Many enterprises are concerned about the lack of skilled administrators available for the IBM i platform. IBM continues to deliver new versions for this robust platform, yet most universities and colleges no longer offer IBM Power Series courses as part of their core curriculum. At the same time, many IBM i engineers are reaching retirement age (or at least an age when they’re interested in new opportunities), leaving many organizations scrambling to fill open positions.
Recently, we spoke to IT leaders at Red Gold, the largest privately held tomato processor in the United States, about their human resource challenges and how they worked with Connectria to address them.
Interviewer: Before we jump into our discussion, can you introduce yourselves so our readers better understand your roles and how you are individually impacted by the shortage of skilled IBM i engineers?
Goltz: My name is Jeff Goltz. Officially, my role is Software Development Manager, but at the end of the day, all things IBM i are under my domain.
White: And this is Brian White. I’m the Senior Manager of Applications and Project Manager here at Red Gold.
Interviewer: Thank you. Let’s start out by setting the stage. Tell us a little bit about the available pool for IBM i talent in your area and how that has impacted your organization.
Goltz: Being based in rural Indiana, it can be a challenge to find IT talent in general, let alone IBM i administrators. Technically, we have never had a full-time IBM i administrator. We had several people that did it as part of their job. Even if you added all the time they spent together, I don’t think it would have added up to even one FTE.
Interviewer: How was this holding you back?
White: We were seeing an ever-growing demand of projects to improve the business, to drive out inefficiencies, to meet government and customer requirements, to improve our [disaster recovery and high availability] situation, and of course, over the last five or six years, we’ve seen an increase in security-related concerns just like everyone else.
Managing the IBM i environment was falling to the back burner. I describe it as not doing repairs on the foundation of your house yet upgrading the kitchen and the bathrooms. It just didn’t make sense for the business anymore.
And, it was holding us back. As I said, the demand for projects to improve our business and to meet government and customer requirements was continually growing. We were having to make tradeoffs: meet those demands that are going to improve our business or meet the regulations. What was definitely not happening were those things that improved the reliability of our IBM i systems. Adding headcount wasn’t in our plan.
Interviewer: So, you started looking for a partner who could help you manage your systems remotely?
White: Yes. Given where we’re located, remote administration made the most sense. Frankly, we were already doing this in our SQL Server environment. We just hadn’t yet explored it for the IBM i environment.
Interviewer: When you decided to start looking for a partner, what were some of your criteria?
White: We wanted to make sure we chose a partner that had a bench so we wouldn’t have to worry about their ability to maintain that talent. We needed a partner who could handle the day-to-day administration tasks. We also needed a security and disaster recovery partner. With this support, our people could focus more on business-based projects. As I also mentioned, we needed someone who could do this remotely. We’re located in rural Indiana, and we knew we probably wouldn’t find a local partner.
In general, we looked for a partner that could provide us the broadest range of services for a competitive cost. We really wanted someone who we were comfortable working with because we needed this relationship to be long-term.
We felt that with Connectria. They were easy to work with, and it was easy to understand what was covered and what wasn’t. If we do something that’s out of scope, we understand that the partner needs to charge for that. However, with some companies, it was just unclear what was covered and what wasn’t. In these types of relationships, there is a risk of being nickel and dimed, and we didn’t want to experience that. We also felt really good about the process that Connectria followed to onboard our organization. So far, we’ve also found the No Jerks philosophy to be true.
Interviewer: How long have you been working with Connectria now, and what’s the working relationship with them like?
White: We’ve been working with them since 2013. We have a routine, monthly meeting where we make sure everybody is on the same page. Our account manager will fire off a report of everything that has happened over the month which we’ll review.
I feel like Connectria has also embraced our commitment to continuous improvement. When an issue crops up, we work together to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Connectria has always been proactive, too, recommending things that could make our environment better and more in line with our goals.
Goltz: One of the things we haven’t mentioned yet that we probably should is that we’ve done several operating system upgrades over the years. That’s another example of where Connectria’s experience helps us out because they’re doing these all the time. I put a ticket into [our service engineer] to upgrade us to 7.3, and I literally spent as much time entering the ticket as anything else. It was short, sweet, and simple.
Interviewer: So, what’s next for your IBM i environment?
White: We have a lot of modernization that we want to be working on in the next one to five years. We plan to upgrade from the green screen version of some of our mission-critical applications, and we have a lot to learn as we upgrade our ERP tech stack. I’m grateful to have a partner like Connectria who can help us keep everything running so that Jeff and his team can focus on these new opportunities that we have.
For more information read the full Red Gold case study.