Nothing in the IT industry stands still for long, and, ironically,st part is testing, according to the Meta Group. Lindsay Clark reports. this includes the millennium date change. While Tony Blair focuses on fixing the Year 2000 bug, those working within the IT industry are looking past the notion of a fix.
According to Rob Schafer, programme director Europe of enterprise data strategies for the Meta Group, 1998 marks the year where the ball game changes for the Year 2000 work. He was speaking at the Meta Group's Metamorphosis conference in London last week.
"Fixing the problem is not the main issue any more," he said. "Easily the biggest part is testing."
For those who have not finished amending lines of code, the Meta Group recommends outsourcing the donkey work. "Get leverage where you can," said Carl Geiner, vice president and services director of enterprise data centre strategies with the Meta Group. "Get the code fixed by some one else, such as a second-generation tool provider, and get on with the testing yourself."
The Meta Group claims that average pricing for correcting a line of Cobol ranges between $0.30 (#0.18) and $0.35 (#0.21), and that it can be turned around more quickly than doing it in-house.
Between 60% and 80% of Year 2000 work is testing. The message from the Meta Group is simple: "If you're not testing then you're not compliant." To make matters worse, all this work must be carried out while maintaining current systems activity.
"One of the big things about the Year 2000 is the sheer quantity that has to be tested while carrying on with other programmes," Schafer said.
"It is like trying to change the tyres on a moving car."
Another matter conpounding the millennium problem is the shortage in skills. This is a global issue, the Meta Group noted, but here too the game is changing. Whereas previously programming experts were most in demand, as we draw towards the deadline, the "application gurus" will be the most valuable people.
These are the people who have worked with applications for years and realise how they interact with the rest of the system and with data from outside the company. "Application gurus are becoming more and more important," Schafer said. "It is the test phase where they are needed most. If someone like this has been with the company for 10 or 15 years decides to leave this year you could be in trouble."
But the coming of the next millennium will not see the end of the IT skills shortage, Meta Group analysts warned.
"The tree that is hiding a forest is the Year 2000," said Daniel le Bourhis, vice president of international enterprise architecture strategies with the Meta Group. "The cyber society is going to be a reality and the severe shortage in IT skills is a critical issue that education systems have massively underestimated."
With IT being implemented in more and more areas, the problem is going to get worse before it gets better, le Bourhis continued. Salaries are due to rise an average of 10% a year and IT vendors are able to pay higher wages than the companies who buy their products.
"The IT industry is becoming a supernova, but the skill shortage is a black hole," he said. "Systems integrators and IT vendors will steal IT professionals from any organisations. Microsoft is able to pay salaries around 50% more than most user organisations or government departments."
The solution, according to the Meta Group, is to minimise demand for IT skills while maximising the supply.
The first part le Bourhis described as "taking the sledgehammer approach to your back office" and taking advantage of ever cheaper processing power.
"Engineer out of your system anything that creates labour," he advised.
"Throw power at the problem and massively oversize your systems."
The second part requires IT managers to identify sources of IT skill from inside and outside your company.
Le Bourhis believes that some of the IT workload can be taken on by technology enthusiasts within a company's lines of business. "Whereas before, you told users not to get involved with IT, now you should identify shadow IT people in other departments, and educate and support them," he said.
When recruiting from outside, signing bonuses, scouting campaigns and even corporate "friends" policies can be effective, le Bourhis suggested.
"Get the entire IT department to be the people that do the recruiting."
Also relevant to both skills shortage and the Year 2000 is the question of how IT relates to the rest of the company. Patrick McBride, vice president and director of services and systems management strategies, noted that when human resources hear of IT skills shortage, the department assumes people are looking for a raise.
"They see it as a conspiracy against the company," he explained. But as business managers gradually wake up to the Year 2000 problem, how they handle it could make or break their careers, bringing IT ever closer to the core of company strategy.
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