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IBM Unveils watsonx Assistant for Mainframe Mastery

IBM Unveils watsonX Assistant for Mainframe Mastery

The News: Announcing the launch of IBM watsonx Assistant for Z and D&B Ask Procurement, two new generative AI assistants developed with IBM watsonx Orchestrate. For more information, see the press release on the IBM website.

IBM Unveils watsonx Assistant for Mainframe Mastery

Analyst Take: The mainframe has long been the backbone of enterprise computing, powering critical applications and handling massive amounts of data for some of the world’s largest organizations. Despite the rise of cloud computing and other modern technologies, the mainframe remains indispensable, particularly in industries such as finance, healthcare, and government. However, the mainframe ecosystem is facing a significant challenge: a generational skills shortage. As veteran system programmers and administrators approach retirement, organizations are grappling with the difficulty of finding and training new talent with the expertise needed to manage these complex systems.

This skills gap is particularly concerning given the mainframe’s critical role in hybrid cloud strategies. In a recent study from The Futurum Group, we found that 65% of university-based respondents reported there is more skilled talent available today than 5 years ago, but the same group (61%) also reported that, based on their experience working with mainframe employers, a “skills gap” still exists. With over 5,000 clients globally relying on mainframes to seamlessly integrate with public and private cloud environments, ensuring high availability, robust security, and efficient processing capabilities, this highlights just how important filling these skill gaps is for the ongoing functionality of these systems. Mainframes are not only a key component of existing IT infrastructure but also a strategic asset for future digital transformation initiatives. As businesses continue to evolve and demand more from their IT environments, the need for skilled mainframe professionals has never been more acute.

What Was Announced?

In response to this pressing issue, IBM has introduced the IBM watsonx Assistant for Z, a generative AI assistant designed to revolutionize how system programmers, operators, and developers interact with and manage the mainframe. This announcement marks a significant step forward in addressing the skills shortage by providing a sophisticated tool that enhances platform proficiency, boosts productivity, and accelerates efficiency through a trusted AI-powered conversational experience.

The IBM watsonx Assistant for Z is built on the IBM watsonx Orchestrate platform and leverages a customized large language model (LLM) known as the granite.13b.labrador. This enterprise-level English-language model has been meticulously trained on an extensive dataset of over 2.5 trillion tokens, including IBM Z-specific content. By using a domain-specific retrieval-augmented generation (RAG) framework, the assistant delivers accurate and contextually relevant answers, helping users to navigate complex mainframe operations with ease.

One of the standout features of the IBM watsonx Assistant for Z is its ability to codify the knowledge of IBM Z subject matter experts (SMEs) into a trusted set of automations and best practices. This capability not only preserves the valuable expertise of seasoned professionals but also makes it accessible to new and less experienced users. Clients can seamlessly import existing automation created with tools like Ansible, JCL, and REXX into the assistant’s catalog, allowing for more advanced and efficient automation orchestration.

The assistant also includes an AI assistant builder, a next-generation low-code platform that empowers organizations to create new AI assistants quickly and easily. This builder provides access to a low-code generative AI and automation studio, enabling the creation of assistants grounded in business context, data, and automation. By extending investments in automation and scaling adoption through a conversational interface, businesses can enhance productivity and efficiency across their IT landscape.

In addition to these features, IBM watsonx Assistant for Z supports the onboarding of early-tenure professionals by providing a side-by-side AI assistant that accelerates their learning journey. It offers a central place for users to find answers and execute automation, improving productivity, autonomy, and confidence across all skill levels. This comprehensive approach ensures that businesses can continue to leverage the power of the mainframe while mitigating the impact of the skills shortage.

Looking Ahead

The introduction of IBM watsonx Assistant for Z comes at a pivotal time for the mainframe industry. As organizations face increasing pressure to modernize their IT environments and integrate with cloud-based solutions, the need for innovative tools that bridge the skills gap is more critical than ever. This announcement not only addresses the immediate challenge of a retiring workforce but also positions the mainframe as a forward-looking component of a broader hybrid cloud strategy.

