Watson for i: Watson Could Help Solve the “Retiring Boomer” Problem for IBM i Shops

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With herds of IBM i developers seemingly prepared to head out to pasture in the near future, IBM Watson Talent might help point your enterprise to some fresh sources of programming expertise, among other benefits.

A recurring source of heartburn for IT directors at IBM i enterprises has been the impending retirement of a major chunk of the existing workforce with RPG knowledge. "What are we going to do when Morrie takes his gold watch and shuffles off to Buffalo?" is the archetype of a question that's probably contributed to quite a bit of sleep deprivation among execs with oversight of IT.

Finding college-fresh developer talent with an existing background in DB2/400, for example, is probably asking a bit much. However, if a 50-year-old developer can learn C++, surely a recent computer science graduate can learn RPG. It's just a matter of finding the right person and applying sufficient motivation. Sure, it may cost more than you're used to paying, but what will the costs be of scrapping 25 years' worth of application code just because you can't find someone to maintain and improve it? Recruiting a candidate who's willing to join your enterprise and has enough smarts and will to learn one more language could be as simple as investing in IBM Watson Talent.

AI for HR

IBM Watson Talent is part of IBM's series of cognitive solutions for professions, among which are also apps for marketing, supply chain, and commerce. It consists of IBM Watson Recruitment, which uses cognitive analysis to help human resources professionals analyze and rank job candidates, as well as estimate how long it will take to fill a position; IBM Watson Career Coach, which helps enterprises coordinate organizational goals with individual employees' career goals and personalize each employee's potential growth path; and IBM Watson Talent Insights, which helps HR analyze such factors as employee abilities and interactions and the impact of new regulations on an enterprise workforce.

Clearly, Watson Recruitment (WR) could be a key player in a hypothetical scenario for finding new programmers, so let's start with that. WR first relies on IBM Kenexa Talent Frameworks, a database of skill-based job profiles that are industry-specific and define key job duties, necessary competencies and skills, and job levels, as well as suggesting interview questions and other tips for finding and developing personnel in those positions. In addition (or instead), WR analyzes historical job application data for a specific position to determine the complexity of the job and then pulls in data from existing applicant tracking systems to help prioritize the urgency of a particular job requisition. Then, WR compares skills and attributes from applicant resumes submitted to the enterprise (or potentially from other sources) and ranks the potential candidates for any specific job. WR also can incorporate social media and news data input via the Watson Discovery API to show how your enterprise stacks up against the competition in appealing to candidates of the type you're seeking and help tweak organizational branding, if necessary, to attract the best talent.

The overall effect is to improve recruitment efficiency for the organization, reduce complexity and time in candidate screening, and provide positive suggestions for conducting successful interviews with the best candidates. A knowledgeable recruiter with access to multiple sources of resumes and armed with WR via the cloud could likely find suitable replacements for nearly any developer skill set, or close enough matches that some investment in further training could potentially answer any open job need.

Mentoring Existing Employees

Attracting good employees isn't enough, though. You want to keep the good ones you find. That's where the other aspects of IBM Watson Talent can come into play.

IBM Watson Career Coach (WCC) helps organizations keep their existing employees motivated and on a growth path that can potentially keep them from seeking a job at another enterprise. It manages existing talent, learns about an employee's preferences and interests, matches users to new internal job opportunities, and provides personalized career advice for individual users.

Like WR, WCC draws its training input from the IBM Talent Framework skills registry. It also draws enterprise-specific data from existing internal human resources apps and databases. Most significantly, though, it interacts with individual employees by periodically asking them questions about their goals, preferences, and new skills acquired. This data is used in three ways. The job opportunity match component alerts both HR and the employee if a new job is posted for which the employee could be a good fit. The career navigator function makes recommendations to each user with regards to next job steps, additional useful training, and upskilling suggestions that employees are free to follow at their own pace. Myca (My Career Advisor) is a chatbot that interviews users, provides personalized career advice, and uses the data from question-and-answer sessions with users to further extend WCC's understanding of each individual user. This information can provide a needed backstop for employees whose managers might not be as skilled at mentoring processes as they are, for example, at budgeting or motivating. It also automates the process of matching workers to new opportunities within the organization, which can sometimes be overlooked by busy HR professionals.

Analytics for HR

IBM Watson Talent Insights (WTI) is the third leg of IBM Watson Talent's HR triad. It provides business intelligence–style data analysis for personnel information. WTI is a good fit for organizations that take seriously the idea that a workforce is a resource that needs to be nurtured and cultivated rather than just a collection of workers who, once pigeonholed in a corporate role, are already optimally deployed and inherently replaceable.

WTI's goal is to apply more analytical processes to HR functions. This includes, for example, the whole process of fitting employees into the niches in which they can perform best for their organization, understanding what the effects of talent deployment choices on the organization will be, and reducing employee attrition by increasing employee engagement.

This approach emphasizes the idea that any enterprise is going to be only as good as its employees make it. Employees who are emotionally involved with their jobs, who feel both challenged and appreciated, and who are working at tasks for which they're best suited are more likely going to contribute the most and therefore improve how well their organizations function. WTI capabilities give HR professionals "big picture" information about personnel at their enterprises and can help them meet these objectives. This can include standard analysis, like sales results organized by employee and location, or less-standard examinations of data such as average employee competency ratings by department or in-depth views of individual employee talents.

Some possibilities suggested by IBM videos and other materials include figuring out what elements contribute to making one employee team more successful than other teams, calculating in advance if an expansion of an enterprise's business functions might be supported by existing employees currently serving in other roles, and suggesting other personnel relationships that might further current or future enterprise goals. Another possibility is being able to improve standard business procedures by analysis of transactional data generated by routine business interactions between different employee roles. An additional potential is being able to look at new laws or regulations—for example, rules about employee diversity—and quickly analyze how well an existing workforce measures up and what areas in which an organization might improve.

As with most business intelligence tools, once a question is posed to WTI, there's a wide range of choices as to how to display and correlate the information obtained.

It's difficult to encompass the limits to which WTI might help an organization better deploy its talent because the data available and the analysis possible are restricted more by the imaginations of the HR professionals using the tools than any inherent restrictions within WTI itself.

Enterprises that view their workers as assets to be developed rather than simply means to ends may find that IBM Watson Talent is a useful tool for tailoring a workforce to meet changing corporate goals or for adjusting personnel to better meet existing goals. Finding developers to maintain and expand IBM i software originally crafted by the Baby Boomer generation is just one aspect of the potential value an organization might glean from IBM Watson Talent.

John Ghrist

John Ghrist has been a journalist, programmer, and systems manager in the computer industry since 1982. He has covered the market for IBM i servers and their predecessor platforms for more than a quarter century and has attended more than 25 COMMON conferences. A former editor-in-chief with Defense Computing and a senior editor with SystemiNEWS, John has written and edited hundreds of articles and blogs for more than a dozen print and electronic publications. You can reach him at

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