOL and other development languages that have fallen out of favor with folks schooled in Java and .NET.
As programmers who know the older languages retire, few up-and-coming employees are there to replace them. As their numbers dwindle, the remaining legacy programmers can command higher salaries for their skills.
While dumping mainframes is an option, migrating from a mainframe to a client-server architecture can get pretty pricey, considering that most companies own the hardware outright and have lots of mainframe MIPS. And there is still life in old mainframes, as IBM and other vendors are promoting the SOA capabilities of Big Iron.
One solution that worked for Reuters, detailed in a recent Information Age article, was offshoring support, maintenance and development of its back-office systems to an Indian provider, in this case Satyam. Reuters' global head of solutions delivery said that while a COBOL talent crunch was the original impetus for offshoring, Satyam staff now drive other key application design and development work.
Over the past six years, Reuters has increased its Satyam staff from 70, most of whom were based in the UK, to 270, the majority of whom work from India. Satyam now handles not just core business processes like order processing and billing for Reuters, but also some product development tasks.
Remaining in-house are broader architecture and program management, governance and what the Reuters exec calls "high level customer relationship management functions" with internal customers.
The biggest benefit in dealing with internal customers is the flexibility to scale up quickly for big projects. The exec says:
"My biggest challenge from my customers is how can I respond more quickly. And it is very hard to be agile if you have got a fixed resource pool."
Among the top challenges in moving to an offshore model, says the exec, were knowledge transfer and relationship building with Satyam staff. Those challenges were handled so well that Reuters intends to utilize Satyam in more of a consultative capacity moving forward, to tap into the "unique perspective" Satyam now has into Reuters' core processes.