By integrating generative AI and automation, IBM is setting a new standard for mainframe management. The watsonx Assistant for Z exemplifies how AI can be harnessed to preserve institutional knowledge, streamline complex processes, and enhance overall operational efficiency. This move aligns with wider market trends that emphasize the importance of AI and automation in driving digital transformation and achieving business agility.

Looking ahead, the impact of this technology will likely extend beyond the immediate benefits of improved productivity and reduced onboarding times. As more organizations adopt AI-driven solutions, we can expect to see a shift in how mainframe environments are managed and optimized. In fact, we found that 68% of students focused on mainframe studies that The Futurum Group recently surveyed indicated a higher focus on AI within their studies due to the ongoing AI adoption. The ability to seamlessly integrate automation with everyday operations will become a key differentiator for businesses aiming to stay competitive in a rapidly evolving technological landscape.

Moreover, the scalability and flexibility offered by IBM watsonx Orchestrate ensure that the assistant can evolve alongside the needs of the enterprise. Future enhancements, such as the planned distribution on IBM Linux on Z and the integration of client-specific data for more curated answers, will further solidify the assistant’s role as an indispensable tool for mainframe management.

IBM’s announcement of the watsonx Assistant for Z represents a significant advancement in addressing the mainframe skills shortage and enhancing the capabilities of mainframe professionals. As the mainframe continues to play a crucial role in hybrid cloud strategies, tools like these will be essential in ensuring that businesses can leverage their full potential while navigating the challenges of a changing workforce.

Disclosure: The Futurum Group is a research and advisory firm that engages or has engaged in research, analysis, and advisory services with many technology companies, including those mentioned in this article. The author does not hold any equity positions with any company mentioned in this article.

Analysis and opinions expressed herein are specific to the analyst individually and data and other information that might have been provided for validation, not those of The Futurum Group as a whole.

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Author Information

Regarded as a luminary at the intersection of technology and business transformation, Steven Dickens is the Vice President and Practice Leader for Hybrid Cloud, Infrastructure, and Operations at The Futurum Group. With a distinguished track record as a Forbes contributor and a ranking among the Top 10 Analysts by ARInsights, Steven's unique vantage point enables him to chart the nexus between emergent technologies and disruptive innovation, offering unparalleled insights for global enterprises.

Steven's expertise spans a broad spectrum of technologies that drive modern enterprises. Notable among these are open source, hybrid cloud, mission-critical infrastructure, cryptocurrencies, blockchain, and FinTech innovation. His work is foundational in aligning the strategic imperatives of C-suite executives with the practical needs of end users and technology practitioners, serving as a catalyst for optimizing the return on technology investments.

Over the years, Steven has been an integral part of industry behemoths including Broadcom, Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), and IBM. His exceptional ability to pioneer multi-hundred-million-dollar products and to lead global sales teams with revenues in the same echelon has consistently demonstrated his capability for high-impact leadership.

Steven serves as a thought leader in various technology consortiums. He was a founding board member and former Chairperson of the Open Mainframe Project, under the aegis of the Linux Foundation. His role as a Board Advisor continues to shape the advocacy for open source implementations of mainframe technologies.

Bringing more than a decade of varying experience crossing multiple sectors such as legal, financial, and tech, Sam Holschuh is an accomplished professional that excels in ensuring success across various industries. Currently, Sam serves as an Industry Analyst at The Futurum Group, where collaborates closely with practice leads in the areas of application modernization, DevOps, storage, and infrastructure. With a keen eye for research, Sam produces valuable insights and custom content to support strategic initiatives and enhance market understanding.

Rooted in the fields of tech, law, finance operations and marketing, Sam provides a unique viewpoint to her position, fostering innovation and delivering impactful solutions within the industry.
Sam holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Management Information Systems and Business Analytics from Colorado State University and is passionate about leveraging her diverse skill set to drive growth and empower clients to succeed in today's rapidly evolving landscape.

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