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Why IT debt is mounting

Derek Britton | Sept. 23, 2014
While businesses continue to stockpile cash, they are quietly assuming an unspoken debt IT debt.

That said, it doesn't follow that mainframe owners, or those running legacy applications, are grappling with IT backlogs more than anyone else. Indeed, frequently the opposite is true. While average estimates for IT Debt grow with company size, this trend applies to the entire portfolio. Taking the mainframe portion alone, the largest companies actually witnessed a drop, making its percentage contribution towards IT Debt much lower than the smaller companies.Correlating any link between the choice of platform and the consequent presence of IT Debt is misleading, and instead CIOs should laser in on IT debt culprits specific to their organization, rather than some broader trend hypothesis.

* Recognize potential of IT as innovative department. Core mainframe applications are often the lifeblood of the organization, yet the burden of IT debt is on the increase. A major factor in this is that many non-IT people assume IT innovation only means brand new technology, rather than improving existing critical applications. The IT leadership challenge is to find smart ways to blend innovation projects with protecting and evolving their critical systems.

When it comes to spending on keeping the lights on' versus innovation,' the Vanson Bourne survey signals some change is underway. While 41% of respondents' IT budgets are spent on innovation today, CIOs predict this share to rise to 47% of budgets in three years time. Translation: the IT department is becoming less focused on support and maintenance and more focused on being innovative.

The survey indicates that perspective within and outside of the IT department goes a long way in determining how CIOs might direct the time and resources of IT personnel. Some 61% of IT thinks they are integral to business delivering innovation, support and maintenance (50% outside of IT department); 30% of IT thinks IT is a support organization (36% outside of the IT department); and only 28% of respondents associate IT innovation with updating legacy applications, as opposed to addressing mobile access, user experience and quick development/deployment.

This means that de-prioritizing legacy application modernization can impede the ability of CIOs to reduce IT debt. To fight this perception, CIOs must rethink what it means to innovate.

* Skills gap can exacerbate IT debt. Six out of seven (84%) IT decision makers surveyed by Vanson Bourne confirm it is difficult to find staff or new recruits with mainframe application skills, and predict that an average of 14% of staff members currently responsible for maintaining mainframe applications will retire in the next five years. Businesses must work with academia and government to rebuild a pipeline of programmers and IT professionals who understand mainframe applications and critical languages for application modernization, such as COBOL.


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